“You could be the CEO of your own tech company one day,” Remy says, speaking to a group of wide-eyed young women gathered shoulder to shoulder around his single laptop. Remy Gakwaya, a refugee from Burundi, is one of hundreds of community members to have received a university certificate from Higher Education at the Margins (HEM) Dzaleka, an institute of higher education in Malawi’s Dzaleka Refugee Camp jointly implemented by Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) and Jesuit Worldwide Learning (JWL). Remy is an alumnus of an 8-month course in IT and Computer Programming and a current student in the 3-year diploma program accredited to Regis University in Colorado.
While Remy received prior schooling in computer science before his arrival at Dzaleka, he explains that his course at HEM inspired his desire to pass his knowledge to fellow community members, and to build a teaching program into his established computer consulting and repair business. TakenoLAB, the community organization Remy founded, was named to encourage people to “take” the tech knowledge Remy had gained through his tertiary studies, and help better their opportunities for the future.
Using his personal laptop, and often the library or his home, Remy has conducted both basic computer skills training and advanced computer-programming courses with over 40 community students. In his computer programming courses, Remy teaches HTML, Python, Java and Android, and works with his students to develop apps that provide technological solutions to community problems. In 2015, Remy’s app, the Report Card Accelerator, which was created to automate the tedious hand-written process used at Dzaleka to make report cards, placed as a semi-finalist in a national TNM Smart Challenge competition. Lately, his class has been working on a system to streamline the database registration of new arrivals in the camp, and a program to map out the labyrinth of NGOs, community organizations, restaurants, and businesses in the streets of Dzaleka.
In addition to his coding classes, Remy’s most recent endeavor is teaching a Girls’ Computer Club, which he founded to encourage women and girls – an underrepresented group in computer classes worldwide – to join in the technological revolution. In the class, Remy switches with ease between Chichewa, English, Swahili and French, to accommodate his diverse group of students. His natural optimism and patience have his students captivated, eagerly waiting their turn to touch type their first sentence or format their first document.
Remy explained that his Computer Programming certificate allows him the trust of his community, who know that his expertise is verified. In addition to the recognition his degree has brought him within Dzaleka, Remy also says his time at HEM has allowed him to build strong professional networks outside the camp, which have opened doors for him and his students. Remy has recently begun to collaborate with Malawi’s first technology hub, mHub, and assisted in coordinating a team of the hub’s programmers in teaching an introductory coding workshop to over 30 JRS Secondary School students.
Remy is continuing his studies at HEM as a student in JWL’s Regis University Diploma Program, and will graduate next year with a concentration in Business Management. While Remy’s schedule is packed with teaching and various volunteer jobs, he always prioritizes his education. To his students, many of whom dropped out of secondary school and stay idle in the camp, he says: “knowledge reduces limitations, and with education you can change your life.” Remy hopes that his students will be empowered to return to school, finish their studies and one day apply for HEM programs themselves.