If ‘never give up’ or ‘it’s never too late to pursue a dream’, were a person, it would be Margaret Mugirwanake. As a ‘bright student’ in the 1980s, at least from her viewpoint, Mugirwanake, 52, dreamt of becoming a teacher, but her dreams, and rights, were cut short. In 1978, reforms to localise education were made, but this time, quotas were introduced for each ethnic group. Students like Mugirwanake were no longer admitted to secondary schools on the basis of merit but on the policy of “balance” (‘iringaniza’). Article 60 of the law (at the time) on public instruction stated that the transition from primary to secondary school was to consider national exam results, students’ progressive performance, ethnic group, and balance. The policy left out many Tutsi children, girls specifically, even if they were smart. Mugirwanake couldn’t go to secondary school because she was a girl, and her grandmother thought primary education was enough for her. And so her dream became a burden that she kept at heart for four decades. The chances of ever resuming school became slimmer when she got married at 19 and proceeded to have a total of 10 children thereafter. She got married to Francisco Saveur Habimana, a farmer who was 20 years old at the time of their wedding. Although three of their children are deceased, they describe themselves as a happy family. Family Raising seven children was not easy, so the idea of going back to school seemed very unlikely. However, when four of her children got married and the rest went to boarding school, she decided to at least, sit for the provisional driving exam. “I had dreams of being a teacher who could drive myself to work, but household chores with children hindered me from going back to school. After some of them got married and the young ones joined boarding school, thanks to Plan International and Compassion International that paid tuition for two of them, I was motivated to enrol again,” Mugirwanake says. She says it made room for her to test her mind before enrolling in school and passing the provisional driving license made her go further and chase her dream. Unfortunately, Mugirwanake missed her driving test because she was diagnosed with an eye ailment. At school Now a senior three student at Groupe Scolaire Mulinga in Gatsibo District, Mugirwanake is getting ready to sit for the ordinary-level national examinations. She is described as a vibrant and lively student in class. Since her enrolment, the school has registered three other older students, according to Sandrine Gatera, the principal, who added that Mugirwanake has instilled a positive behavioural change in her class. “Her enrolment was a surprise to many because they could not imagine a 52-year-old attending school. We have registered an 18-year-old in primary three, and a 15-year-old in primary one after her. Both had dropped out of school but re-enrolled after seeing Mugirwanake attending classes,” Gatera tells The New Times. “Previously, senior three students were the most stubborn in the school but since joining, the class has turned to be the most disciplined, and last term they were the best-performing class in the school,” Gatera adds. Evarist Musengamana is Mugirwanake’s classmate and he says at first, they were reluctant to approach her because of the age gap, but later realised she is an approachable adult who treats them as peers. According to him, the class now exchanges notes with her, as she advises them on their future, a quality they appreciate. “Personally her advice has changed me. I was very noisy in class but she explained the importance of studying for my future, and I have since changed. My performance has improved,” Musengamana says, adding that they refer to her as ‘Kaka’, a nickname given to one’s grandmother in respect. Mugirwanake’s favourite subject is entrepreneurship because it has taught her the importance of noting down priorities when it comes to using money at home. “Now my family uses money according to what the priority is. I told my husband how money should be used and we are seeing the benefits of it,” Mugirwanake says. However, she has challenges with science subjects but hopes that with the help of her classmates and teachers, she will improve. “I will join university and become a teacher,” Mugirwanake says. Inspiration to women Five kilometres from her school is Agakomeye cell where Mugirwanake lives. Residents of the area told The New Times that she has become an inspiration, as her story encourages many to never give up on their dreams. In fact, Donatha Kabahire, a mother of one, is discussing with her husband going back to school because of Mugirwanake. “I talked to my husband to help me go back to school, and next year, we will have sorted everything financially. Our child will start nursery school, and when she comes back home, her father will take care of her. I want to finish my tailoring course,” Kabahire shares. Mathilda Byukusenge, a neighbour, was inspired by Mugirwanake to help out more at home. “Realising the courage of a 52-year-old enrolling in school motivated me to provide more for my family. Previously, I was only handling house chores which would burden my husband financially,” Byukusenge says. Supportive family At home, Mugirwanake lives with her husband, Habimana, and their 24-year-old daughter, Deborah Uwumucunguzi. During The New Times’ visit, Habimana had gone to look for pasture for their cow that is grazed at home. Their daughter says that since her mother enrolled, her father works twice as hard to provide for the family, knowing they have a student at school (Mugirwanake) who will return home soon. “My father doubled the work he used to do because he has to cover what my mother would have done in the garden. We are happy because my mother is living her dream,” Uwumucunguzi says. However, their biggest challenge is that they do not have electricity, so it is hard for Mugirwanake to do her homework. “If we can get support to be connected to electricity, that would help her improve her performance in school,” Uwumucunguzi adds.