Follow your dreams, says parking attendant at his graduation ceremony
He fled the bloodshed in his country, came to South Africa with his wife and one-month-old son in 1997 and earned R7 on his first day as a car guard at a shopping centre in Cape Town, but 50-year-old Rwandan refugee, Albert Mpazayabo, is proof that where there’s a will, there’s definitely a way.
On Tuesday evening, at Stellenbosch University’s (SU) second March graduation ceremony, Mpazayabo, who is still working as a parking attendant at a shopping mall in Brackenfell and Durbanville, was among the students who were awarded their well-earned degrees – receiving his Postgraduate Diploma in HIV/AIDS Management. He already holds a four-year BPsych degree from the University of the Western Cape, is currently enrolled at Stellenbosch for his Masters’ degree in HIV/AIDS Management and says he won’t stop until he completes his PhD.
Mpazayabo, who is from Kigali in Rwanda, was a training officer in productive health care for the Red Cross in his home country. “We went from school to school to educate the youth on medical issues. However, when the war started in 1990, I had to flee for my life. We first ended up at a refugee camp in the DRC, but we were still unsafe and came to South Africa in 1997.”
Once in South Africa, he thought that as a foreigner, it would be easiest to get a job as a security guard, so he promptly went on a training course. He says his first shift as security guard ended up lasting three days and three nights non-stop and he realised it was not for him. Next he received training as a parking attendant and since 2000 he has been a friendly face at various shopping mall parking areas in Cape Town.
These days, Mpazayabo is a father of three and also in charge of organising other parking attendants in Brackenfell and Durbanville. “I took the business in my own hands. Now I recruit, train and place other attendants. I call myself the CEO,” he jokingly adds. According to Mpazayabo, the attendants are mostly from the African Great Lakes region and it feels good to be able to help them make a living. He stresses that they all are very grateful to the shoppers who are willing to give them tips. “We appreciate their support because without them we will not survive in this foreign country.”
His road to success has not been easy and he admits there were times when he thought of giving up because the money to pay for his tertiary studies was hard to come by and long hours at work and then having to study also took their toll. Luckily there were many people who helped him along the way. “There was always some sort of miracle happening to me, just when things seemed especially bleak. I have received money from shoppers who got to know me in the parking areas where I work – one lady gave me R500. I also got money from my pastor and a friend and so the list goes on. There was even a lady who paid my tuition fees for a whole year!” he relates. Last year he also received a full bursary from SU.
According to Mpazayabo, he is putting in all this effort to eventually provide a better life for his wife Denyse and his children, son Christian who has just passed matric, a daughter Sandrine who is currently in high school and his youngest, two-and-a-half year-old Rebekkah. At the same time he wants to make a marked difference in struggling communities. “The issue of HIV/AIDS needs to be addressed in an effective way and with my qualifications I want to help make a positive difference.”
He says he wants others to know that in life everything is possible. “It’s about believing it and then giving it a try. Don’t think too much about your circumstances, just go for your dreams.” Mpazayabo says he longs to go back to his country, but that won’t happen unless Rwanda becomes a democratic state. Until then he’ll be content to help communities in his adopted country.
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