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Son of Rwandan genocide refugees crowdfunds to fulfil dream of studying at the University of Cambridge

Dylan Kawende is crowdfunding to raise money to study Senior Status Law at St Edmund's College, Cambridge. His profile picture for the Stephen Lawrence Scholarship. (36846884)
Dylan Kawende is crowdfunding to raise money to study Senior Status Law at St Edmund's College, Cambridge. His profile picture for the Stephen Lawrence Scholarship. (36846884)

The son of Rwandan genocide refugees has turned to a Go Fund Me campaign to make his dream of studying at the University of Cambridge possible.

Dylan Kawende has received an offer to read senior status law at St Edmund’s College, but the state school-educated 23-year-old did not have the initial £66,000 to be able to take up the offer.

It is a position resembling that once faced by Dylan’s father, who passed on his intellectual appetite – having been offered a place at Cambridge to read electrical engineering, only to have insufficient funds to accept the offer.

Dylan’s parents and siblings sought refuge in the UK in December 1994 after fleeing the Rwanda genocide, during which members of his mother’s family were murdered in an arson attack in the western province of Shangugu.

Having become the first member of his family to attend a Russell Group university – he did his undergraduate degree in history and philosophy of science at University College London – Dylan is determined to take up the chance to do the law conversion course at Cambridge.

“I applied to Cambridge for three reasons,” he tells the Cambridge Independent. “The three reasons are its academic excellence and its reputation, secondly because I believe I would benefit from the research capacity that it has, because beyond doing this law degree I’m very interested in doing a PhD. I feel this degree would better prepare me for that.

“Thirdly, I applied because of employability. My chances of getting a job in law are increased just because of the reputation that the university has and the quality of education.”

Law conversion courses are not covered by student loans, so the overall cost – reworked with more financial information – includes £40,000 tuition fees and £20,000 towards accommodation and living expenses for both years.

It is an accelerated law degree that Dylan wishes to study, for those holding a degree in another discipline.

He also harbours ambitions of doing a combined PhD in science technology studies, having enjoyed a lot of the work around the ethics of technological innovation and the impact of artificial intelligence.

Dylan has already deferred for a year, but described himself as “ecstatic” to have earned a place at Cambridge.

“I was just very excited about the prospect of studying at Cambridge,” he says.

“I was quite shocked by the amount that was required. Even though I knew that I would be charged slightly more because it’s considered a second degree, I wasn’t entirely sure just how much it would cost because different colleges ask for different amounts.

Dylan Kawende is crowdfunding to raise money to study Senior Status Law at St Edmund's College, Cambridge. (36846882)
Dylan Kawende is crowdfunding to raise money to study Senior Status Law at St Edmund's College, Cambridge. (36846882)

“But I was not discouraged so I set a plan in motion to ensure I would be able to meet the financial requirements. The plan was to apply for scholarships and work hard to secure paid internships and attack it from that front, but also to set up a crowdfunding campaign.”

Dylan was influenced by a friend, who used a similar approach to be able to go to study at Harvard.

“His story really inspired me to not let the financial requirements be a hindrance to me succeeding,” says Dylan.

The #GetDyl2Cambridge campaign features a video and detailed personal and family back story.

Within that is Dylan’s awards and scholarships, one of which was the Stephen Lawrence Scholarship, established with the support of Doreeen Lawrence, mother of the black British teenager who was murdered in a racist attack in south-east London in 1993.

“It’s a scheme that was set up by the law firm Freshfields and the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust to address the under-representation of black men in professions,” says Dylan. “It started out just being for black male law students but they widened their participation and someone like me, who hadn’t been studying law at the time, was given the opportunity.”

The year-long scheme provided Dylan with financial support and professional development, partnering with lawyers at Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Goldman Sachs.

“It was very helpful in that it raised my aspirations and it gave me exposure to banking and law, and helped me develop really important skills like networking and debating,” he explains. “It was just the general sense of professionalism, and the sort of expectations that are placed on me as an aspiring lawyer.”

Dylan’s fundraising campaign has so far raised £44,125, and he has until the end of July to provide the financial guarantees to Cambridge.

It is a matter of showing that he has enough funds to support himself for the two years, but he does not actually pay up front. And he has now raised enough for the first year, so would not need to defer again.

He adds: “The drive to study at Cambridge has been a long-time thing. I have always admired both Oxford and Cambridge as universities that are both centres for learning.”

To donate to Dylan’s cause, visit gofundme.com/f/getdyl2cambridge.

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