Empowering refugees with digital skills

It started with a fierce desire to help others. First, it was her friends. Then, her family. Today, Grace Nshimiyumukiza is a teacher for the Connected Education program aimed at training 25,000 refugees with digital skills.
Grace
Nshimiyumukiza
Digital skills teacher, refugee advocate, dreamer

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Grace
Nshimiyumukiza

Digital skills teacher, refugee advocate, dreamer

First, she taught herself how to log in. It might sound simple enough, but when Grace Nshimiyumukiza first began teaching herself how to use a computer, she was in the midst of finishing a demanding social work diploma course. From that came the spark of an idea that grew into a dream while she was earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees online. She wondered: what if she could teach other women in her community basic computer skills so they could pursue higher education, too?

©UNHCR/Hannah Maule-ffinch

My energy is always up, no matter how hard it seems.

Grace Nshimiyumukiza

Her community is in Kakuma, a camp in Kenya that’s home to over 190,000 refugees from over 20 countries. Grace’s family came there 17 years ago when they were fleeing war. Grace and her siblings grew up in Kakuma. And at 24, Grace has seen her dreams come true there. She’s now a Digital Skills Trainer for the Connected Education program, launched by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, along with Microsoft Tech for Social Impact, a part of Microsoft Philanthropies.

“I always say Kakuma is a place of opportunities to those who seek them,” says Grace.

The Connected Education program is a two-year project aimed at teaching computer skills and providing livelihood opportunities to 25,000 Kakuma youth. As word of Grace’s dream spread around the camp, UNHCR tapped Grace to become a teacher, training her on the valuable skills she dreamt of passing on to others.

In Grace’s first class, she taught 75 girls from her community during a weeklong intensive. They covered everything from opening a computer to shutting it down to doing data entry to operating a business online. Every one of Grace’s students passed the test at the end of the course—a fact that has propelled her forward, even in the face of the everyday difficulties that come with living in a refugee camp.

©UNHCR/Hannah Maule-ffinch

"This is education for all."

- Grace Nshimiyumukiza

For UNHCR, success is measured by exactly the work Grace is doing reaching some of the camp’s most underserved members. “We want to change the narrative of the refugee because they have skills, and they have talents, says Seda Kuzucu, Head of Protection for UNHCR in Kakuma. “If you give them the opportunities, you will see the impact.”

Grace has experienced this firsthand, and it’s a feeling she’s eager to pay forward. “My energy is always up, no matter how hard it seems,” she says. “Because we want to get youth and women and everybody who lives in Kakuma from a position whereby you depend, to a position where you become very independent.”

Connecting a community in Kakuma

Take a closer look at the place Grace Nshimiyumukiza calls home—Kakuma, a camp for refugees in Kenya—where she’s working to connect her community to digital skills and opportunity. ©UNHCR/Hannah Maule-ffinch

©UNHCR/Hannah Maule-ffinch

©UNHCR/Hannah Maule-ffinch

©UNHCR/Hannah Maule-ffinch

Looking forward, Grace’s goal is to see her students fulfill their dreams, too—whether that’s becoming a leader, starting a business, or helping to fuel the development of Africa.

“I feel very empowered. This is what I always wanted to do, and now it’s here,” says Grace. “Whatever dreams we have, we should be sure that they will one day come true.”

A woman wearing a telephone headset smiles as she looks into a laptop screen.

How’d she do that?

Hear more from Grace as she talks with podcast host Taylor Trudon about how she’s inspiring thousands of others to learn digital skills.

Listen on Apple Podcasts
Listen on Spotify

Powering potential with digital skills

Grace is a trainer in Microsoft Tech for Social Impact, a part of Microsoft Philanthropies. It’s based on the reality that refugees are one of the most digitally excluded populations from the digital world—and the belief that the best way to empower underdeveloped and at-risk communities is through giving them the fundamental opportunities to reach their full potential.