Rwandan student Jocelyn Mizero ’18 pursues her childhood dream. Twitter
By Stephen Wilson
A 12-year-old girl sits in a Rwandan hospital. She’s been there for a month being treated for malaria. Because symptoms are strikingly similar, the hospital’s lone physician has yet to determine that her actual condition is severe pneumonia.
Her classmates and teacher make the journey to visit. Students and family members jokingly encourage her to become a doctor; she has spent so much time in the hospital that she must have learned something.
After another month in the hospital, this thought becomes ingrained in that little girl. Her mother would later brag: “She is going to be a doctor so she can treat us in our old age.”
Fast forward a decade—the girl has grown into a strong young woman. Jocelyn Mizero ’18 is her name. Remember it now. She will be changing the future of Rwanda as a public health leader and physician … if her childhood dream continues on its path forward.
Her path began at a boarding school in a small village. Mizero was a junior in high school on the pre-med track. That’s when she met people from SHE-CAN, an organization whose mission is to equip and empower young women from post-conflict countries to become leaders. SHE-CAN is an acronym: Supporting Her Education Changes A Nation.
Representatives from the organization were looking for members of their third cohort from Rwanda. They would select five. Mizero was reluctant to apply at first.
“Five girls from my whole country,” she says. “There are so many amazing girls everywhere in my high school alone. It was my dad who said I had nothing to lose by trying.”
Mizero was accepted into the program before her senior year. To develop leadership skills, all SHE-CAN scholars are asked to develop a project. She created Transformers Youth Club.
“I come from a village of 20,000 people,” she says. “The students attend boarding schools, and when they return home for breaks, they are often looking for something to do. At the same time, they are not involved in the community like they could be. So Transformers Youth Club organized events that got young people engaged in service projects.”
One project had the youth prepare their local genocide memorial and museum for a commemorative service. Toward the end of the Rwandan Civil War in 1994, members of the Hutu ethnic majority murdered nearly 800,000 of the Tutsi minority.
“My generation is the first after the genocide, and our parents don’t talk about it, so it remains a mystery to us,” she says. “Many young people found it difficult to enter the memorial site because the tragedy is beyond understanding.”
Still, youth showed up and prepared the space. Mizero organized many events over the course of her junior, senior, and gap years.
As a SHE-CAN scholar, Mizero began to look at colleges she might want to attend.
“My middle school had 60 students in my class while my high school had 90,” she says. “I knew I wanted a small college so I could benefit from smaller class sizes, personal relationships with professors, and real opportunities.”
She had few folks guiding her. Flavia Umulisa ’17, another Rwandan scholar from the second SHE-CAN cohort, befriended Mizero and started extolling the virtues of Lafayette. And Eugene Gabay, senior associate director of admissions, visited with her in Rwanda.
“I couldn’t believe he came to interview me on his east African tour,” she says. “I felt so connected to the school.”
As luck would have it, she was selected by her school to travel to the U.S., where she toured 35 campuses. She already had her sights set on Lafayette though. She was on tour, visiting a prestigious Ivy League campus, when she got the call from Lafayette that she had been accepted.
She landed at JFK in August 2014, greeted by a big welcome sign. Behind it were 10 people: peer advisers from the College and five mentors from SHE-CAN. All hopped in the bus and headed to Easton.
“I had been talking with my mentors for a year,” she says. “They each had a role in my preparation—helping me research schools, complete the application, [prepare] my personal statement, and complete financial aid forms.”
Surrounded by support, Mizero’s peer advisers led her international orientation while her mentors helped with campus maps, class schedules, dorm decorations, and textbooks.
That support continues today… and inspired her to give back.
Mizero dove into her pre-med track with a biology major.
“While grades, relationships with professors, and research were important,” she says. “I balanced them with campus life. It’s the only way I felt like I could maximize my time here.”
She has served as a peer adviser to other international students, resident assistant, volunteer at the Landis Community Outreach Center, and program coordinator for community engagement at a youth center, elementary school, and after-school program.
Mizero participated in a trip to Madagascar and returned to become president of a club that fundraises for Lafayette Initiative for Malagasy Education, the peer-to-peer mentoring program between Lafayette students and Madagascar high school students.
“Campus life makes you grow as a person,” she says. “It helps you adjust to a new culture and find your second home.”
As a rising senior, she was at Lafayette over the summer, taking an EMT class at a local community college while working as an RA, in Skillman Library, and development office. That all shifted when she got another life-changing opportunity.
A five-week position in Kenya, split between medical and public health settings, became available when a SHE-CAN donor, Bill Plautz, offered to send her to Kenya. Her mentors from SHE-CAN urged her to move past her guilt of leaving her summer commitments and follow her path.
“I spent two weeks providing support and care at a maternal and child health clinic,” she says. “I also was able to complete a study into how women move through their prenatal care.”
She followed this with case observations in Matibabu Foundation Hospital. “I prepped for rounds each day and was able to assist with deliveries.”
It cemented her childhood dream. She wants to be a physician: Dr. Mizero. Her surname means “hope’ in her mother tongue, so Dr. Hope.
But making that happen is harder.
“Getting into an American medical school as an international student is difficult,” she says, “let alone finding funding.”
But her sights remain clearly set on medical school. As she researches schools both here and abroad, she plans to earn her master’s in public health.
“Ultimately, I want to go home and work in the community as a doctor and public health officer,” she says. “I can use my skills and leadership where it is needed and valued in the place I call home.
“SHE-CAN has been everything to me, both getting here and making it here,” she says. “I speak with them almost daily. They have been involved with me every step of the way. And Lafayette … what can I say? I love it here. The world is here. It is the netting that connects my life to so many others across the world.”
A world that needs more like Jocelyn Mizero. Remember her name. She has and will continue to change the world.