Silver Donald Cameron

The Trajectory of Christian Hamuli

May 3, 2009

In 1990, when Christian Hamuli was eighteen years old, government commandos attacked the University of Lubumbashi, where he was studying to be an engineer like his uncle. Lubumbashi is the second-largest city in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which was then ruled by the notorious Joseph Mobutu. Supported by the United States because he opposed communism, the tyrannical Mobutu ruled for 32 bloody years.

But he was afraid of ideas, and therefore of students and teachers.

“Mobutu was actually obsessed with university students,” Christian explains. “ Universities have free speech, and they have young people that learn new things and start seeing flaws in the system. Then they rebel. So that is dangerous to someone like Mobutu.”

Christian survived the attack, and later returned to his studies.Three years later, however, his family was attacked, and his only brother just 15 years old was executed with a bullet to his forehead.

“That’s when I said no, this country is doomed,” he says. “And I left.”

He made his way to Kenya, where he survived for a year and a half. A sympathetic Canadian suggested he move to Uganda because it would be easier to claim refugee status from a country that, unlike Kenya, borders on Congo. In Uganda, supporting himself as a French teacher, he applied as a refugee student, but no Canadian engineering school would accept him. A friendly Canadian official suggested that he apply as an immigrant worker.

“God bless that visa officer,” says Christian. He got the visa and landed in Edmonton. He was entitled to a year of public support, but after a month he had learned to write a resume, and he got a job working in a laundry from 8:30 to 5:00 AM.

“After six months I said No, this is going to kill me intellectually. I told my manager I wanted to go back to school.” The manager promoted him and moved him to the day shift but after a year Christian still wanted to go back to school. He got a student loan and enrolled in Grant MacEwen College in a university transfer program. He had been out of school for eight years.

He kept working Sundays at the laundry, putting in 10-hour shifts which made it hard to stay awake Monday in class. But he completed first-year engineering and transferred to the University of Alberta. His African mind-set had induced him to study civil engineering, which is desperately needed in Africa but a fellow student suggested he think more about his future in Canada. So Christian switched to petroleum engineering.

Because he had taken out a student loan, he had been eligible for a Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation bursary and because he was also studying a petroleum-related subject, he was eligible for a $3000 scholarship funded by the World Petroleum Council to commemorate a WPC Congress held in Calgary in 2000. The Foundation administers the program in partnership with 49 post-secondary institutions, and the scholarships are conferred by automation rather than by application. The Foundation sends to the institutions a list of bursary recipients who are studying in the target disciplines. The institutions send back the grades of the students. The top 200 get scholarships.

Christian got his notification in the mail. “It was like an angel came up with this!” he says. He quit his job, focussed on his studies, and graduated in 2005. He was invited to address an industry conference in Montreal, where he met “a man of great spirit” named David Boone, an important oilman who subsequently guided the young graduate to his present position with the Alberta Energy and Utilities Board.

Christian Hamuli sits in the lobby of the EUB headquarters building in Calgary, smiling and talking about how he loves his job.He recently married and bought a house. He has just returned from his first visit in 15 years to his parents in Congo, and he is saddened by the state of his native country. He hopes to do something for Congo some day. But he is living in the here and now. He hopes soon to start a family, and, he says gratefully, “I wouldn’t want to be in any other country than Canada.”

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Silver Donald Cameron is writing a book on the Canada Millennium Scholarship Foundation.

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