Curious about Kepler’s bridge to higher education Iteme program? Take a peek inside, as Refugee College Guidance Counselor Ella Ininahazwe and program graduate Elizabeth Kampire talk all things Iteme. “Iteme helps students leave the mindset of the impossible and enter the mindset of the possible.”
Translated into English, iteme literally means “bridge,” and that’s precisely what Kepler’s Iteme program is: a bridge to opportunity.
“Iteme helps students leave the mindset of the impossible and enter the mindset of the possible,” explains African Leadership University (ALU) student and Iteme graduate Elizabeth Kampire. “It gives you hope for the future and opens your mind to the possibilities.” Elizabeth attended Iteme in 2019, after which she immediately landed a scholarship to ALU, where she now studies Global Challenges and Healthcare.
Ella Ininahazwe, Refugee College Guidance Counselor at Kepler, explains the purpose behind Iteme: “It’s a program for secondary graduates – refugees and students from ubudehe 1 who struggle financially – with the purpose of connecting them to scholarships and preparing them for higher education. We want to connect their secondary school education to the next life; we’re asking them to picture themselves in the future, and then to start down that pathway.”
The program develops professional competencies, like crafting a compelling CV, essay writing, networking, math, and English, as well as gender equality and youth empowerment. “I learned critical thinking skills and gained confidence,” reflects Elizabeth. “Iteme trained me to learn — not just to perform perfectly, but to truly learn from others, instead of showing off what I know. It gave me a foundation.” Elizabeth uses her own English language skills as an example: “I was shy; I couldn’t have a discussion in English, because I kept thinking, ‘what if I make a mistake?’ But Iteme made me realize that I already had those skills in me, I just had to use them. I can speak, I can understand, so I can do this.”
Most Iteme graduates go on to study at universities with scholarships, or TVET. Elizabeth credits Iteme for her university preparedness; the program both aided her in scholarship applications, as well as prepared her for the rigors of higher education. “I could write a book on how helpful Iteme was. Everything that I’d tried before with Iteme, I didn’t have a problem with. ALU is ‘self-educational.’ It’s self-motivated and embraces peer learning; you need to be proactive and think critically, and approach projects as real-life problem solving, not just theory.”
Elizabeth embodies all of these qualities, and she’s on a mission to tackle challenges in her own refugee community. “I study Global Challenges and Healthcare because of my background; it asks you what you want to contribute to your own community. And so I thought of my community and the challenges we face. After graduation, I want to return to the refugee camp and tackle teenage pregnancy, because this issue discourages education and development.”
Ella says Kepler doesn’t mind that not all Iteme graduates will join Kepler. “We started the program as preparation for refugee students who wanted to apply to Kepler, but in the end we noticed that there were other universities that could accept those students, but didn’t have infrastructure for preparing them. We wanted a system that could combine all that support – Kepler included – so that students could access opportunities across Rwanda.” Kepler partners with the UNHCR, ALU, and the Akilah Institute at Davis College in Rwanda. Because scholarships are limited, Ella also encourages students who do not immediately land a scholarship to start their careers, or apply for work before trying again.
Iteme is meant to be “empowering,” as Ella puts it. Structurally, it’s set up that way: fifty percent of students are female, for example, and Iteme trainings include discussions about gender equality. The program is also flexible for mothers with children. Similarly, Iteme employs teacher assistants who are themselves Kepler interns and Iteme graduates. “That’s a big message for refugees in the camp, who maybe don’t believe they can make it to university. They see someone from their community who went to college, and that person comes back to teach them, encourage them, and help them access opportunities.”
Elizabeth wraps up the conversation well. “I think sometimes the people who start a project don’t realize the full impact of that project. But for me, it’s changed my life.”