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The unforgettable Beti Rucamuvyuma: the story of an Ecolint Scholarship student

jeudi, 21 novembre 2019   (0 Comments)
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Teachers’ eyes light up when they remember Beti Rucamuvyuma: he was one of those students who stay in a school’s collective memory, a Scholarship student who made the honor roll and went on to attend University on a full scholarship. 

Although it took some time to organise, we finally got to meet Beti when he visited the LGB campus earlier this fall. After a (literal) walk down memory lane (and through the Greek Theatre), Beti shared a bit about his experience at Ecolint, the doors it opened for him, and how the reviving of the Scholarship Programme can make a real difference in the lives of students.

How did you end up at La Grande Boissière after leaving Burundi?

In late 1993, while I was in my last year of secondary school in Bujumbura (Burundi), a civil war erupted between the two main ethnic groups, the Tutsis and Hutus, resulting, among other things, in schools being shut down for an indeterminate length of time. 

After about 3 months of school closures and ongoing atrocities in the country, my family and I decided that it would be best for me to leave the country and stay with an aunt in Geneva who at the time worked at the UN. I was lucky to be the only one in my immediate family to have a ready-to-go passport (obtaining one became an extremely difficult task after the war began): two years prior, I had won a French-sponsored spelling championship which enabled me to represent Burundi at the international Championnats d’orthographe at the UN in New York in 1992.

In my haste to leave a conflict zone for the safety of a neutral country, I had given little thought to the shape my future education would take; the assumption was that I would quickly finish my schooling in one of Geneva’s public schools and then hopefully attend the Université de Genève. It wasn’t until I had been in Geneva for a couple of months that I realised that, even though my French was good, my German or Italian language skills would not allow me to join a public secondary school and qualify for the Swiss maturité course.

My Swiss-born cousin, who had just completed his maturité at a public school, introduced me to some of his former teachers, who allowed me to attend and observe classes at the school for a few weeks. In time, one of the teachers there, who had connections with LGB, suggested that doing the IB course there may be the most logical way to move forward. She put me in touch with the school, and I was invited to take some tests (including language tests). Ecolint kindly offered me a scholarship to pursue a two-year, bilingual IB programme. I joined enthusiastically!

Beti and long-time Ecolint teacher Luc Hamzavi

How did Ecolint shape your future?

Having family in Geneva and being a fluent French speaker was very helpful to my transition from a small African country, but there was still a sense of not belonging: the careful neutrality - if not calculated detachment - of the Swiss, combined with my natural shyness made it hard for me to break barriers with the Suisses de souche

Once I joined Ecolint, however, I found a world where almost everyone had to deal with the natural trepidation of dealing with others; almost everyone was a foreigner, meaning that everyone had to adapt and, regardless of their socio-economic status, had to step out of their comfort zone. This placed most students on a relatively equal emotional footing, and forced them to learn about, appreciate, and try to get along with one other. 

Some clichés are true – my eyes were certainly opened to the world! While I had grown up thinking I was learning about Japanese people from Samurai movies and about Indian romance from Bollywood movies, I was now meeting real people from those places, and learning the differences between stereotypes and reality.

Ecolint also shaped my future in the sense that it opened doors for me in terms of further education. Seemingly, every other week, there were representatives from foreign universities (particularly North American ones) who were eager to recruit Ecolint graduates, and, in time, I started entertaining the idea of attending an American or Canadian university. I eventually applied for admission, and was admitted into Dartmouth College (among others), in New Hampshire, where I enjoyed a great four years (on an academic scholarship) before graduating with a degree in International Relations. It is an opportunity I couldn’t have accessed without Ecolint.

Do you have some favourite memories of your time at Ecolint?

The graduation cruise on Lac Léman and the Bal des Neiges were certainly highlights! The kermesses were fantastic, too. I remember meeting the mother of a girl I had a crush on, and trying to be very nice and act as politely as I could to make a good impression – it didn’t work, but the food was great!
Ecolint gave me great friendships, including a few friends with whom I still catch up with whenever we’re on the same continent: priceless! And of course, I will never forget the Graduation Ceremony in the Greek Theatre, filling out my CAS hours with Amnesty International (CAS is such a great element of the IB!), and sitting through TOK classes, which spurred my future interest in Philosophy.

Beti (far right) at his graduation in 1996

What would you have to say to those who might want to support the new Scholarship Programme at Ecolint?

Ecolint was ahead of its time in the early 1990s, recognising the value of diversity at a school that would have had no difficulty in attracting only high-paying students and families. 
While I can’t speak for them, I am confident that the friends who got to know me and other scholarship students gained as much as I did from our interactions. 

To me, true education is about giving student the opportunity to see life from a different perspective. We live in a world where excellent classes can be taught at most schools, or even taken online. The added-value of a successful education is more about exercising sound judgement, multiplying connections and cultivating openness; this can only be gained through exposure to people from all walks of life.

From a humanitarian point of view, I can think of few things worse for someone than having his or her potential to better the world be thwarted by lack of opportunity. Conversely, I can think of nothing better than to give an opportunity to someone to realise their potential.

(As an aside - I am currently watching a new Netflix documentary about Bill Gates – I highly recommend it! While most of us are a few hundred years from having the financial means he has, it is a good reminder that with some imagination, modest contributions can lead to massive changes for individuals and whole communities.)

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