The origin or language of a student should not hinder access to higher education: Uniqueness of MCF-RUFORUM scholarship

Olivier Nihimbazwe grew up in rural north-western part of Burundi (Mabayi). Growing in a big sized family (12 children) under the care of a single mother. Luckily, this mother had much interest in education hence she always encouraged him and his siblings to study hard and perform well in class.  He shares his story of how the mastercard scholarship that he got through RUFROUM has transformed him.

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Olivier Nihimbazwe in the teaching Laboratory at Gulu University

My humble beginnings and the challenges of Language

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Being part of the solution to Climate Change after planting a tree

Since I entered the university, I had already set my mind that I would not just complete my bachelors and look for a job thereafter as it is the case for most Burundian graduates. Instead I set a goal of getting a master’s degree. I knew that getting a good grade was one of the requirements for admission and sponsorship in graduate programs in my country which were by the way so limited in number, and so I worked hard and completed my first degree with Distinction. However, this was not enough for my former university to admit me in the single master program that was recently launched because only candidates with 5 years’ work experience were eligible. There was no way out for me! I then realized that only a scholarship could enable me to further my education outside the country. My performance at the first-degree level had given me enough confidence about getting a graduate degree scholarship. Unfortunately, the reverse was true when I spent sleepless nights on internet applying for scholarships but all in vain. It is worth to note that most scholarships are offered in English speaking countries. As a result, the most common criteria that constrained me was that all scholarships required fluency in English, something that was not easy to prove since I had studied in a French system and all subjects except none were taught purely in French. Even if I were fluent in English, I could not afford the costs of the required certificates such as TOEFL, IELTS which require in addition to the test fees, the costs of travelling outside the country to sit for the test.

My application for the Mastercard Scholarship at RUFORUM

The application process for MCF@RUFORUM scholarship is generally competitive, but this time round I qualified for all criteria. Academically competent yet economically challenged applicants from all over Africa were encouraged to apply irrespective of their origin or language. Fortunate enough, I was selected as the first Burundian in this scholarship program. Getting this award was indeed a dream come true and is one of the best things that have ever happened in my life. It was hard for me to believe that I was one among the five students who were offered this prestigious scholarship. The excitement I had when I received a congratulation message from RUFORUM office was unimaginable. This Scholarship offers benefits beyond my expectations. Apart from providing each and everything that a student needs to achieve academic goals, this scholarship also offers leadership and entrepreneurship trainings to beneficiaries. In fact, the two weeks orientation program that we had at Egerton University (Kenya) prior to starting our academics was another unique experience. Through interactive and participatory sessions, the training covered a number of topics ranging from leadership, communication, personal mastery, entrepreneurship among others. I was able to understand the concept of transformative leadership which I had never understood before. I learned that transformative leadership is all about making positive impact by addressing a problem in the society and improving the life of others. I still recall the motivational speeches that have changed my life during this training. This orientation program also allowed me to have my first ever adventure out of my country where I got the opportunity to network with people from different parts of the continent. Though I could read, listen and understand English, I was unable to hold a long conversation owing to the fact that I was not used to speaking English. Fortunately, networking, something that I value very much, has helped me improve my speaking skill and integrate effectively in the new environment.

Life at Gulu University and learning English

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Community outreach in Gulu with fellow MCF Scholars

Up on reaching at Gulu University, myself and another colleague who was also coming from a French speaking country (Benin), we were provided with an English training support. The training was mentorship-oriented and this style impacted on our quick language improvement and confidence building. I must say that I faced challenges while I was undergoing academic transition. It was challenging to manage academics and English learning simultaneously. I was worried about the results I would get at the end of the semester. Nevertheless, I performed quite well. Today I do believe and testify that access to education should not be hindered by the origin and language of a student. Universities and scholarship programmes should review their admission requirements related to language proficiency of applicants if we are to achieve the fourth global sustainable development goal of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all especially by increasing the number of scholarships offered to students coming developing countries. MCF@RUFORUM Scholarship program strategy is in line with this global goal and has given hope to my life and indirectly to my community. This scholarship is fulfilling my dream of pursuing my postgraduate studies in an English-speaking country which I consider as an invaluable means of becoming a multilingual as well as multicultural person. I believe that this will enable my impact to reach different communities across Africa. I am forever grateful to RUFORUM and MasterCard Foundation for trusting in the potential of francophone students and supporting our education.


Reflecting back to what I went through to get this privilege, I have taken a resolution of supporting and mentoring youths who are eager to further their education yet unable to make it due to either unawareness of scholarship opportunities or unfamiliarity in the use of ICT. Mentoring through social media is a time-consuming task, nevertheless, there is a satisfying feeling I get when the person I mentored succeeds. I am very proud of one of my mentees who recently made it for the Pan African University scholarship program. I conclude by encouraging young people to set a purpose roadmap towards their vision and to stay focused because as said by Lewis Carroll, ‘’if you do not know where you are going, any road will take you there’’. Most importantly, do not forget to PUSH i.e. Pray Until Something Happens.

God bless Africa! God Bless MasterCard Foundation! God bless RUFORUM!

About the author

Olivier Nihimbazwe, holder of Bachelor’s degree in environmental Health Science from National Institute of Public Health, Burundi. MCF awarded me a scholarship through RUFORUM, to pursue a two years MSc program in Food Security and Community Nutrition at Gulu University (Uganda).


Twitter: @onihimbazwe

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