Stella Marilène Nishimwe comes from Burundi and has been attending Sophia University Institute for two years and three months. Soon, she will receive a master’s degree in political science. In this interview she talks about her dreams for herself and for the continent of Africa.
Marilène, you came to Sophia over two years ago. Now that you are finishing your courses in political science, can you say something about what you have got out of the experience in this university institute?
I had always wanted to have a different kind of learning experience and found what I was looking for at Sophia, a place where you not only assimilate academic knowledge, but are also asked for dialogue and reflection. Sophia provided me with an opportunity to question my own convictions, but in a positive way, starting from the basics with my faith and my culture. I can say that thanks to the dialogue with people who have a different faith or a different culture, thanks to all the quality time we spent with one another, now I’m more Christian than before and more Burundian. Sophia opened me to the world, but without making me lose my identity.
Has the fact that Sophia University Institute is inserted into the town of Loppiano helped to make your experience more enriching?
I would have to say on one hand yes, on the other hand no. Yes, because the fact that Sophia is inserted into an international town like Loppiano has protected me. I never feel like a foreigner when I’m in Loppiano and it provides me with a unique intercultural experience. But I would also say no, because it isn’t always that easy to take part actively in town events.
We know that you, like other students at Sophia, are involved in the “Together for a New Africa” project for the promotion of responsible leadership among African youth. How is the project going? Has the pandemic brought it to a halt?
The “Together for a New Africa” project was the brainchild of several students coming from different countries in Africa, who were studying at Sophia. Looking at the many challenges of the African continent, they wanted to go home and help prepare young people, to help make them more equipped to face those challenges, with a leadership style that was illuminated by a culture of unity. Thus, ever since 2018, around a hundred young people from East Africa and the Democratic Republic of Congo and their tutors, met every year for a three-year training course in Kenya. After the course, they went back to their countries and applied what they learned in their own lives and activities. The pandemic didn’t stop them. It only taught them other ways of implementing the project. We held the third training in early January. But we hope, if nothing changes, to meet again in the next few months to conclude the cycle. Anyway, the project won’t end for them, because they become protagonists with us in bringing it forward. Meanwhile, we carry out several activities in different countries, but also together. For example, in the most recent training course, we decided to read together and more carefully the pope’s new encyclical, Brothers and Sisters All, because it appeals to all of us and urges all of us toward deeper change.
What are your plans for the future?
This is not a very easy question. . . I always liked teaching, because it gave me so much joy to be able to share knowledge with others. I think that education is one of the roads that can lead someone to self-fulfillment. So, my idea for the future is to go backc to Burundi and put into practice, through teaching, what Sophia as offered to me. But I remain open to the surprises in life.