In Rwanda, the land of 1000 hills and a million smiles, the country’s greatest resource is its people. Government leaders tapped this resource by investing in a countrywide fiber-optic infrastructure, then building business development centers (BDCs) in each district to give villagers access to communications, education, and business services.
One of the first BDCs to partner with Cisco is in Gichumbi, a village high in the mountains, 3.5 hours from the capital Kigali. The BDC has become a source of education and empowerment for the people of Gichumbi, as well as the Congolese refugees who live nearby in the Gihembe refugee camp. More than 5700 students have studied at Cisco Networking Academies in Rwanda since 2005.
War and genocide in the 1990s drove thousands from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Rwanda and other safe havens. David Niringiyimana lost his mother to illness and his father disappeared in the war. He and his sister arrived at Gihembe as orphans when he was 5 years old. Innocent Nzayituriki reached the camp when he was just 7 years old with his 4 sisters and both parents. They are stuck in the refugee camp without job prospects, living off goods and services provided by humanitarian organizations and the Rwandan government.
When Innocent discovered the Cisco Networking Academy, he convinced the instructor to let him attend the classes for free in exchange for supporting the BDC as an intern. When he completed the IT Essentials course and was hired by the district office, he asked his manager to give his internship to David.
Innocent views the internship as the first step in his career and wants David to have the same opportunity.
“David and Innocent are breaking the cycle of poverty,” said Hital Muraj, Cisco Corporate Affairs Manager, East Africa. “There are no barriers, no creed, no color to ICT training. If you have the right skills, it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are from.”
For inspiration, David and Innocent need look no further than the Minister of ICT in Rwanda, Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the man responsible for the country’s BDC infrastructure. The Minister graduated from the University of Rwanda where he also studied at a Cisco Networking Academy. “I loved the design and interactive nature of the curriculum,” he said. “It was a game changer for me.”
Now, BDCs in every district offer courses in ICT, entrepreneurship, and language skills as well as telecommunications services and office support. The Cisco Networking Academy program provides the BDCs with a globally recognized curriculum that will help Rwanda develop an information-based economy.
David and Innocent reinvest their earnings in themselves, continuing their studies to advance their careers. “We are people on the run and Rwanda is the country that has caught us in a warm embrace,” said Innocent of their present and future. “Rwanda has given us education, given us food, given us everything… Because I am a refugee here, I do not have a country. I do not have land that I can call my own.”
They believe that their computing and networking skills will give them access to jobs, anywhere they go. When peace returns to the DRC, they both hope to return to their home, buy land, and make a positive impact on their country through the skills they have acquired.