In Rwanda’s Kiziba refugee camp, 23-year-old Sebakungu Tuyisenge had a dream of pursuing higher education. Many young people he knew weren’t able to complete secondary education. His parents didn’t have a job in the camp, and his family relied on help from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
But he studied hard to be eligible to receive funding from nonprofits to go to high school. He spent a lot of time reading dictionaries and novels. And he managed to move on to his goal of higher education.
Tuyisenge is now set to complete a BA in communications in November — as an online student of Southern New Hampshire University’s (SNHU) Global Education Movement (GEM) initiative, which offers university degrees to refugees around the world with the help of nonprofit organizations and other academic institutions.
“As a refugee, I have a right to pursue education and I hope that maybe a job will come,” Tuyisenge said in a phone interview.
Consolee Amina, a 36-year-old living in Cape Town, South Africa, is another Rwandan refugee who completed her BA in healthcare management last April as a student of SNHU.
Their status as refugees has presented them with significant hurdles, from limited job opportunities to poor living conditions, making them feel they need to grab any chance they can, to get a good job and change their lives.
That is why they decided to acquire additional education, beyond their BA degree, and start cybersecurity studies.
Tuyisenge said that because of the huge consequences of cybercrime, he feels motivated to study the subject to protect not only himself, but also his community.
Amina was once a victim of online phishing, leading her to become interested in cybersecurity education as a way to learn how to protect herself and others. She said she read studies that showed a need for cybersecurity specialists around the world, as society becomes increasingly more digital.
They each applied and were accepted to a cyber education boot camp for refugees — a collaborative effort between Cybint, a cybersecurity company focused on education and founded in Israel in 2014, and SNHU’s Gem program.
The goal of the boot camp, which started in July, is to help refugees get cybersecurity education, find a job in the industry and eliminate the shortage of qualified cyber professionals in Africa.
“Our mission and vision for Cybint is to help local communities,” said Nadav Baadany, Cybint’s vice president of business development for Europe, Latin America and Africa. “By doing that, we are helping skilled refugees to basically utilize their talents and education internationally.”
Cybint was created to address a shortage of talent in the global cybersecurity industry through reskilling and training teenagers and young adults around the world in remote boot camps.
The boot camps, which Cybint started running in 2018 and have produced more than 200 graduates, are designed to prepare people who have little to no experience in IT for jobs in the cybersecurity sector, through either a full-time 12-week course or a part-time 24-week course.
Boot camp and beyond
The 12-week session that Tuyisenge and Amina enrolled in is the first one Cybint has done jointly with SNHU, and it operated tuition-free for the 15 students enrolled — two from Kenya, two from South Africa and the rest from Rwanda.
The boot camp is intensive and demanding, Baadany said, and covers the basics of computers, memory, networks and malware analysis, among other things.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, the boot camp was entirely remote. To prepare for this, Cybint and SNHU made sure all students had laptops, SIM cards and enough electricity to last for at least eight hours a day.
But Tuyisenge said he still faced challenges, such as issues with his laptop issues and network connectivity. He said he could go an entire day without being able to access his email.
The last week of the session focused on career development — using LinkedIn, crafting resumes and preparing for job opportunities. Students receive a certificate, detailing the program curriculum for potential employers to see.
This cohort graduated at the end of October, but Baadany said the impact of the course extends well beyond graduation.
“SNHU and us, we partnered to help refugees to leverage their training so they can achieve better professional goals and contribute to their talents, and basically to increase their potential,” Baadany said. “It’s more important for us that people will get a job, rather than just a certificate.”
Tuyisenge didn’t know much about cyber education before this boot camp. He said his understanding of computer systems has expanded greatly over the last few weeks, and he’s developed an ability to successfully practice cybersecurity and digital privacy.
He is hopeful of landing a job in the cybersecurity industry that allows him to work on digital protection for people or organizations.
Amina said the cyber education has given her hope that she will soon find a good employment opportunity, whether that be in South Africa or elsewhere around the world, after a long spell of hopelessness.
“Now, I’m confident enough that I can work a security consultant,” Amina said. “I’m hoping to have a career in this [cybersecurity field].”
Baadany said after witnessing the success of this pilot collaborative boot camp, he is hopeful Cybint will have an ongoing partnership with SNHU and expand to a larger cohort.