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George (26): ‘A friend lent me a bike so I could ride for Uber.’

Student George*, 26 years old, tells us how he tries to make ends meet and how the VUB Caroline Pauwels Relief Fund helps him to pay the rent.

Dreaming of a business in Gambia

George is a 26-year-old student from Gambia in West Africa. He’s currently studying Business Economics and is in his second year. Before that, he was studying at his university in Gambia while his brother was already doing his Master’s at the VUB in Belgium. ‘Some lecturers from the VUB came to Gambia, through my brother I did meet some of these professors in my university and I was inspired to attend the VUB so that was why I applied and was accepted’, he says.

In two years George will graduate and put his knowledge into practice. ‘I want to do a Master’s program, gain the experience, then go home and start up a transportation company in Gambia’, George explains. But he almost had to give up that dream…

Making ends meet

George lives in a student home. In the beginning, his mom could pay for his tuition fee and rent. But later, because of the covid19 pandemic, George’s mother could not pay for his education anymore and on top, his step father had to retire. George: ‘Mom had a lot of mouths to feed back home. And the amount of money she was able to make was limited because of the corona crisis.’ George urgently had to find a job to earn a little bit of money to survive.

A borrowed bike puts food on the table

George had a friend who lent him a bike, ‘And then I applied to ride my bike for Uber, that’s what I am doing now to pay the rent and put food on the table.’ It shows his entrepreneurial spirit, though George says he simply doesn’t have a choice, ‘Either I ride the bike or I stay at home and make nothing’, he concludes. Right now, George is trying to balance things: riding his bike for Uber and preparing for his exams. That’s not an easy combination to handle.

Brothers helping each other out

‘I heard about the VUB Caroline Pauwels Relief Fund from my brother’, George says, ‘and so I applied.’ He received a grant to pay for his rent. His family helped him to raise the money to pay for the tuition fee. Without that fee, it would be difficult to do his exams and graduate. Every Tuesday the brothers go to the VUB to pick up food packages. They get juice, rice and fruit at the university. ‘That does help me’, he says, ‘and I assume many more students are in the same situation but because of the social distancing and the restrictions it’s hard to stay in touch.’ Luckily, he calls his mom from time to time. She lives with his two other brothers.

Focus on the exams

Right now, his exams are the main point of focus. ‘It's tough’, George sighs, ‘But I am grateful I am still alive and I am doing something about it at least. I can go out and help myself a bit. Hopefully it will get better at some point.’

*George is a pseudonym to protect the student’s privacy.

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