He has a dream.
David Karambizi ’14 hopes to democratize education by giving back to the middle school that he said taught him the importance of character.
Born in Rwanda during the genocide in 1994, he moved to the Ivory Coast when he was seven years old and spent most of his life there before moving to the United States.
“The whole genocide is complicated. I don’t remember much of it, but … that’s where I come from, that’s what I am,” Karambizi said. “If I am a tree, that’s where my roots are and there’s nothing I can do about it. I can go around the world to Brazil, get educated at Cornell and become a global citizen of the world, but the truth is, everything I do will have to lead me back to my place of origin.”
Moving to the U.S. in the eighth grade, Karambizi acknowledges the pivotal role his middle school experience played in his life. His school taught its students character, according to Karambizi.
“We had kids who were orphans, all emerging from street life or gangs … those are the kids that I went to class with,” he said. “We were not necessarily bright, but they taught us that we were capable and [that] if you had good character, you would be all right in life.”
Karambizi said that when he enrolled at Cornell, it was mind boggling and humbling for him to walk on the grounds where some of the “brightest” students and professors have walked. The experience inspired him to do something to connect less privileged students with Cornell students, he added.
“It hit me when I came to Cornell. I appreciated life and the opportunities given to me,” he said. “I am not the brightest, but I am capable. I work hard for a dream, and that’s what S.O.S. [for Education] was.”
Karambizi launched S.O.S. for Education with his college roommate in the hopes of giving back to the middle school that had had an immense impact on his life.
Karambizi said that his initial idea was to raise funds for his privately-owned middle school, which sustains itself through donations. Although he said that, at times, it seemed like an impossible endeavor, Karambizi put together a successful event that raised a large sum of money for the school with the support of the Cornell Public Service Center.
“[The event] is about inspiring people through art and performances [by] Cornell students,” he said. “This involved many people for [the] cause of democratizing education and combating disparity.”
Karambizi said that the event was just the beginning. He said he would like to inspire Cornell students to give direction to their peers who are marginalized and underprivileged, and further inspire them to follow their dreams.
“Education to me is the future –– impartial and not prejudiced, beautiful and without bounds. And if we depreciate it by reducing it to a means of capital creation, as we are nowadays, then we are doomed as a society,” he said.
Karambizi is proficient in four languages — English, Spanish, French and Kinyarwanda — and he plays the guitar. Karambizi said music, for him, is a safe refuge. He has written more than 300 songs, with topics ranging from love to injustice and the struggle for equity in the world.
“I do love the process of creating. Music is a safe place where you sing, you close your eyes, you play the guitar, you feel free, you feel good,” Karambizi said.
Karambizi’s plan for after college is to take a year off and reconnect with people through opportunities like City Year or the Fulbright Program, both of which are organizations dedicated to promoting civic engagement. Karambizi said that students are often disconnected from the world due to academic rigor.
He added that eventually he would like to attend medical school –– but that his dream is to go back to his roots and become part of the Rwandan people.
“I always pictured being in underdeveloped nations for the rest of my life — I picture kids from Rwanda, kids from Peru, kids from India, I picture orphans from Ivory Coast playing soccer [or] reading a book together … That is [the] big dream that I am afraid to lose,” Karambizi said.