After her siblings left the country to seek greener pastures abroad, Tracy dreamed of a day when she too would finish her A-level studies and travel overseas for further studies.
When the day came, Tracy was ecstatic and hardly slept the night before her travel to the USA. All she could think about was starting a new life in America, which included studying and finding part-time work.
In her first year at university, she was hired at a local fast food restaurant. It’s been 10 years since she left; she finished her studies and is a junior staff at a local hospital in St. Louis, Missouri. She also sends money to relatives back home as contribution towards a family business.
Tracy’s story is what many families dream of. To have a relative abroad who sends remittances back home.
Some families pride in having their relatives living in the advanced western world to enjoy the benefits of having a ‘well off family’ member.
26-year-old Robert Mihigo has lived in the United States for over five years now. He says, living abroad has not only pushed him to seek greater heights, but has also enabled him to support his family back home.
His journey to the US started with pursuit of academics and after getting his degree, he secured a juicy job at a prestigious company and life has never been the same for him.
“Living abroad has benefited me in lots of ways. I have a good job and with it, I send money to my family and also manage to live a decent life,” he says.
He believes that living in the Diaspora has given him success that he probably wouldn’t have gotten that easily if he was in Rwanda. That, however, came with challenges, he says.
Mihigo agrees that life is definitely not easy, especially when one is just starting to establish themselves, though for him, the journey wasn’t that tough since he managed to secure a good job just a few months after graduation.
His plans to come back home one day, but first, he wants to make enough money for his family.
“I am planning to start up a business back home because I have plans to come back. I know life abroad is very different but home is home and at some point, I will come back and start my own family,” he says.
Living abroad is in most cases a silver bullet to success because of the available opportunities out there, that’s why it is said that the Diaspora is more than capable of taking their home country to another level in terms of development.
Is the grass really greener abroad?
Allen Rugina has been living in Canada for the past 10 years and cannot define living abroad without the word success in it; her life took a great turn when she travelled abroad.
“My family was in complete poverty at the time I left. We barely had a roof over our heads and my parents were too old to be working. I decided to seek for greener pastures, which wasn’t easy, and now life is better,” Rugina narrates.
With the money she makes from her job, Rugina constructed a house for her parents back home in Rwanda and set up a business that serves as a daily source of income for the family too.
Statistics from the National Bank of Rwanda indicate that remittances received from the Diaspora for the last year alone amounted to $156m.
Jabo Butera, the Chief Executive Officer of Diaspora Business Incubator, a platform that serves as a consultation and supporting hub for all Diaspora members interested in investing and starting business in Rwanda, says that living in the Diaspora opens doors to success because of the exposure one gets.
He, however, says that for one to use that chance to contribute to their country’s development, they have to believe that it’s their responsibility to help their country get to the next level.
Butera is of the view that people should go abroad and learn from what others have done such that more ideas are exploited and brought to be implemented back home.
“Travelling always opens people’s eyes, you see quite a lot, you get to meet different people and as someone who has travelled, I can testify to that,” he says.
“People should know that it’s their responsibility to be part of the development of the country. It’s not for others but for each one of us, people should understand this and work towards coming up with constructive ideas,” he adds.
Apart from his company being a platform for sharing global ideas, it also helps oversee businesses for the people who invest in Rwanda.
However, having lived in England for over 11 years, Butera says that life abroad is not as rosy as people think, that’s why his initiative also aims at helping people stay focused on the objectives that made them leave home in the first place.
Butera points out that some people go abroad with the aim of coming back after a certain period, but because things end up not working out the way they hoped, they end up staying there for ages. That’s why through events like ‘Rwanda Day’, such matters are discussed as a constant reminder for Rwandans not to forget the reasons of being in the Diaspora, he adds.
Hassan Saleh shares his experience on the life he lived when he first set foot in the United States of America. Life was completely different and surviving was more of a hustle.
“Getting a job seemed like a dream because the competition on the market was way too high, the only option was settling for odd jobs to survive,” he says.
Aside from the hustle and the high standards of living, Saleh says that racism is another issue that can make one hop onto the next plane back to their home country.
Nobert Haguma, the Vice President of the Rwanda Diaspora Global Network, says that living abroad is not an all-easy feat because there are challenges that come with staying in a foreign country.
“The first challenge for people in the Diaspora is adapting to the new culture, climate, habits and food, among others,” he says.
He points out that the further one is away from home, the more different things will be. “That has been a challenge for years but we motivate people in the Diaspora to get organised and have a community that can give a better experience for the new arrivals,” he adds.
Haguma says that another challenge lies in the atmosphere the different countries provide because some are easy to adjust to whereas others are completely hard.
“It is easy to assume that the richer the country, the more opportunities you will have but Japan, for example, has a very small diaspora community and it is very hard to get a job there and make a living,” Haguma says.
On the other hand, he reveals that many Rwandans are making a good living in African countries like Zambia where land is affordable and return on investment is high.
“China is another good experience because of its important trade with Africa, there are a lot of opportunities to make a living helping other people import things from China, helping Chinese companies understand Africa and doing odd jobs like teaching English to Chinese. The existing economic relations give a lot of space for all kinds of entrepreneurs,” he adds.
What challenges do people in the Diaspora face?
I think the most common challenge is the language barrier. Some people end up in countries with a national language they do not know. This not only affects their communication ability, but it is a hassle finding a tutor or interpreter. It is not easy adapting to their ways of living. It is also hard to build the careers they are actually interested in.
Jacky Kayitesi, student
We all know that nothing beats the joy of having your beloved family members and friends around you, and this is a huge challenge that people in the Diaspora face. Leaving your family and friends behind and heading to a new country where you have to start afresh, and meet people who don’t know or care about you is never easy. You can make new friends, but nothing can replace family; you miss them every single day.
Vincent Kazubwenge, model
Adapting to and practising a new culture and other social values is a challenge itself. We all love the culture of our motherland, the togetherness of people in our community, and respect of our social values. It is very challenging when you are in another country and have to at some point forego some cultural practises, values, and forget the attachment you had back home. It’s a challenge you face time after time, there is nothing you can do.
Patricia Uwase, public secretary
Leaving your home country and heading to another is like leaving part of who you are behind. However, the hard-hitting encounter I find for most is the ability to adapt to a new setting and new working environment. Employment opportunities might be available, but the requirements needed to have access to such offers are high.
Ronald Athanase, marketing and sales