Growing up in a refugee camp in Rwanda, Patrick Manyika '12 '14 never dreamed he would one day leave and move thousands of miles away to go to school. In fact, he didn't even know a place called the United States existed.
"They would send food and it would drop from the sky," Manyika, 33, said. "I could read that it said 'USAID.' There were no TVs, no electricity. Our classes took place under acacia trees."
Living in the Akagera National Park, where seeing leopards and elephants was the norm, Manyika learned the way of the land.
"You had to be careful not to hit a giraffe," he said. "You learn survival skills as a child, like how to climb up trees fast, and to stay away from buffalos."
When he was 14, life changed dramatically for Manyika. The genocide in Rwanda began on April 7, 1994, and more than 1 million people were killed over the course of 100 days. Manyika was attacked with a machete, but survived, as did his family. Twenty years later, reconciliation and rebuilding continue in Rwanda.
"The country has changed completely," Manyika said. "Right now Rwanda is safer than some areas here, the GDP has been growing dramatically at seven percent annually, institutions are in place, and doing business in Rwanda is easy. It’s a beautiful country."
Once he hit adulthood, Manyika began to attend university until he suspended his studies to work. He wanted to do something that helped others, and was hired by Partners in Health, an organization that gives vaccinations and runs clinics and hospitals. Realizing that he wanted to learn more about how to write business plans, Manyika decided to check out the University of Redlands while on a trip to Southern California. He applied, was accepted, and arrived in the fall of 2009.
It was a definite culture shock.
"I had visited the U.S. in 2006 and 2008, and visiting and living are two completely different things," he said. "When I came to visit people were taking care of me, and when I came here on my own I had to prepare food and do things myself. It was really hard. I didn’t even know how to use a gas cooker. I knew nothing."
He was unsure of how to cope with a climate so different from Rwanda's, and also how to prepare food without any familiar ingredients. One day, he needed to get across town, and started walking on the 10 freeway.
"People were giving me funny looks, so I figured it was fishy," he said. "I told the manager at my apartment and she said, 'That's illegal, and that's crazy. You could be arrested.'"
The classroom was different as well, but in a good way.
"It was a great experience and a big challenge, because I came from a French speaking nation in Africa," he said. "The education systems are different, and if you look at the first paper I wrote and the last one, you will see a huge difference. Critical thinking wasn't something I did before, so it was really hard for me. I had tutors during the first semester, and my GPA grew from 2.2 to 3.7 at the end of the program."
Wanting to continue his studies, Manyika enrolled in the MBA program, with the hopes of becoming an information systems analyst in rural Africa.
"Such skills are scarce," he said. "I could work anywhere, but want to work with nonprofit organizations, helping underdeveloped communities. This is a big thing; having a master's from the U.S., nobody I know has achieved such a level."
Manyika's not finished with school, as he now has his sights on a master's in GIS. But before he heads back to class, he is going home to Rwanda for the first time in three years. A filmmaker has been following him for several years, and plans on shooting more footage for a documentary on Manyika that should be released later in 2014.
"I met him when he came from Silicon Valley to a TED conference in Africa," Manyika said. "Now he's a producer and director. He was interested in my story because he said, 'I know where you came from, and I know where you're at. Maybe it could inspire other people that anything is possible.'"
Having a filmmaker document his life has given Manyika valuable insight into the person he has become.
"It's made me realize how far I have gone," he said. "It's been a long journey, and there has been self-reflection. I like to share not only my story, but also the story of my society."
Written by: Catherine Garcia