Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program

World Refugee Day: Shalom Ishimwe's story

On the World Refugee Day, we celebrate contributions, creativity, and resilience of those who have been forced to flee their homes. A Foundation All project participant, Ishimwe Sharon, shares his personal story of resilience and hope.

Foundations for All project

Funded by the Mastercard Foundation and running from 2019-2022, the Foundations for All (FFA) project was designed to provide insights on how to effectively facilitate access to and future success in higher education for displaced and refugee young people in resource-poor environments through contextualised blended bridging programs.

Worldwide, there are over 108 million forcibly displaced people. The refugee population in Uganda is over 1.5 million, making it one of the largest refugee- hosting nations in the world. Less than 3% of refugees worldwide enter higher education, a statistic that the Foundations for All project attempts to begin to address.

On the World Refugee Day, we celebrate contributions, creativity, and resilience of those who have been forced to flee their homes. A Foundation For All program participant, Shalom Ishimwe, shares his personal story of resilience and hope.

Shalom Ishimwe's story

"My name is Shalom Ishimwe, a 26-year-old refugee from DR Congo. I fled my country and arrived in Uganda in February 2018, leaving behind my studies in Electrical Engineering. Despite the circumstances that made me a refugee, I remained determined to continue my education. In late 2018, I enrolled in a Bachelor's degree in Computer Science at the University of the People, an online university based in the US.

Facing challenges

In 2020, during my second year, the COVID-19 pandemic struck, bringing financial challenges and my mother's battle with cancer. To support my family, I had to sell my laptop, which affected my academic performance. Unfortunately, the decline in my grades resulted in the end of my scholarship, as it was renewed on a semester basis, contingent on my previous performance.

Refugee Law Project

This was a devastating blow, and I began to doubt whether higher education was meant for me, despite my potential. I shifted my focus to other work, including leading a refugee youth group called Rendezvous Youth Group, supported by the Refugee Law Project. Toward the end of 2020, the Refugee Law Project announced the Foundations for All program, offering a glimmer of hope for refugees whose pursuit of higher education had been interrupted by forced displacement.

The program consisted of five courses: Study Skills, Digital Skills, English for Academic Purposes, Mathematics, and Understanding Myself and Others (UMO) – my personal favourite. While all the courses were valuable in preparing us for university, UMO stood out because of its practicality and relevance beyond academia. Through UMO, I gained knowledge about mental health, which significantly improved my work at Rendezvous, enabling me to build a stronger psycho-social support system for fellow group members, who were refugees coping with various traumas and mental health issues.

Becoming a top academic performer

As the 8-month program approached its end, we learned about the mature age entry exams, which provided an incredible opportunity. Passing these exams meant admission to Makerere University without any additional academic requirements. Unfortunately, I was unable to sit for the exams with my peers since I was still 24, while the minimum age requirement was 25. However, the program offered us the chance to try again the following year. They provided a tutor to prepare us and covered all the necessary expenses.

Thankfully, I sat for both the aptitude and course-based exams and emerged as the top performer among those applying for a Bachelor of Journalism and Communications. The sense of excitement was overwhelming, but it also raised concerns about funding my education and acquiring the necessary materials, considering the high costs involved. I currently shoulder the responsibility of caring for my family and lack formal employment.

Realising your dreams

Nonetheless, I remain deeply grateful to the Refugee Law Project and all their partners for the transformative Foundations for All program. It has had a profound impact on my life. I earnestly implore them to continue this initiative, as I frequently encounter other refugees who approach me, eagerly inquiring about the next cohort. They, too, yearn for an opportunity to realise their dreams through this remarkable pathway."

Foundation For All project toolkit

The Foundations For All Project team have created a toolkit that includes a framework for organisations and higher education institutions to design and implement educational bridging programme for refugees learners.

Visit the toolkit and learn more about the project