How I set up my university in Burundi

The government’s decision to introduce free primary school education brought with it mixed fortunes for many. For Samuel Irungu Njau, who was the proprietor of a private school in Nyahururu, he was forced to close it down in 2003 as parents moved their children to public schools.

He had to look for a new source of income. As a person who is passionate about education, he was keen on looking for greener pastures within and out of the country. An opportunity presented itself in Rwanda following the government’s decision to introduce English as language of instruction to increase access to the global economy.

Irungu decided to try his luck there. With only Sh7,500 he had as savings, he left Kenya in 2009 with a lot of uncertainty about how the life in a foreign country would be.

He used Sh3,000 for transport and the rest to cater for his accommodation. For three months he moved from one place to another without successfully securing a job and spent all he had. Luckily, a friend accommodated him, which came as a great reprieve.

In 2010, Irungu landed his first job as an English teacher in Nu Vision Secondary School. He also quickly got a part-time job at Masoro University. His prowess in the language attracted even government officials and landed him another opportunity: the Rwanda National Police Service contracted him.

Students outside the institute in Bujumbura, Burundi. COURTESY

He had over 600 officers to train, and he was overwhelmed. To fix this, he invited 16 teachers from Kenya to aid him in conducting the lessons. More doors opened and World Vision contracted him to teach English to all teachers in primary and secondary schools from two districts in Rwanda.

Stressed and bedridden

When Mt Kenya University established its branch in Kigali in 2012, Njau was given a job as a lecturer, but three years later, he was retrenched.

In 2015, Njau moved to Burundi, where he and two of his friends, a Kenyan and Burundian came up with a plan to establish an institution of higher learning, which they called International University of Equator.

However, two weeks into the operations, he opted to pullout.

“I realised that my partners were not interested in building the school, but in making quick money. I had injected about Sh4 million into this project and I lost it all,” he said.

He says the two friends went behind his back and incited other stakeholders in the institution to fight him. Due to stress, he developed health complications.

“Stress made me develop severe back problems and I was bedridden for eight months,” he explains.

After recovery, Njau went back to the drawing board, planning how he to start his own university. All this time, he did not have money to either buy food or pay his rent. Fortunately, like the first time, a good friend offered to accommodate him for a couple of months.

The beginning was stormy; Burundi was experiencing political unrest as the then-president was contesting for the seat for the third time.

“There were protests all over and at one time, I was nearly shot, but I was lucky to escape unhurt. My family and friends were asking me to return back home, fearing for my safety,” he recounts.

He started by renting a room in 2015, which he used for his classes, and as time went by more students came in and he was able to get more money to rent more rooms.

I had to sell some of my property to get money to facilitate other logistics to aid in establishing the university.

With the help of Kenyan Ambassador to Burundi, the approval for the university was expedited and the education officers also helped him in laying down the structures to run the institution. This is how Summit International University came about.

To date, the school located in Bujumbura has close to 1,000 students taking various courses.

Outsource talent Njau takes pride in having one of his architecture students win an international award for Miss Entrepreneurship East Africa in December 2019, where she pocketed Shlmillion.

He has also been able to establish partnership with two Japanese universities to expand the scope of courses in the institution.

“Our main aim is to empower the students by giving them entrepreneurial skills, which they can use to transform their country,” he adds.

The journey to success has, however, not been smooth sailing. Njau says due to high poverty levels in the country, many parents are not able to take their children to school, especially for higher learning. Getting qualified teachers is also a challenge and he has been forced to outsource them from Kenya or Uganda, which is expensive.

Njau plans to expand to Gitega, the new capital city for Burundi and later to Congo and Zambia as well.

QUICK FACTS

Samuel Njau was the proprietor of a private school in Nyahururu, which he had to close down following the introduction of free primary school education.

With just Sh7,500, he moved to Rwanda to teach English after the language was introduced in the curriculum.

In 2017, he set up the institute, which has about 1,000 students at the moment.

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