Orphaned Refugee Who Travelled 28 Km To School Earns A Bachelor’s Degree

It is often said that “no one goes through tougher times than someone with a dream”. Isaac’s story demonstrates that no obstacle can stop a dream.

Bobole Isaac became a refugee and an orphan at 15 when he lost his father to diabetes. As a child raised by a single parent, he faced several disruptions to his education with no one to pay for his education. He was forced to drop out of school at 15 to look after his relative’s farm and cattle while his peers continued their education. He believed education was the key to all his dreams and so pleaded with his uncle to let him attend school. With his uncle as his sponsor, he travelled 28 kilometres every day to and from school without missing a day and would always spend his evenings farming and looking after cattle while his peers played and did their homework. Moving long distances to school and back and living on one meal per day or without became a part of him. Same as missing out on classes due to delays or failure to pay tuition and having to depend on friends for notes. 

Soon, he could not go to school to continue with Advanced level studies after graduating top of his class at the ordinary level in 2008. Thus, he was forced to stop schooling to work full-time in a bar and guest house to raise tuition for his education. Although this helped him save money for his tuition, the role had his family, relatives and friends stigmatize him as “wasted” and “walking dead”, among others, affecting his mental health and wellness and eventually his work. Nonetheless, he remained disciplined at work and in his life, and a year later, he happily enrolled and paid his tuition for the Advanced level in full. Shocked and touched by his story, he got admission and became an inspiration to both teachers and students to chase their dreams. His sacrifices and hard work paid off as he graduated top of his class.

Access to higher education opportunities for refugees, particularly orphans, remains a serious issue that prevents young refugees from reaching their full potential, as was the case with Isaac, who could not enrol in university to pursue his dream career in community development. As a result, he turned to business to fund his education. Unfortunately, his business was destroyed in 2013 when the war in South Sudan erupted, forcing him to flee to Bidibidi Refugee Settlement with his family in search of safety. His hope of joining university shattered when he lost his stepmother in 2016, and he became head of his family, caring for his two younger brothers and eventually getting married. Life can be hard sometimes. It’s even harder for young refugees trying to be in charge of their lives in a deplorable setting like a refugee camp.

Refugee youth can contribute significantly to the social-economic transformation of refugee societies. Isaac’s story is not far from that either. Inspired by his participation in the #MyRefugeeStory initiative of the Community Empowerment for Creative Innovation (CECI Uganda) in 2018, which strengthened his advocacy and leadership skills through storytelling and peacebuilding, he developed a strong passion for refugee advocacy and humanitarian service. So he decided to use his voice and influence to spotlight the plight of youth living in refugee camps in light of refugees’ limited access to higher education opportunities to prevent his younger brothers and other young refugees from going through what he did. Thus, he co-founded the Community Empowerment and Transformation Wings, a grassroots community education initiative that harnesses the power of art and play to raise awareness about barriers to higher education for refugees, gaining the attention of UNHCR and Windle International. Hence, many refugees received scholarships to attend various universities in Uganda. And in 2019, he was awarded a DAFI scholarship to pursue his dream career at Bugema University. During his studies, he continued his advocacy and humanitarian work with CECI as a staff and intern, assisting thousands of refugees, particularly youth, children, the elderly, and people with disabilities, in gaining access to personal protective equipment, health care, life-saving information and continuing their education during the pandemic. Isaac is prepared and ready to unleash his full potential in the service of crisis-affected people, having met all requirements for the award of a Bachelor of Arts in Community Development and awaiting graduation this year.

On this World Humanitarian Day, we honour refugees, orphans, and humanitarians like Isaac, who are changing lives, inspiring young people, showing that dreams are attainable, and proving that it takes a village to support people in crisis.

#ItTakesAVillage #WorldHumanitarianDay

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