Jackson Karama

The smallest encounters will sometimes change your life…

In Rwanda, you would be hard pressed not to come across children orphaned by the 1994 Rwandan genocide, which claimed close to one million lives. For Jackson Karama, an infant during this tragic 3-month period, one encounter in particular became the catalyst that took his boyhood dream and turned it into his life’s mission. Jackson recounted the following in 2011:

“The boy who stopped me on the road in Kicukiro, Kigali, was about my age. Indeed, we could have been schoolmates. Unlike me, however, this boy was not going home from school. He spent the better part of the day looking for something to eat. The boy asked me to give him 100 francs for his supper. I had 200 francs and gave it all to him, I asked him where he was going to sleep that night. “Wherever I am when I feel tired on the street,” he told me. When I asked him where his home was, he told me he had no home, his parents had died. I didn't want to ask him any more, because of the sadness on his face. I suspected that his parents may have died in the genocide in Rwanda and there was no one to care for him.

There were thousands of other orphans like him in my country; I could have been one as well, if my father's brother had not opened his house to take care of me. The amount I gave him could not provide shelter, clothing, and school fees – or even food for one day; and most of all it could not provide him what he needed the most: parental care.

That day, I walked home with a deep feeling inside me: a desire to help him and others like him. From that day, I developed an idea – to work hard, to raise money and to build a home for mayibobo, or street children, where they could have all the care they needed and hope for a future.

This dream has changed my understanding of what it means to be a human being and to live a meaningful life. It gave me a thirst for knowledge and to excel. It has also shown me that an important part of education is not limited to our instruction in school; rather, it is learning to live well with others and having equal rights, and then taking responsibility wherever we can to make these things possible.”

A commitment not forsaken

The instance mentioned above took place in 2007. Not only has Jackson’s heart change lasted; it has also strengthened over the last four and half years. He has since “never wasted a minute of class time” and has taken every opportunity to educate himself further. This determination led him to graduate as the top student in his high school and among the best in the nation.

In 2011, Jackson won a scholarship to attend university in Rwanda. Shortly after, the government was forced to cut expenses within the higher education budget and cut all living stipends for students on scholarship – leaving Jackson unable to start university because he could not afford the extra expenses. Not able to pursue his dream of university, Jackson remained in a teaching position at his former high school – where he taught biology, chemistry and physics in grades 7,8 and 10.

God is never early, but He is always on time

In the Spring of 2011, Jackson saw an advertisement for an educational opportunity called the B2R Scholars program. Intrigued, he attended an information session to learn more and decided to apply. He was accepted and in May 2011, Jackson entered the inaugural class of the B2R Scholars.

Jackson recalls his time in the program:

“Sometimes I would spend the whole day writing essays and doing assignments, and I was surprised by how much time this took me. My first essays lacked organization and had a poor structure; but as time went on, I kept learning from the correction of our teachers.

Mr. Richard [Siegler], who was helping us to prepare for the SAT helped me a lot to improve my writing and reading. This was my main weakness, and overcoming it has exposed me to more of the academic world. I never had thirst for reading books before; I do now.

But we also had a lot of fun. We had movie nights and dinners; and there was community service and many other activities that we did together. Even in class, discussions were interesting. I learned a lot from my friends.”

More than just progress

Within about 5 months, Jackson’s hard work – coupled with the dedication of the Bridge2Rwanda staff – caused this B2R Scholar’s TOEFL score to go from a 517 to a 627. Even more impressively, his SAT score jumped from a 1360 to a 1690!

With English as his second language, most would consider Jackson’s 330-point jump to be pretty phenomenal…

Today, Jackson has applied to 10 schools here in the United States: University of Chicago, Northwestern University, Williams College, Johns Hopkins University, Macalester College, University of Connecticut, Grinnell College, Gettysburg College, Vassar College, and Franklin College of Indiana. Having made it to this point – Jackson says, “now I feel near the reach of my goal.”

Jackson credits the B2R Scholars program and his teachers for helping him qualify for admissions to the aforementioned universities and for preparing him for the world of academia that awaits him. He elaborates, “I needed to correct my writing, I needed to learn how to read critically. I needed the strategies to take the SAT. I couldn't have done better without the [B2R Scholars] program.”

Just the beginning

Jackson’s biggest desire is to significantly affect the people of his country. He believes that through university he will gain the skills needed to do so. “My main goal is having quality education that will enable me to have a significant effect on the people of my country. I am going to do Medicine at University - train in America, but work in Rwanda. My country's inability in certain fields of medicine kills me. Recently a friend of a person I know had a serious bone fracture and couldn't find any one to fix it in the country! I want to fill up this gap.”

As for what he is looking forward to most when he arrives in America, Jackson reveals, “…studying in a new environment with no limitations as to how much I can find out or study (which was my main problem in Rwanda). I’m also excited to meet new people and learn a lot from them  - like new, interesting cultures. In general, it’s all about having a global knowledge that will help me to be useful to my country.”

As Jackson awaits his college acceptance letters, he remains positive and determined stating, “Wherever I go, I know I will apply myself to the best of my ability because of what motivates me: to change others’ lives for the better.”

But until the day comes – when he can return to Rwanda with the skills necessary to bring his dream full circle – Jackson Karama continues to do what he can to help those around him in need:

“I have used some of my earnings to buy toothbrushes and toothpaste for some street children in Kigali, and I have taught them to brush. I even found my young friend who first asked me for money. He was still on the street. Whenever I see him, I thank him for making me who I am today.”