The entrance to a large hospital in Zambia's capital Lusaka is buzzing with life. Visitors are trying to find a parking space and honk at the forming queue. At the entrance, street vendors offer bananas or fried potatoes. On plastic chairs at one of the street bistros sit a few hospital employees who have run in for their lunch break. But inside the big hospital, in the paediatric surgery clinic, it's quiet.
The dream to study
Compared to the hustle and bustle outside, typical of Zambia's metropolis of three and a half million people, it is as if we entered a soundproof room. The only sounds come from the beeping machines in the inpatient ward and from behind the reception desk, where two nurses chat in half-whispers. A little louder, they greet the incoming doctor, a smiling Sigiro, whom we also came to visit.
"Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of becoming a doctor. But my family couldn't afford the school fees," the young doctor begins to tell her story. Sigiro is originally from Rwanda, which her parents fled because of violence. Sigiro was born in the Democratic Republic of Congo while her family was still on the run. They found a safe haven in Zambia.
Zambia is currently home to 105,000 refugees, mostly from countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Angola, Burundi and Rwanda. Their numbers have almost doubled since 2016. Although it is safe for refugees in Zambia, government restrictions that mandate preferential employment for Zambians make it difficult for them to find work. Still, Sigiro's parents have managed to save enough money to send their daughter to school. But even that was not enough.
"For the first three years of my studies, my parents supported me. They sacrificed almost everything for it, but after three years, they didn't have the money for me to continue my studies. I thought I would have to quit my studies and leave medicine. That's when Caritas Czech Republic came to my rescue," says the young doctor. “Caritas Czech Republic paid my tuition fees and contributed to my transport, accommodation, food and textbooks. Without this support I would not have been able to continue my studies and I really appreciate the help," Sigiro continues.
I want to use my salary to support my family
On the bench in the middle of one of the hospital's courtyards, where we are sitting with the young doctor, it is as quiet as the ward we just visited. The noise of the street does not reach here. When asked if she likes the hospital, Sigiro replies that she does. She is currently fulfilling her compulsory internship as a newly graduated doctor and is slowly thinking about what specialty she will choose.
"I thought I wanted to stay in pediatrics because I like children. But there's a high mortality rate here and it’s hard. So I will probably choose surgery," Sigiro says.
"Sigiro is an incredibly talented woman, even during her studies she excelled and everyone here at the hospital appreciates her," says our colleague Deborah, who coordinates the refugee scholarship programmes at Caritas Czech Republic in Zambia, about the young doctor. Her words are confirmed by Sigiro's answer when we ask her if studying medicine was challenging. "Not really," smiles the talented doctor modestly.
And what are Sigiro's plans for the future? "First, I want to secure my family, because they sacrificed so much so that I could graduate. I want to help them finance my younger siblings' studies," Sigiro reveals. "And I also want to fulfill my dream and be successful in medicine," the young doctor concludes.
How Caritas Czech Republic supports refugees in Zambia to study
Caritas Czech Republic in Zambia, together with the UNHCR, has long supported refugee students to study at university. Our cooperation with Cavendish University in Lusaka also enables us to cover scholarships. Last year 193 refugees received scholarships to study at Cavendish University. Caritas Czech Republic also cooperates with the University of Zambia, LAMU - Lusaka Apex Medical University, Mulungushi University, The Copperbelt University, Zambia Christian University, Eden University, Senanga College of Nursing & Midwifery, ZAMISE, and Levy Mwanawasa Medical University.
We also support refugees through the DAFI scholarship program, which is an acronym for the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative Fund. The DAFI scholarship programme enables qualified refugees and returning students to enrol in undergraduate studies in their country of residence. Together with the UNHCR, we are sponsoring the DAFI programme in Zambia and supporting vulnerable refugees to continue their journey towards a university education.