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The heart carries the feet: Ntumwa Steeve’s resilient journey


“Tell me a fact and I’ll learn. Tell me a truth and I’ll believe. But tell me a story and it will live in my heart forever.” Native American proverb.

When Strathmore University representatives visited Le Collège Alfajiri in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) for a Mathematics contest in 2018, they never thought they’d come back with such a valiant soul, well… at least not with the grit with which Ntumwa Steeve Bulonza has faced a nerve-racking pandemic year on top of having to literally carry the weight of his world in his shoulders.

Hailing from a French speaking country and relocating to an English-speaking one to pursue his tertiary education meant he needed to undergo a three-month English proficiency course offered by the University to international students facing a language barrier. He speaks passionately of his excitement to learn a new language that would unlock the key to his dreams.

The firstborn in a family of eight, Ntumwa says that family isn’t just a social construct. “So much of what is best in us is bound up in our love of family, that it remains the measure of our stability”. After his English course and before he could commence his Diploma in Business Information Technology (DBIT), he decided to join his family back in DR Congo where he’d help his mother, a politician, with her day-to-day activities.

A journey with a twist

Fast-forward to 2019, Ntumwa’s third and final semester was hard cheese, coupled with uncertainty and a generally bad headspace. He’d just learnt that his father had lost his job. But on top this, he had an eerie feeling things weren’t all jolly back home. He could however not afford to lose focus on his studies, after all, his father had sacrificed to pay a whole academic year’s tuition fees despite the challenges.

A week to his final exams, he receives a call from a friend to the family and his guardian in Kenya. He learns that his mother is in the country, fleeing from political dangers. Ntumwa’s anxiety is off the roof and he misreads his final exam timetable, a Software Engineering paper, which he goes on to miss.

For young Ntumwa, family means the world to him and his firstborn instincts will always kick in whenever he thinks he needs to protect them. That said, it did not sit well with him that his family was henceforth forced to become political refugees. He, however, resolves to go to his home country to get six of his siblings while the second born, who was in his final year of high school, stays behind to complete his secondary studies with their father until an opportune time when they’d join the rest of the family in Kenya.

“At this point, I had to relocate from Mbagathi, close to the University, to Eastlands so as to be with my family. It was definitely a steep change of lifestyle and these things can really hit you hard. It was especially difficult for my siblings who had been used to living in our own house with a patio and a big compound. Being young, they could not quite understand and it felt unfair to them. But such is life and we move on up.”

The situation wasn’t getting any better and his family had to stay in Kenya a while longer. “It is now 2021 and the global pandemic seems to be affecting the livelihoods of some more than others. What’s worse, you can’t just stay in a foreign country for a long time using a visitor’s pass. My mother had to register all of us as refugees.”

A mischance

At the beginning of the year, he got a work study opportunity to work as a Student Assistant at the School of Computing and Engineering Sciences (formerly Faculty of Information Technology). The Student Assistant Program is a partial scholarship designed to give students with demonstrated financial need an opportunity to meet their educational expenses.

“Things had started shaping up. I had just celebrated my birthday and was on my way to work on a Saturday morning when I got into an accident along Uhuru Highway while atop a boda motorbike. At first I ignored the pain but I soon needed to rush to hospital.  It was a scary time for me, but by God’s grace, my hospital stay was fruitful.

Life happens, but you’re a decision maker…

Chinonye J. Chidolue says that “Life is naturally spontaneous, but know when to be DELIBERATE. Life happens, but you’re a decision maker.”  Rising from that hospital bed and introspecting on all I had been through, I made the decision that I would pursue my education and look for ways to support my family with a vigor and intention that would make a difference. I would thrive by all means! I applied for both a special exam for the Software Engineering paper I had missed, and also for the Bachelor in Business Information Technology (BBIT). I passed the exam and also got a letter of acceptance to join the degree classes.

After a candid interaction with the Financial Aid office, I was awarded a partial scholarship which went a long way in helping keep dreams of brighter days and a promising future alive. For the first time in a long while, my family had many reasons to smile.

Just do it!

An apprentice of my mother’s, I have learnt how to make great Congo sausages and samosas. Back in September 2020, I started small with minimal to no resources. A few sales and lots of sweat later, I managed to buy a grinder and shortly after, a charcoal burner. While this business is not where I’d like it to be, I am quite committed to investing my energy and creativity into it. I learnt graphic design and used the skills to come up with a logo and inviting visuals for my Just Yummy business. I’m working on a marketing strategy such as packaging, to drive sales. So far I’ve been able to raise some tuition fee and upkeep from the proceeds.

I have switched my study schedule to evening classes to strike a balance between my studies and Just Yummy.

I am now with my entire family here in Nairobi. They say home is where your heart is, mine is always with my family. I do not know what the future holds, but I continue being ever so hopeful of brighter days and better tides.

Whatever you do, do it with passion and love! And move from the defeatist attitude that you can’t do something or you’re not prepared enough. That not so brilliant idea you have, start work on it now and like Nike, Just do it!”


This article was written by Francis Kabutu.


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