BY CARYS MILLS
Last year, Gerard Byamungu was living in a refugee camp in Kenya. This year he’s learning how to order shawarma, one of the new foods he’s discovered since arriving in Toronto late August.
Byamungu, 24, was brought to Ryerson by the student refugee program run by Ryerson’s chapter of World University Service Canada (WUSC). There are WUSC chapters throughout Canada at universities and colleges that bring student refugees to Canadian campuses.
“This is the first sponsorship they’ve had in a long time,” said Michelle Manks, WUSC student refugee program officer, about Ryerson.
Byamungu is Ryerson’s first WUSC student since 1984. “The student refugee program is student led so [it may have ended] if there wasn’t anyone to take over,” said Manks.
Jackie Strecker, a communications and culture graduate student, was one of the students to bring WUSC back to Ryerson. Two years ago the group started the process of creating a WUSC chapter at Ryerson.
One decision the group had to make was whether to sponsor a student for one or two years. The group decided to sponsor one student per year.
“The intention at Ryerson was to better provide the opportunity for more people,” said Strecker. Students will be eligible to apply for loans and scholarships for further years.
The sponsorship includes residence, food, clothes and tuition. According to Heather Lane Vetere, vice provost students, a fundraiser held earlier this year raised $15,000. Many university departments also contributed to the scholarship.
Byamungu’s journey to Ryerson has been a long one. Originally from Rwanda, he attended boarding school in Nairobi where he lived as a refugee.
Deciding to apply for a scholarship program like WUSC meant focusing on academics. “I was told you work poorly, you perform poorly, you miss this chance,” said Byamungu, who is now in undeclared arts.
He graduated from high school at the end of 2007 and began his WUSC application a few months later. Byamungu had a lot of competition; there were only three spots available and around 70 applications from the area in Nairobi where he applied from.
He was accepted to the program in May 2008. It was mandatory that Byamungu live in a refugee camp where WUSC had a year-long training program. He attended class for two to three hours a day, learning about Canadian university, and taught languages at a secondary school.
While Byamungu was learning about Canadian universities, WUSC Ryerson’s selection committee chose him to study at the university.
In July, Byamungu found out he’d be going to Ryerson. On Aug. 19 he left Kenya for Toronto. He sat on the plane with other WUSC students about to arrive at other Ontario universities. As the first student to walk through arrivals at the Toronto Pearson International Airport about 20 WUSC groups welcomed him.
Now he’s been at Ryerson for over a month and Byamungu has become familiar with the campus. Halidou Tahirou Ali, co-chair of WUSC Ryerson, said Byamungu has adjusted to Canadian life more quickly than the committee expected.