Eritrean man treks 4 000km to SA for education

2015-06-15 16:25
Yibran Ghebreyohannes (File, Supplied)

Yibran Ghebreyohannes (File, Supplied)

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Durban - After walking 4 000km from his home country of Eritrea to South Africa in pursuit of an education, Yibrah Ghebreyohannes finally realised his dream when he graduated with a Masters Degree in Geography at KwaZulu-Natal University recently.

Ghebreyohannes, 33, who lives in Port Edward, told News24 it was South Africa’s democracy that inspired him to further his education in the country. In the end, it took him 10 months on foot, and not even robbers along the way could deter him.

“I have always admired the South African education system. I was motivated to come to South Africa because there was democracy and transformation,” he said.

After completing his degree in Geography back home in Eritrea, situated in the northern part of East Africa, in 2007, he did research about South Africa but it was only in 2009 that he finally decided to take steps to make his dream come true.

Without telling his father, a carpenter and his mother, a housewife, Ghebreyohannes embarked on his journey on foot to South Africa.

“There were four guys with me. We left home in February 2009 and it took us three days to cross the border into Sudan. We had enough food, water and a little bit of money for the trip.”


Their arrival in Kassala, a small town east of Sudan, was an unpleasant one when three robbers held them at gunpoint and demanded their valuables.

“They kept us in a house for three days and took all our money. We had about $500 [about R6 000] between the four of us. They asked us where we were going and we told them that we were going to a refugee camp in Sudan. We were scared and feared that they were going to kill us.

“When they asked for the contact details of our loved ones, we knew that they were really going to kill us.”

On the fourth day the men were dropped off near the refugee camp in Sudan and told to find their way to the camp.

With the help from a stranger, the men were able to get directions to the refugee camp.

“When we got there we were given food and water. We also met representatives from the United Nations High Commission who took our details and recognised us as asylum seekers.”

Getting into Kenya

While Ghebreyohannes and the three men were safe at the refugee camp, his dream to come to South Africa never dimmed.

“My dream was not to stay in Sudan, I had a clear vision of what I wanted so I left the rest of my group in Sudan and walked to Kenya. It took me about three months. In 2010 I arrived in South Sudan and crossed the border into Kenya.”

He said everything was peaceful in Kenya, but at that stage the walk was beginning to take its toll on him.

“The problem is that I literally had to walk everywhere and it was tiring. From Kenya I walked to Tanzania, that walk took me a month.”

Ghebreyohannes continued his walk and headed to Mozambique, a walk that took him two months.

He then walked another three days from Mozambique to Zimbabwe, where he again found himself in danger.

“I was accosted by criminals who held me hostage for about a month. These men put me under house arrest but they were decent enough to give me food and water. They demanded money and I gave them $300 [R3 600]. They released me and gave me R5 to call my brother when I arrived in South Africa.”

Finally arriving

Ghebreyohannes said he was again robbed when he arrived at the border between Zimbabwe and South Africa.

“I was with other people who were travelling to South Africa; the robbers took our jackets and other items.”

Ghebreyohannes finally arrived in South Africa in December 2009, after a 10-month walk.

“There were no problems when I got into South Africa. When I got to the border, I went to the immigration office where they welcomed us and told us we had seven days to get our papers in order.”

After reuniting with his brother in Port Edward in January 2010, Ghebreyohannes researched about universities around South Africa and that is when he found the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

“I thought it was the best university to further my education. So I approached them with all my certificates and told them that I was interested in pursuing an education with the institution. I took my certificates to the South African Qualifications Authority for recognition as well.”

Ghebreyohannes was accepted to study his Honours Degree in Geography and Environmental Management at UKZN and graduated in 2012.

The following year he applied for his Masters.

“It was a dream come true when I graduated in March because the walk was worth it. I got the education that I wanted and fulfilled my dream,” said Ghebreyohannes.

No jobs

The father of one is back in Port Edward, where he is helping his brother run a spaza shop while searching for a job in his field.

“I have applied for jobs in my field but I have not been lucky. My dream is to one day create jobs for other people by starting my own business,” he said.

Ghebreyohannes said he will tell the story of his trek to South Africa to his family one day.

“I am going to share this story with my children, my grandchildren and my great grandchildren one day,” he said.

UKZN spokesperson Lesiba Seshoka said the university was proud of Yibrah’s achievement.

“His determination to attain an education saw him surpass all odds and triumph in the face of dire adversity. He is an inspiration to us all,” said Seshoka.

Read more on:    durban  |  education

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