Eliezer's Dream: From a begging Refugee to University Graduate

A Refugee from Burundi has lived through a life that most would not believe but his continued mission is to obtain a degree and arm himself with the knowledge needed to bring about change in his home country.


Eliezer Niyokwizera was born on 2 February 1985, in a small village called Kanyangese, in Busoni District, Kirundo Province, Burundi. The province lies tucked away in the northern part of Burundi, bordering Rwanda. Both countries share a brutal past. A past peppered with the putrid stench of ethnic cleansing.

As the world watched South Africa celebrate the demolition of Apartheid and usher in the dawn of democracy back in the 1990s, a blind eye was turned to the bloodshed taking place in Burundi and Rwanda. In a matter of months, the two countries had become Africa’s silent killing fields. Hundreds of thousands of people massacred during ethnic violence between Hutus and Tutsis.

Born to parents of Hutu and Tutsi descent, Eliezer escaped death in war-torn Burundi, spent ten years of his childhood in a refugee camp in Tanzania and narrowly escaped being recruited as a child soldier.

“It was ’93. That time, I was nine-years-old. I was in Grade Three. My siblings and I were walking home from school. We came home and found my mom surrounded by people who came to kill her. I later found out they wanted her dead because she is a Tutsi. We were saved by the grace of God…

Those people were divided and arguing amongst themselves. They eventually decided to take us to Tanzania. They dropped us at the border of Burundi and Tanzania. We had to walk from that border until where most refugees were collected by UNCHR trucks. This is how I began my life as a refugee at the age of nine,” says Eliezer.

Upon being repatriated back to Burundi in his twenties, Eliezer was approached by both the army and rebel groups to join the war but he did not want to fight. He’d seen too much bloodshed already… So he fled.

Months later, Eliezer arrived in South Africa. His mission: to obtain a degree and arm himself with the knowledge needed to bring about change in his home country, Burundi.

It has not been an easy journey. Eliezer spent the first few years in South Africa, doing odd jobs and sometimes begging on the streets for money but he never gave up on his dream of studying.

Early in 2017, he used what little money he had saved to register and enrol at Cornerstone Institute in Cape Town. In Eliezer’s words, he “prayed to God” that he would, by some miracle, come up with the rest of the money for his tuition and taking a leap of faith, he went on to study full-time towards a BA Sociology degree, majoring in Community Development.

As a non profit organisation, Cornerstone Institute, faces its own financial constraints and was only able to provide a minimal bursary to Eliezer (one of many financial aid applicants). Above this, Eliezer was not able to qualify for a second bursary – offered only to students from SADC countries. Eliezer paid little sums of money, as and when he could. He was working towards saving to cover the rest of his fees but in September 2017, tragedy struck and he was involved in a serious car accident. The money that he would have paid for his outstanding tuition went to his medical and hospital bills, as well as household expenses.

Eliezer was granted an extension to pay his fees and managed to complete his first year of studies. However, he cannot register for second year without paying his outstanding fees for 2017, as well as his registration and tuition costs for 2018.

Eliezer has faced numerous obstacles to get to where he is today. He’s had to travel back and forth from Cape Town to Pretoria to renew his asylum seeker permit. This has cost him not only money but also precious study time. Eliezer is currently on his 17th permit extension (this is stated on his permit).

Apart from studying and working (when jobs are available), Eliezer is a pastor at a church, which caters for refugees in Cape Town. He conducts his sermons in various East African languages. He is also a husband to his Rwandan wife, whom he met during his journey, and a father to their two daughters. Eliezer has not seen his own parents in over a decade.

Listen to Eliezer’s radio interview broadcast in 2017 on CapeTalk here:


Eliezer has come too far to turn around now. By completing his first year, he is one step closer to achieving dream of graduating and returning to Burundi to bring about change – but he cannot do it alone.

With your much-needed help, this campaign aims to cover:

  • 2017 fees outstanding: 1600 USD
  • 2018 fees and registration: roughly 4000 USD, depending on the number of credits he takes when he registers.
  • Any further tuition costs Eliezer might incur.
  • Anything raised above the target will assist Eliezer with transport and living costs.

All donations go directly into Eliezer’s Cornerstone Institute fee account.

Semester One begins on 12 February 2018 and we are hoping to raise enough money before then to ensure that Eliezer takes his place in the lecture room when class begins.

Sources: Generosity
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About the Author

Brent Lindeque is the founder and editor in charge at Good Things Guy.

Recognised as one of the Mail and Guardian’s Top 200 Young South African’s as well as a Primedia LeadSA Hero, Brent is a change maker, thought leader, radio host, foodie, vlogger, writer and all round good guy.

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