Meet Mireille: JRS Refugee Education Advocate

11 March 2019

Dr. Mireille Twayigira, JRS Refugee Education Advocate (Jesuit Refugee Service)
At first I didn’t want to tell my story because I didn’t want people to pity me. I didn’t realize it’s a story that can give hope and inspire others.
Dr. Mireille Twayigira, JRS Refugee Education Advocate

Mireille left Rwanda with her family when she was two after her father was killed during the 1994 genocide. For the next six years, the family moved around various parts of Africa on foot, travelling from country to country before Mireille, now aged eight, finally arrived with her grandfather at Dzaleka camp in Malawi; her mother and grandmother had both succumbed to illness during their long journey.

In Dzaleka, Mireille became a student in one of the Jesuit Refugee Service’s education programs. She found stability and self-confidence in Malawi, and dedicated herself to her studies, eventually graduating from secondary school among the top three female students in the country. Her extraordinary academic success, achieved in a refugee camp, garnered national attention in Malawi. Despite graduating with such high marks, her situation made it doubtful that she would have the chance to attend university, but with the assistance of JRS, the Malawian and Chinese governments, and others, she began medical studies in a prestigious program in China, and graduated as a medical doctor in 2016.

Mireille fought hard to thrive rather than just survive. She is happy to be a beacon of hope and an ambassador for the refugee community, but she is an ordinary person who has been thrown into extraordinary circumstances. It might be tempting to describe Mireille’s experience as an anomaly, driven by her unique motivation and extraordinary ability, but she believes that her ambition was rooted in her circumstances as a refugee.

After going through so much, there has to be a reason I made it this far.
Dr. Mireille Twayigira

Mireille has not always had such a positive outlook, but her years of schooling helped her grow spiritually and emotionally. Her experiences travelling through Africa, China, and Europe, taught her to be more accepting and open-minded, and she began to see the opportunities in her life. Mireille also found optimism during her time studying in China and holds a special appreciation for the friends she made there. She greatly appreciated the international community that she found in Shenyang province in China, and says that the people she met there helped her to see her own narrative as hopeful instead of tragic. When looking to the future, and where she wants to make her home, Mireille believes that her education helped her find her passion and faith, and this contributed to the discovery of her purpose in life. Mireille wants to use her skills and knowledge where she can make the most difference, and for her that is in Africa.

This is why Mireille has taken on the responsibility of being the Refugee Education Advocate here at JRS. She believes that education is the key to resolving the challenges faced by refugees. When asked what she wants the world to know about refugees, she stressed that refugees want dignity and respect. No one wants to be a burden to others, and Mireille believes that refugees should be seen as a resource. She says, “Refugees want to be involved in the solution.” The simplest way to include them is to give them the opportunity to learn. Mireille maintains that education is the best gift we can give to the refugee child.

For millions of refugee girls, education is out of reach. Despite substantial increases in access to girls’ education around the world over the last two decades, refugee girls remain left behind.

Read our policy brief, Her Future: Challenges & Recommendations to Increase Education for Refugee Girls that calls for policymakers, donors, and other decision makers to prioritize education for refugee and displaced girls and provides recommendations to improve access.