SOUTH AFRICAN asylum seeker Wongwa Giqwa said she has a new lease on life since starting her Sanctuary Scholarship at UCC last year.
Wongwa, who is originally from Eastern Cape, came to Ireland three years ago seeking refuge and said she is the happiest she has ever been since starting college at UCC.
While staying in a Direct Provision Centre, Wongwa started studying electrical engineering at UCC in 2018.
Sanctuary Scholarships provide support to asylum seeker and refugee students wishing to study for undergraduate qualification at colleges and universities in Ireland.
The 24-year-old is now going into her second year of a four-year course with the option to do a masters after.
“It’s a great opportunity that I didn’t think was possible. I couldn’t even study level five when I first arrived.”
Wongwa said that all her tuition, transport, food costs are covered.
“I applied to the CAO, to get a place, then I applied for a scholarship.”
Last year seven undergrads were awarded a place and this year six more individuals were given the chance to study at University College Cork through Sanctuary Scholarships.
“It’s a wonderful opportunity and a good change of pace for me. Before this, I couldn’t do anything. It has given me a sense of purpose and is helping me to do something that will allow me to give back to society.”
Wongwa said that going into her second year of college, it was a case of so far so good.
“It is going well. I did well in exams last year and looking forward to my second year.”
She said there were challenging elements to going back to college as a 24-year-old international student.
“It is hard, after being in the same place so long, but it is great to make friends, meet new people and do new things.”
Wongwa said that there is a lot of extra help academically at the college which she had availed of. “There is a good support system, great peer system, tutors and extra sessions. People are very willing to help you, which is brilliant.”
Discussing her favourite thing about college, Wongwa said that she is looking forward to getting back to studying in her second year.
“I like having something to do.” When she finishes her degree, Wongwa wants to get a job in a company she is passionate about here in Ireland and get experience under her belt. “I would ideally like to work for a tech company that helps the community,” Wongwa said, “for example, there is a company in Rwanda, Zipline, they deliver lifesaving medical equipment and medicine by drone.
“I would travel to work with them,” Wongwa said.
As well as making friends on her course, Wongwa said that the students on Sanctuary Scholarships are very close and hang out together regularly.
“We meet at a Sanctuary Scholarship reception and we have a Whatsapp group. We are in the same societies as well, so we see each other regularly.”
Wongwa is a member of the Africa Society, the Women in Stem and International Students Society as well as the dance club. “I like African dance and hip hop,” Wongwa said.
The young student said that she has made some strong friendships through her degree and said being in group projects helped her to mix with other students she wouldn’t have normally interacted with.
“Group projects were surprisingly really enjoyable. I was afraid one or two of us would be doing all the work and anxious about whether I would like the people in the group, but I have made strong friendships and it made me more grateful to be in college and on the course and I really came out of my shell.”
Speaking about the UCC campus, Wongwa had only good things to say.
“I like the campus, it is beautiful, practical, functional and well resourced with the library and restaurants and cafes. I am the happiest since I’ve been in Ireland, but also the most stressed!”
Wongwa said it can be difficult to study for the course while staying in a Direct Provision centre.
“I have no place to go, I will just sleep if I am in my room. I use public space but sometimes there is noise. It can be challenging, but I am coping.”
Director of Equality, Diversity & Inclusion at UCC, Karl Kitching, said that the Sanctuary Scholarship programme at UCC is working out very well with the students really applying themselves to the course and to university life.
“We have seen the hugely positive impact that the Sanctuary Scholarship scheme makes on the lives of those ranked among the top scholarship applicants.
“Our scholarship holders are making a huge contribution to university life through involvement in various student societies and internship programmes.
“There is significant demand for these scholarship places, however. The higher education sector as a whole needs to do more to create meaningful access to education for people seeking asylum, who have refugee status and are not yet entitled to state supports.”
All undergraduate Sanctuary Scholarships require a UCC CAO course offer before a scholarship can be offered.
Seven undergraduate scholarships were awarded in 2018. Six undergraduate scholarships were confirmed for 2019, with places also open to asylum seekers and refugees on certain Adult Continuing Education courses.
The undergraduate scholarships cover tuition and related student fees, as well as a bursary sponsored by the Tomar Trust, for food, travel and start-up study costs.