By Angelique Utamuliza
"There are people who think refugees cannot achieve anything, but I wanted to let them know that we are able, and we can do it if we are given opportunities and resources."
These are the words of Agnes Burume, Project Manager with Southern New Hampshire University’s Global Education Movement, an initiative offering university degrees to refugees around the world.
Interviewing Agnes underscored an important message: wherever you come from, even if you are a refugee or asylum seeker - you need to have a dream. It is the only weapon that helps you to be successful. Most of the time, people think that they will be successful due to their background, family, or living conditions. They are all wrong. Success starts when we take action on our dreams.
Agnes has been living in the Kiziba camp in Rwanda for almost 17 years after having migrated from the Democratic Republic of Congo. Life was difficult because her family did not have access to lots of resources. From her childhood, she had a dream of having a big title like a manager in an organization. She got the chance of accessing higher education at Southern New Hampshire University, where she earned a Bachelor of Arts in Management with a concentration in Logistics and Operation.
"Dreaming helps people to have a vision,” Agnes shared. “A vision leads to having a clear objective, and clear objectives lead to having an outstanding future with great success."
Agnes started her career in June 2019 at SNHU/ GEM as an administrative assistant intern for three months. After a few months, she was hired full-time. One year later, she was promoted to GEM Research Coordinator. Due to her strong performance, she was promoted after eight months to her current role as GEM Project Manager.
Her job as a Project Manager involves facilitating and developing activities for students at all the different GEM sites. She conducts research related to students’ resettlement cases. After conducting the research, she advocates for them, guiding them to employment or educational opportunities depending on the circumstances. "I am always proud when I hear about a student who graduated due to the implementation of our work," Agnes said.
She has faced many challenges in her role, like helping people adapt their mindsets, interacting with those from different cultures, and working across different time zones.
“I started my career while I was a student at Kepler and I had my first work-study opportunity as Technology Learning Coach,” Agnes said. “I had to make sure I was productive both academically and professionally to prove to my colleagues I was the right choice for this job and could perform well while multitasking effectively.”
Key to success and my takeaways
My discussion with Agnes was engaging, motivating, and inspiring. Agnes’ main advice for those looking to access higher education, especially refugees, is to show the difference you can make. You need to gain the trust of others which will lead to employment opportunities in the future. She also advises not to wait for opportunities from the career team only. Be proactive in identifying different opportunities. She encourages students to consider accepting different jobs. Even if it isn’t the ideal role, as it could provide a useful learning experience. You can learn something new from any job and it is important to try new work challenges to discover your passion.
The keys to success Agnes shared include:
Hard work pays off. Showing hard work in a job, even in an internship, can help your reputation. You can be recommended to other organizations or gain promotion within your organization.
Find a role model in your career of interest. Learning from others is the best tip that might help you progress in your career. Try to choose someone who is successful who can become your mentor and guide you.
Think about the future. In order to make your dreams a reality, take time to think about the big picture of your life. Consider where you see yourself in 10 years and how you will get there. For example, imagine yourself as a senior manager of a big company. This will help you to fight for your dreams. Picture yourself making small contributions that add up to achieving your goal.
Make the right connections. Having a strong network and an ample amount of connections will contribute to your career success. Connections push you to succeed. Today, it is easy to make countless connections with people all around the world. We have so many ways to make connections through social media platforms like LinkedIn.
As for employment tips for refugees, Agnes advises: "Show what you are capable of doing, so no one will consider your status because they will be in need of you.”
When I was younger, I dreamed of working in humanitarian organizations, but I was afraid of how I could achieve my dreams with my refugee status. The motivational words and quotes from Agnes taught me to try my best, work hard and make as many connections as I can. These are the tools to help me achieve my dream and become the professional I know I can be.
Learn more about Agnes Burume via LinkedIn.
Angelique Utamuliza is a student at Southern New Hampshire University pursuing her Bachelor of Arts in Communications with a concentration in Business. Connect with her on LinkedIn. She wrote this story after going through Global Innovators Academy’s Interview an Innovator course.