By: Yajun Ho in Ethiopia’s Tongan refugee camp October 11, 2021 | English | Spanish | Français
September 16th was the most important day for the young woman, Ruba Abdul Rahim Hakim, as she boarded a plane to Nairobi, the capital of Kenya, to begin a new chapter in her life.
The 22-year-old Sudanese student was traveling to the United States International University-Africa to study for a bachelor’s degree in psychology through a scholarship offered by the MasterCard Foundation.
“I’m so glad my dream came true!” Ruba says with a smile that she said goodbye to her father, shortly before leaving the family’s normal home in the Ethiopian Tongo refugee camp.
The MasterCard Foundation Scholarship Program provides educational opportunities for refugees in many countries around the world, including Ethiopia, where young refugee women like Ruba and students from local communities who have a strong commitment to “drive, differentiate and improve. Their communities” can apply for grants.
“I’m ready to learn new skills, make new friends and be ready for the future.”
“I will learn new skills, make new friends and prepare for the future that will allow me to one day return to Sudan and help my countrymen,” he said.
For Ruba, the opportunity comes after a difficult educational journey. Born to refugee parents in Ethiopia, the young Sudanese woman attended a school in the Sherkol refugee camp, where the subjects were taught in English. At the age of eight, his family returned home to their village in Sudan’s blue-blue kingdom, where he had to repeat in first grade because the curriculum was taught in Arabic.
“I tried to communicate with other students who know Arabic and their mother tongue, Fung well,” he recalls.
At the time, Ruber had 10 siblings, and she still remembers how her father, Abd al-Rahim Hakim, who worked as a carpenter, constantly insisted that “every child should be in school.”
But when the conflict began in the Nile in 2011, their lives were again at stake. “A plane bomb killed six of our neighbors,” he said.
The whole family had been hiding in the bushes for about a month, surviving on the food their parents were able to get after the plane temporarily left the area and quickly returned home. Although Eid al-Fitr comes at the end of Ramadan, Ruba said there was “nothing to celebrate” then.
Fearing for their lives, family members travel to Ethiopian territory, arriving in Kermau where arrivals are handled by the Ethiopian Agency for Refugees and Returnees and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. A few days later, the family was transferred to the Tongan refugee camp, where they continued to live.
Ruba believes her life in the camp has boosted her resolve to succeed in her studies.
“I would often get up at 4 in the morning to do my homework and then go to school at 6 in the morning,” he explained, adding that he went to school after cooking for his nine younger siblings.
The high school he attended was about half an hour away, and in the evenings he taught from nine to eleven in the room he shared with his two sisters.
Her father Abd al-Rahim is proud “Raba is a good girl because she not only takes care of her younger siblings, she encourages them to go to school,” she says.
According to the UNHCR’s annual report on education, only 5 percent of all refugees worldwide have access to tertiary education, and this number is even lower in the case of refugee girls. The commission aims to increase this number to at least 15 percent by 2030.
Ruba and her father’s teachers continue to inspire her, and she continues to study at home. With the start of the new year, she was ready to take the national final exam – moreover, she was the only refugee student in the exam camp.
“The more you go to school, the fewer girls you meet in the classroom.”
“The more I went to school, the fewer girls I met in the classroom,” he said, adding that he knew girls who dropped out of school at 13 or 14 and got married.
“It’s not good,” he says “School is where you can learn more about yourself and life in general, and your brain will grow.”
In her spare time, Ruba works as a guide at the camp’s Women and Girls Health Center, which is run by the International Rescue Committee. During their meetings, he will talk to others about the importance of going to school.
To prepare for her new study, Ruba participated in a two-week online orientation session. Now, he has started taking English lessons in Nairobi and has settled in the university dormitory with his two Congolese classmates.
Many in Ethiopia are proud of Ruba’s accomplishments, including Mr. Teclaselasi, IRC’s Adolescent Girls Program Officer in Tonga.
“Ruba is a role model for other women and girls in the camp. We have four girls who qualified for next year’s finals and are inspired by Ruba’s success,” she said.
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