Out of Africa: From farmer to scholar

Enatha Ntirandekura is a student at UA Little Rock and will graduate in May with a major in biology and a minor in psychology. Her journey to this point has been nothing short of remarkable. 

Where were you born? 

A small village (Kirwa) in Rwanda with a population of approximately 1,000. The main economy in this village is farming. This is REAL sustainability and not by choice, but because the villagers have to farm in order to survive. Items such as salt and soap have to be purchased because they can’t be grown.

After graduation, Enatha will be looking for a job or will pursue graduate school. (Mike Kemp photo)

How many siblings do you have? 

I have nine siblings, and I am the third youngest.

Describe your home: 

It was a single-level home that was made with mud and brick. We had two rooms for 10 children, plus mom and dad. Yes, it was pretty “close quarters.” We had handcrafted (courtesy of mom and my sisters) simple grass mats to sleep on, and the floor, of course, was dirt.

Because we had no electricity, our cooking was done using firewood that was placed over three large stones. Air conditioning involved opening the windows, and then you had to consider if this was wise because the mosquitoes and other insects would enter the home. Our bathroom was outside.

What are medical facilities like where you grew up? 

Villagers in Kirwa simply did not go to a hospital because everyone was poor and could not afford to pay for the services. The nearest hospital was several hours from our village, and the road system was a narrow mud/dirt road full of rocks and potholes.

Describe your childhood: 

Our lives revolved around raising crops and taking care of our animals. It was very hard work, and I disliked this very much. I admit I was the laziest of all my siblings when it came to farm work. Obtaining a career in some profession was rarely discussed by my siblings and classmates. 

The culture in Kirwa did not promote education or advancing to a life outside of farming. School was very difficult, especially for females, because the majority of parents did not bother to send their daughters to school because many become pregnant before the age of 15.

However, I was determined to get an education so I could escape the dreary and difficult world of farming. The culture in my village viewed women as baby producers and farm helpers. At the age of 8, I asked my father if I could go to school, and he agreed! This was the beginning of my educational journey.

What was school like? 

My elementary schooling began at age 8 and continued for six years. During these years, I walked to school (and back) each day. Rain or shine. No bus rides or parent shuttle service. I woke up at 5:30 a.m. on the school days and began my walk (by myself) at 6 a.m. and usually got to school around 8 a.m. I definitely got my exercise back then with a four-hour walk every school day. This commute was done barefoot because I had no shoes. The walks to and from school were done on dirt/mud roads, and it was always a challenge when the heavy, seasonal rains began. 

I studied very hard and was fortunate to be able to attend a boarding school during high school. This was when I first was able to sleep on a mattress! I thought I was in heaven! I continued to study diligently and prepare for the Rwandan National Exams. By the grace of God, I graded very high on these exams and was selected to be one of 17 Rwandan Presidential Scholars and was able to travel to the United States to begin a college education.

All of us spent the summer at Hendrix College in an intensive English training program. My host family (James and Christal Cicero) drove me to Hendrix daily and were very helpful in making my summer an enjoyable one with a variety of fun activities such as swimming, overnight stays on their houseboat, games and getting adjusted to a new culture.

What culture shocks have you encountered? 

The climate was the biggest shock, especially winter! I have enjoyed being able to see and experience a bit of snow since I arrived. 

Another shock is that everyone seems to have a car and drive. It is a convenience, but I also miss walking everywhere when I was in Rwanda. We walked to visit friends or go to the playground. It was the only option! 

The food was also an adjustment (fast food, for one example). Another major cultural shock was when I was first introduced to Walmart and Kroger. I thought to myself, “This is NOT Kirwa, Rwanda!”

How has your faith helped you in your journey?

I strongly believe in God, and I know there is an Almighty watching over me. He has helped me be persistent in getting my education and strengthens me when I am weak and need help. When I look back and reflect back to my youth during elementary school and how I kept staying positive despite facing numerous obstacles, I always thank God for helping me be faithful to Him and to trust in Him. He has blessed me with the education I have received, but more importantly the friendships and love that I have received from so many people.

Karl Lenser
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