Robert Kabera

Hometown: Memphis, TN

high school: Kingsbury High School

college: Stanford University

MAJOR: Energy Resource Engineering

GRAD. PROGRAM: Washington State University (PhD Candidate)

Robert was born in Rwanda in 1988. His father was Rwanda’s foremost engineer. He attended the country’s top private school. Life was good until 1994, when the former President of Rwanda was assassinated. Within hours, mass killings erupted. There was no escaping. Those who fled were shot or cut to death with machetes. His family hid in a tunnel for two weeks to escape the shootings. They survived on small amounts of sugar, uncooked rice, powdered milk and flour mixed with water. After two weeks, they ran out of food and had to risk leaving their hiding place. There were warheads and bombs exploding. They left the tunnel and joined the few survivors. They walked 75 miles towards Uganda. It was a long, exhausting walk. Robert saw literally thousands of dead bodies rotting all over the road. People who weren’t strong enough to go on or those who were too sick had to stop and just die there.

The family finally made it to a Red Cross Refugee Center. They were given just enough food to stay alive. They walked for miles through war zones to get water. Twenty-four people lived in one small room. Around them, countless people died under those conditions. Three months later, the war came to a cease fire. They were forced to flee the country because it was not safe for his family. They then lived in Uganda for three years and in a refugee camp in Botswana for four years. The United Nations’ High Commission for Refugees sponsored the family’s entree to the U.S. That is how Robert survived the ethnic conflict that killed over 800,000 people in less than three months; it is how he came to live in more than eleven countries in Africa, Europe and North America, and it is how he came to speak, read and write up to seven languages in order to survive.

Experiencing war did not embitter Robert, but rather drove him to excel and to acquire the best education he could. Education was his sanctuary, his salvation and secret weapon to fight the insurmountable obstacles that he faced. While living in the refugee camp in Botswana, he formed a debate team with other refugee children. At the age of eleven, Robert spoke about optimism and the nature of refugee status before an audience of thousands, including the vice president of Botswana and its generals. Today, he is invited to speak in front of civic, community and educational leaders. He also meets with students and parents.

Robert believes everybody has challenges that could act as a ceiling to keep them from achieving. His focus is not only to tell his story as a part of history but also to inspire and influence young people to achieve through intellectual growth and be determined to overcome all obstacles.

Robert wants to thank the Ron Brown Scholarship Committee for the tremendous honor that has made his dream a possible reality.

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