How Mastercard Foundation scholar is giving hope to abandoned patients

January 13, 2017
After losing his father in the Rwandan ethnic genocide of 1994, Ifashabayo Sylvain Dejoie ‘19 had to grow up quickly. That maturity spawned a sense of compassion and care, and so from the age of twelve, Dejoie and his friends took to spending their spare time in hospitals, visiting the sick and desolate, many of whom were also victims of the genocide.

“Our society had been left badly broken, and there was no one to fix it but us, regardless of our ages,” Dejoie explains. “Seeing the effect the genocide had on several of my friends and me, losing our loved ones and breadwinners, many of us not only had to take up the mantle of leaders of our homes but also as servants to others.”

Years later, when representatives from Ashesi visited his high school, Dejoie knew he had found a place where he could grow into the kind of leader he wanted to be. As soon as Dejoie arrived at Ashesi as a student and Mastercard Foundation scholar, he began seeking out ways he could continue to show care to people in hospitals. By his second year, he found out that the several public health institutions in Ghana, particularly, mental hospitals, provided an opening for this.

“A lot of people in Ghanaian public mental hospitals are abandoned by their families, and usually end up making the hospital wards their homes even when they get better,” Dejoie says. “For a lot of them, there is very little to look forward to in their lives. This is where we come in. We can’t be students who are only aiming at becoming great leaders in our careers. We need to be people who have a strong sense of humanity and love.”

Through Dejoie’s Hope Initiative, Ashesi students, staff and faculty provide support to local public health institutions, many of which are under-resourced and understaffed. Every semester, the team holds health and caregiving workshops for volunteers and also makes donations to health institutions. In 2016, the team paid multiple visits to the Pantang Mental hospital in Ghana. They interacted with the patients through music and games, and also made donations of clinical and non-clinical items towards the patients’ upkeep at the hospital.

“I pray Hope Initiative helps break norms and perceptions people have of the mentally challenged,” Dejoie says. Through Hope Initiative, he and his team plan to visit not only hospitals but also prisons, juvenile centers, and institutions where people suffer neglect and are in need of compassion.

Since the 1994 genocide, Rwanda has enjoyed a steady recovery process. With sound development and strong leadership, the country is on a positive trajectory. For Dejoie, readily answering a call to improve one’s society is an important role in leadership – the kind that his country and Africa need.

“The genocide pushed a lot of us to treasure life more, realizing who we truly are and what we can do to help society. I choose to be a leader,  who will not only seek peace but who will work hard to ensure that as many people as possible are treated equally. The simple concept is to give what I wish to get. To me, compassion means sacrifice, honesty and that feeling of discomfort till I am able to make someone’s life better. That is what we should aspire to.”

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