The young man clearly needed tips on diplomatic courtesy before delivering a speech on behalf of over thirty Rwandan students who have received scholarships to study in various Chinese colleges sponsored by the government of the People’s Republic of China.
On Thursday afternoon, Ambassador Shen Yongxiang, China’s envoy to Kigali hosted the excited winners and their relatives to a farewell cocktail held at the embassy premises. Dr John Rutayisire, Director of the Rwanda Education Board (REB) attended on behalf of the government.
Jean-Félix Mukerabigwi, the young man chosen to express gratitude on behalf of others was smartly dressed for the occasion, he got everything else right save for one comment he should have kept to himself until an opportune moment to deliver it to those concerned.
“My last remark goes to the government of Rwanda and I am sure this is the right opportunity for me to say it; the living allowances given to us by the Chinese government are very small, we request our government to increase it so that we can live a comfortable life in China,” said the young man.
There was no applause; a few parents looked down in embarrassment as fellow students laughed in a rather jittery manner. From the high table where I was seated, it was a classic diplomatic moment; they were pokerfaced making it hard to decipher their feelings.
When Dr Rutayisire took to the floor, he didn’t crumble his words and the teacher-parent-leader elements in him were on full display.
“To you scholarship winners, you are lucky and you must appreciate what you have. This scholarship gives you an opportunity to get what many others can only wish for, skills and your country needs skills,” he counseled.
Fortunately, Gui Dan, the efficient political attaché who was mistress of ceremony quickly restored the mood by playing a 17 minute clip of happy Rwandan students who are currently studying in various Chinese Universities.
The video started with a young man who is studying agricultural processing in China, he was rather overdressed, in a crisp white shirt with a red tie. He was in what appeared to be a single student room with a well organised medium sized bed. He spoke as he worked on his Lenovo laptop on a well organised reading table inside his room.
Other clips also showed happy Rwandans stocking skills and knowledge from universities of the second most influential country in the world. The clips were aimed at boosting confidence of students who will be leaving for China this weekend.
If I sound biased in this whole matter, well, I concede. But that’s because I’m a Chinese Scholarship beneficiary myself who only recently returned from Beijing with a Master in International communication.
I wasn’t working and the only income I had was a 2000 yuan (Rwf220, 000) stipend received monthly from the Chinese government that sponsored my studies; it was just enough. I had a spacious self-contained room to myself with wireless internet and my bed sheets were changed every morning.
The curious journalist in me badly wanted to know whether local Chinese students got the same treatment in their hostels. The findings shocked me.
The life of a Chinese campus student at the Communication University of China reminded me of days in High school. Six students in a room the size of my own and sleeping on double decked beds with no TV or any fancy amenities. They have to carry buckets to shower in bathrooms outside the building, mine was fully self-contained.
One day a Chinese friend visited my room and was shocked by the ‘luxury’ accorded to foreign students.
My class, consisting of students from thirty different countries in Africa, Europe and the Caribbean Islands all on full Chinese government sponsorship regarded ourselves lucky. We appreciated what we got.
During lecture breaks, we were taken on fully sponsored tours around the country, that’s how I went to Shanghai city an experience among my fondest memories.
The course also presented other opportunities. One day I presented before a symposium of Chinese and American scholars of News Literacy and I impressed professors from the New York based Stony Brook University.
I am now working on a project with their Journalism department for something that could benefit others here.
Speaking as an alumnus during the dinner, I told the Rwandan scholarship winners that the scholarship is a huge key that has been handed to them. It’s now up to them to put it in the lock and turn to unlock the opportunities.
They should feel lucky and stop whining about allowances for on the road to national self reliance, sacrifices must be made.