The art of juggling work and completing your degree

It is 17:10 as Jackson Mbarushimana enters the gates of a blood transfusion centre located in the Huye district in the Southern Province of Rwanda. Clad in street clothes and holding a computer bag from the University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences, Mbarushimana has just completed a continuous assessment test.

“Let me just put on a uniform and take over from my colleague,” he says.

Mbarushimana works as a security guard at the blood transfusion centre about 20 minutes from campus. He is also a third-year student in development studies.

Holding a security button at the gate near the women’s hostel nicknamed ‘Bangazi’, the busiest gate of the University of Rwanda’s College of Arts and Social Sciences, Rahab Mukamakenga (26) checks on anyone entering the campus. Like Mbarushimana, she works as a security guard.

She has been a guard at the gate for the past five years and, like Mbarushimana, she is also a student, juggling work and courses. She hopes to graduate after completing her studies in international relations this year.

“When I completed secondary school, my diploma was held back as I owed a lot of money to the school. Because I had a big loan to pay, I opted for a security job to settle the debt and get my diploma,” she says.

A tough journey

Being a student while you have other responsibilities is not easy. Mukamakenga comes from a poor family and became pregnant as a first-year student. This compels her to work hard to supplement the living allowance she receives from the government. The father of her child abandoned her when he found out about the pregnancy.

Mbarushimana (23) also admits that combining work and studies is tough, but worth it.

“I started the security job three years ago when I was in the first year. I attended a refresher course during the holidays to start the job. I had the basics and just needed a refresher because I had attended the national civic education training programme, Itorero, before starting university,” he says.

“At first, it was not easy, because I had to make a choice. Although I needed a job, I had to consider learning as a priority. I gathered information and learned there was an option to work a night shift, which convinced me to take this job.”

He attends class during the day and rests only when there are no classes on a given day. “I also use the off days to revise my coursework,” he says.

Mukamakenga says it has been a rough journey and she experienced mockery but did not allow that to discourage her.

“I faced a lot of challenges. My classmates harassed me in different ways. For example, some might pass where I worked and laugh at me, others pretended to not know me,” she says.

“They saw it as shameful. But I knew I needed this job. That is why I ignored all those things and continued to work. Though I earn little money, it helps me to raise my child.”

Keep moving

Mbarushimana is thankful that he is physically fit. “After I have arranged everything here, I switch on my computer and revise lessons. It is not easy, but I must do both. The work involves watching to ensure nothing is stolen, but sometimes I have time to sit and rest a little bit,” he said.

Spending the whole night guarding and then attending morning classes is hectic.

“Sometimes you feel tired but keep moving. It is work and there is no time to sleep. You rest while getting ready to protect or serve people who come to seek services,” he adds.

Mbarushimana gets RWF40,000 (about US$40) as a living allowance from the government, topping up the salary he earns as a security guard. He said that he opted for the job first because he loved it and then because he thought it could help him get additional money to help support his family members.

“I grew up with a [longing] to join the forces. I wanted to be a soldier but, when I joined the university, I realised it was not possible and I opted to become a security guard. I still believe I am playing a role to ensure the security of Rwandans,” he said.

“Besides, I hoped I could get more money to support my family. I come from a poor family, and I wanted to support my siblings.”

Mbarushimana says he can now cover all his expenses and use the rest to plan for his future and support his family.

“I cover all the expenses such as paying rent and buying food and other basics using the living allowance. I use the salary for other activities. For instance, I have bought two cows and small animals I rear at home. I have helped my sister to start a small business as well,” he said.

Mbarushimana, like fellow student Rahab Mukamakenga, believes that juggling work and academics has laid a strong foundation to becoming a hardworking person.

“I acquired enough experience to work hard and to not despise any work. After graduation, I will conduct research using the skills I will have acquired in development studies, for instance looking at why some people are poor while others get richer,” he said.

“I also plan to start a security guard company to ensure the security of both public and private institutions that will help me become self-employed and to create jobs for young Rwandans.”

Mbarushimana has never failed and hopes to graduate this year. “I have difficulties just like other students, but I put in more effort to ensure I don’t fail. I study in groups with other students and my performance is as good as theirs.”

Mukamakenga says her parents motivated and encouraged her to never give up but rather focus on what she was committed to.

“My parents always advised me to not care about what people think about me, but to see how my job helps me. This is because they know I have a child to look after,” she says.

During the day she has gone to class and studied, and at night she has gone to work and revised her coursework. “This helped me get the best marks in class. And that little salary of RWF40,000 helped me raise my child. Now I am waiting to get my degree.”

It has been difficult, she says, but, “I thank God who gave me the strength to do it. This is because my goal was always to finish my studies.”

She believes that, one day, her life will change. “I am optimistic that I will get a better job after I get my degree. I will apply for different jobs, and I hope I will get one. I learned what hard work and patience are and this will help me live well in the future,” she says.