Follow Kepler Kiziba student and learning coach Clarisse Uwamahoro as she studies during a global pandemic. “The Kiziba refugee camp is a difficult place to learn, but through trying our best, we still succeed.” Clarisse reflects on challenges, support from the Kepler community, and the importance of education.
“The Kiziba refugee camp is a difficult place to learn,” Clarisse reflects solemnly. “There are a lot of people, and it’s crowded, so there’s always a disturbance when you’re studying. But through trying our best, we still learn and succeed.”
Clarisse Uwamahoro majors in communications with a concentration in business at Kepler – Kiziba, in partnership with Southern New Hampshire University. She’s expecting to graduate with her BA in a few short months, despite the challenging past year.
For months during the height of the COVID pandemic, Kepler’s Kiziba campus was closed to maintain public health standards; students could charge electronics twice per day, but not stick around for class or to study. “I faced many challenges, like access to electricity. We would join other camp organizations in search of electricity and internet connection. I also moved around a lot looking for a quieter study spot; the time I used traveling could have been used for other activities.”
“Of course, the Kepler staff and students were supportive. Kepler provided an internet stipend every month. We work on projects collaboratively and help each other understand feedback. And, Kepler provided online courses, like a negotiation module that helped me grow professionally.”
“Students also create opportunities to connect with each other, to provide support and feedback, or help each other understand assignments and directions. We really used teamwork.” In fact, Clarisse feels connected to the Kepler community, even at a distance. “We always try to connect. At the Kiziba campus, we used to see each other in person, but nowadays I make an effort to connect using Google Meet. And I don’t just connect with the people who have the same internship as me, but with the entire community, here and in Kigali.”
There aren’t many silver linings to a global pandemic, Clarisse admits, save one: “As a student, I wasn’t familiar with technologies like Google Meet or Zoom. But now I use these virtual meeting spaces for class and group projects, so that’s a positive.”
Clarisse is an exceptional student already, but she also takes on additional responsibilities at home, in school, and professionally: “My mom is a primary school teacher, and she and my brother leave earlier than I do in the mornings, so I prepare lunch and clean.” She’s also a learning coach to AA advisory students, guiding them through projects and encouraging them to be confident. “Actually, I changed my career goals after becoming a learning coach. I’m interested in marketing and wanted to be an advertiser, but through this opportunity, I’d actually like to go into education, supporting students and passing along the communications skills I’ve learned at Kepler.” And, Clarisse also completed a HEaRT internship during this time, honing professional communications and project management skills.
Fortunately, the campus re-opened in December, and Clarisse is glad to start her morning there. “There are so many benefits to campus being open. I’m able to sit in a safe place, and there aren’t as many disturbances compared to camp. I can take my time, not to mention there’s full electricity.” Clarisse balances her days between projects, class, and preparing her own lessons as a learning coach.
“I want to share a message with my fellow Kepler students,” concludes Clarisse. “Work hard, use this opportunity well, and don’t take it for granted. We’ll be successful in the future; we can make it!”