09/24/2012 06:34 am ET Updated Oct 04, 2012

Friends Like Brothers: The Story Of Two Congolese Refugees (PHOTOS)

David Niringiyimana and Innocent Nzayituriki were little boys when they fled war and genocide in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1997. Now in their 20s, the close friends still live in the Gihembe refugee camp in Rwanda, waiting for peace to return to their home country.

Established in 1996, Gihembe is a kind of limbo to more than 19,000 refugees. They receive food, medical care, and basic education from humanitarian organizations, but lack incentive and opportunity to change their circumstances. They cannot return to the Congo until peace returns and they are not citizens of Rwanda.

When Innocent discovered the Cisco Networking Academy at the Gichumbi Business Development Center (BDC), he realized that developing information and communications technology (ICT) skills could be a way for both him and David to move out of the camp and improve their prospects. Refugees like David Niringiyimana and Innocent Nzayituriki walk the 45 minutes from the camp to seek opportunities at the BDC.

In Africa's rural communities, bridging the digital divide remains a deep structural difficulty -- so much so that many African citizens still do not even have access to news of their own country. One of the first BDCs to partner with Cisco Systems is in Gichumbi, a village high in the mountains, 3.5 hours from the capital Kigali. The BDC has become a source of education and empowerment for the people of Gichumbi, as well as the Congolese refugees who live nearby in the Gihembe refugee camp.

The Future of Rwanda

For inspiration, David and Innocent need look no further than the Minister of ICT in Rwanda, Jean Philbert Nsengimana, the man responsible for the country’s BDC infrastructure. The Minister graduated from the University of Rwanda where he also studied at a Cisco Networking Academy.

When he became Minister of ICT, he knew that Cisco Networking Academies in the BDCs could help jumpstart the ICT market by creating a skilled workforce. All of his classmates had found jobs in management positions and he knew that the original Cisco Networking Academy had only just scratched the surface of preparing for a booming ICT market. More people in more places needed access to training and business services to unleash their entrepreneurial spirit.

When Peace Returns

The Minister’s experience with Cisco Networking Academy has caused the program to spread throughout the country, multiplying his impact to reach even the remotest villages. In the past 10 years, income in Rwanda has tripled as the country gains a reputation for safety and honesty and connects to the world.

David and Innocent reinvest their earnings in themselves, continuing their studies to advance their careers. “We are people on the run and Rwanda is the country that has caught us in a warm embrace,” said Innocent of their present and future. “Rwanda has given us education, given us food, given us everything… Because I am a refugee here, I do not have a country. I do not have land that I can call my own.”

They believe that their computing and networking skills will give them access to jobs, anywhere they go. When peace returns to the DRC, they both hope to return to their home, buy land, and make a positive impact on their country through the skills they have acquired.

Two Rwandese Refugees