Bring on the drummers! Any significant event in Burundi is herald by the traditional drummers. While February may seem a strange time for a graduation, out of sync with the school year or the calendar year, it’s a much welcomed event and celebratory at Hope Africa University. Not only is it the end of training in a specific field, a marker of obtaining a certain level of proficiency and the beginning of a new phase of life, but for many of the graduates it’s all the greater due to the political crisis of 2015.
From the end of April to August of 2015 most of the universities and schools in Burundi were closed, especially in Bujumbura, the capital. The campus of HAU is situated between two neighborhoods where there was a lot of unrest, violence and insecurity. The winter semester classes for were interrupted in April 2015 with the beginning of protests in the city. Many of the 5600 students left. Faculty did not come to the campus. Classes were suspended until it was safe.
In August of 2015, the new semester would have begun but the previous semester had to be finished first. As students began to return special sessions were held to finish course material and give finals so students could receive credit for their interrupted courses. Then in September the new semester began, making adjustments with extra days due to its late beginning.
This interruption caused the regularly scheduled graduation of December 2015 to be moved to February of 2016. At that time over 1200 students graduated with much celebration due to the unusual circumstances that had overshadowed their educational experience. This past December of 2016 another group of around 800 students walked for their degrees and licensures, including 17 medical students. It seemed things were getting back on track. Unfortunately there were another 400+ students who were not quite ready to join them, due to the interruption the year before, but they were very close to completing all necessary requirements. Rather than make them wait until December of 2017 a special graduation was held to grant them what they had worked so hard to attain.
I was especially happy to see several of my first English students from 2014 taking their place in the line up with big smiles of accomplishment and joy. In addition, several more medical students were also able to graduate, necessitating a special gathering for them to take their Geneva Oath, the vow of care and compassion for their patients.
These students have not only accomplished a difficult task, but they have lived out, in a unique way, the school’s motto of “Facing African Realities”. May their tenacity, perseverance, endurance and education lead them into avenues of leadership and service to bring growth and prosperity for their families, communities and societies.