FRANCISTOWN: Zimbabwean refugee, Xolile Ngwenya, 17, who is amongst those housed at the Dukwi refugee camp will soon realise her dream of pursuing her tertiary education.
This is after the University of Botswana (UB) came to her rescue and agreed to grant her a scholarship to undertake a course of her choice. She will begin her studies this year. The scholarship will cover tuition fees, accommodation and living costs.
Despite finishing top of her class at Nata Senior Secondary School and being declared one of the best performing students in the country for the 2018 Botswana General Certificate of Secondary Education (BGCSE) exams, there were fears that she might not be able to go to university or pursue her chosen career path. She accumulated 48 points from her best six subjects.
Year-after-year dozens of Dukwi refugee children face barriers when trying to access higher education in the country, primarily because of their ineligibility for government tertiary student sponsorship. Some access their sponsorship later than expected while others end up totally giving up on their dreams to go for higher learning.
Government’s education policy, which has been widely criticised (as some believe it serves no purpose), prohibits sponsorship of tertiary education for refugees. Those who are lucky usually get international humanitarian scholarships, but even those are usually scarce.
Ngwenya’s results circulated on social media immediately after they were released and a majority opined that the government’s policy not to fund refugees for tertiary education is not ideal. The general consensus was that government should start funding tertiary education for deserving refugees as well as offering them employment, as they can be useful to the country. The public also lobbied Good Samaritans to come forward and help fund the 17-year-old’s sponsorship. Ngwenya’s appeal for sponsorship gained momentum after she featured on The Monitor.
Three other learners, from the Dukwi refugee camp will also benefit from the UB scholarship. The three are Burundian Linda Nikiza, 20, and Tebogo Moyo and Etress Nyoni, who hail from Zimbabwe. Both Moyo and Nyoni have completed their A-levels at Maru-A-Pula School.
Nikiza also completed her BGCSE at Nata Senior last year where she accumulated 47-points.
Ngwenya and her mother Beauty Mlilo, 36, fled Zimbabwe (in 2008) as a result of the unrest that the country experienced post the 2008 general elections. She was in grade one then. She would later complete her primary and junior secondary schooling at Dukwi village before she went to Nata Senior. “This is an opportunity, I am almost at a loss to describe. The university is working on finalising all logistics and general issues surrounding my scholarship,” an excited Ngwenya said.
“I have applied to pursue a BSc (Pre-Medicine) course at the university. I hope that my other friends (from Dukwi refugee camp) who did well in last year’s exam will get sponsorship too,” she added.
Ngwenya said she has decided to pursue a university course instead of A-levels, as she had initially wanted. Maru-a-Pula School had offered her a scholarship to do A-levels after learning of her plight through the media. “If I pursue A-levels there is a possibility that I may be stranded when I finish. This might ultimately mean that I will not be able to pursue my tertiary education,” she said.
Career and Counselling Centre Director at UB, Dr Lucky Odirile confirmed that the university will grant Ngwenya scholarship to study at the institution.
“It is true that we intend sponsoring four refugees from Dukwi. I learnt of Ngwenya’s plight through Facebook and a newspaper article. Discovering Ngwenya led us to other Dukwi children in need of sponsorships,” she said.
“There are four other learners in Dukwi, who scored 44 points and above that are eligible for sponsorship, but we cannot sponsor them owing to lack of funds. We would like to see them at UB and we appeal to Good Samaritans to come forward and sponsor them,” she added.
The university usually awards scholarships to top achievers and some non-government sponsored learners with the assistance of various funders amongst them private companies.
Amongst the four in need of sponsorship is Mitchelle Musavengane, 20, a Zimbabwean refugee, who accumulated 47 points at last year’s BGCSE examination, as well as Cynthia Fortunate Nduwarugirwa, 19, who managed 45 points.
Following an article by The Monitor the ruling Botswana Democratic Party (BDP) Member of Parliament (MP) for Nata-Gweta, Polson Majaga urged government to consider funding tertiary education for deserving refugee children.
He said some of them could be useful to the country if offered sponsorship and employment thereafter. Majaga who was responding to the budget speech said Parliament has to urgently open a debate on a wide range of issues affecting refugees at Dukwi.
He further pleaded with government to consider integration of some refugees, especially those who have stayed in Botswana for many years. He said this would give them an opportunity to lead meaningful lives.
Refugees in Botswana are currently prohibited from fully integrating in the community and being gainfully employed.