Through the hardship, a young Ivorian refugee recovers his dream of being a professional
UNHCR, 16 Oct 2015
Eight year old Justin Loga Zrango had one dream back in 2002: to become a doctor. He would wake up early; go to school and study hard to make his dream come true.
Justin, sisters and a brother, mother and father lived in their farm in the Glanhoue village, region of Danane, in Cote d’Ivoire; a modest house of no particular design or furnishing and a happy family surviving on their own. Routinely, every morning during the week, Justin and his siblings woke up early and headed off to school whilst their parents worked in the farm awaiting their return. “My father was working hard to send us to school. I was very good at language and science. I remember having a great ambition of becoming somebody better, and education will help me do it. I really loved going to school,” said Justin, a vibrant young Ivorian man.
Justin had everything planned in his mind; school, high school, university, then Doctor. But he soon was forced to put his dream, life and childhood on hold.
One morning Justin was ready to go to school. “I was very small at that time and I did not really understand what the difference was between a rebel and normal people. So on my way to school walking towards the town of Danane, someone told me ‘you see those people who just passed, they are rebels’. They were in short trousers, some had shirts, some did not, they had some weapons, and they had really serious faces,” Justin describes his first encounter with an Ivorian rebel.
Classes did not last long; all students were told to go home fast; war had started. “I didn’t really understand, but I went home fast to meet my family. Everybody was scared; it was the first time for me to experience such a thing. My parents were anticipating my arrival, and when I came they were happy to see me but they were confused on what to do. It was not easy.”
Justin and his family stayed in their farm for several days, until looming rebels began to attack their neighbours in their farms, “we saw them hurting and beating people. So we decided to leave for safety,” he said. 24 hour walk ahead and the Loga Zrango family started their journey towards Liberia. “And during that the rebels gave us a hard time; they maltreated us, they shouted at my mother, at my siblings, it was very confusing,” he adds.
After living for some time in a community, Justin and his family were relocated to the Bahn refugee camp in Nimba County. “My ambition was lost; even though I was small I had dreams. But when we were forced to leave our home, my vision became blurry and I was now vulnerable,” said Justin remembering that he then found hope again when he saw the playground and school in the refugee camp. “. So I saw that life in deed renewed, I was happy, not really sure because it was something like a daydream. But with the encouragement from UNHCR and other partners at that time, and my father pushing me to get an education, I started going to school,” he added.
Being committed to his education, Justin went through primary school and passed to high school, where he was able to access a Liberian school and spend time with Liberian peers. “At first it was difficult because of the language, but Liberia has a system that giving a hard time to people who are strangers is not possible, so they helped me a lot to cope with the Liberian curriculum,” Justin said.
Time passed and Justin, hungry for knowledge, graduated from school and applied to the University of Liberia’s Agriculture Programme, “I graduated high school and it was coming to my senses that I can make it, that dream that I once had in Ivory Coast could come true, that it would be real. Being a refugee and graduating amongst the citizens, I was very happy,” he said.
This young Ivorian refugee is one of the DAFI scholars in Liberia. Since 1992, the German government has funded the annual Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI) to support tertiary education for deserving refugees worldwide. The programme grants scholarships to refugees at universities, colleges and polytechnics in their host countries. “DAFI is like second God now in my life because they really motivated me. Today, education is really expensive; if you don’t have money you cannot learn good things. Now they are helping me make my dream come true and to be self-reliant,” said Justin thanking DAFI for the scholarship.
Eager to work for his community, Justin did not let Ebola scare him away. “During Ebola, the university closed and I went back to the camp. When I was there I felt like when you are educated you have a responsibility with your people and you can do a lot for your community. So I volunteered to educate and pass the knowledge on Ebola to my people. You see, Ebola is all about prevention and precaution, so if you give the information to the people you will help them and help you refresh your memory,” he recalls, numbering the different activities he participated in. These included house visits, reporting, shelter assessments, and awareness.
Today, 21 year old Justin looks back at his life thankful for the opportunities he has had, and even though he is not pursuing the medical career, he recovered his dream of getting a career. He can now tell his 8 year old self “One thing that really encourages me today is the story about Albert Einstein, he was once a refugee and he was one of the most educated men that appeared on life. Even as a refugee you have a better life to live and look forward to.”
UNHCR and its partner SEARCH strive to provide the opportunity of tertiary education to refugees through the DAFI Scholarships, providing them assistance in the registration process, counselling and career management, as well as in allocating internship slots for them to gain work experience.
By Diana Diaz Rodriguez in Monrovia, Liberia