Blindness can’t slow down Honors College student
By Ashlee Larrison
GCU News Bureau
When Brian Mucyo turned 6, his parents were left with an unimaginable decision: keep him at their home in Rwanda or allow him to be treated and cared for in a country more medically equipped to deal with his deteriorating vision.
It was a decision not taken lightly, but the path already had been made clear early in his life. Because of complications with his right eye at age 3, Mucyo traveled to Belgium to have the eye removed but soon after was allowed to return home to be with his family. The next three years would take a toll on his left eye, however, leaving him with only 10% of normal vision. That’s when the family decided to have him remain in Belgium, where he would spend a good portion of his life.
“It was a really big jump for a 6-year-old,” he said.
But it also was an experience that would motivate Mucyo to learn four languages (Kinyarwanda, French, Dutch and English) and become the mentor to international students he is today as a finance and economics major in the Honors College at Grand Canyon University.
Mucyo arrived at GCU via Oregon, where he finished his high school years at a small Christian boarding school. When he first arrived on campus, he was shocked by the overwhelming sense of community he felt as well as the people willing to offer a helping hand.
“The moment I did get here, everybody I was meeting — whether it was professors, my student services counselor, other students — everybody was really eager to help,” Mucyo said. “There hasn’t really been a class that I’ve been in where I feel like I’m really that disadvantaged because of my condition.
“Sure, I have to put in more effort. It takes me a lot longer to do something that another fellow student does. But I’m also really encouraged to put in that effort just because everybody else just believes in you, so you have that aspect of just pushing forward.”
That belief in his ability to succeed is what led him to the Honors College. Mucyo admits that if you would have asked him in the past, being an honors student was not something that he had thought would be possible for him. But with the continued support of the Honors College staff, he has been able to reach heights he never imagined, and Honors College Associate Dean Breanna Naegeli couldn’t be prouder.
“Brian is an exceptional honors student and leader within GCU and both the local and global community,” she said. “He is driven beyond measure and is set to accomplish great feats in the future.”
Mucyo, who gets around campus with the help of Mannix, his guide dog of two years, works in the Learning Lounge to help close the gap between understanding material vs. understanding English for non-English speaking students. Through what is called the English Empowerment Program, Mucyo will work as a hybrid lead, helping both K-12 and University students gain confidence in learning a new language. It is a reality that he has experienced firsthand.
“One of the biggest schools we work with is Alhambra (High School), and they have about 40 different native languages in the population of their students,” he said. “So I came in and as I was working with students, one kind of thing kept coming up of students struggling with a language: They had the material, they could understand whatever subject they were studying, but you could tell that the language was the one they had an issue with and that ends up affecting their grade.”
Beginning with the fall semester, Mucyo and other students whose first language wasn’t English will work together to set an example of what is possible for fellow foreign language students. He said the English Empowerment Program is meant to go beyond traditional ESL classes and practice English through performances, speeches and debates in a safe space where students can feel comfortable.
Along with his work at the Learning Lounge, Mucyo plans to finish his degree and minors in pre-law and Christian studies and tackle the next big thing — law school.
“I always tell people I want to go to law school, but I don’t want to be a lawyer necessarily,” he said. “What I want to focus on is international law, especially when it comes to human rights.”
The first time Mucyo’s family saw him with his guide dog, his mother was surprised — but so was everyone else in Rwanda. There, the concept of service animals is not as common as in other countries, and dogs are mainly known for either living on the street or being trained to guard.
“Going into a country where those things don’t exist, there’s no laws that protect Mannix and I, there’s no comprehension of what Mannix even is,” he said. “What I want to do is to just really be able to help make that change where some developing countries, mine included, could start focusing more on helping people who have disabilities, helping children who are less fortunate simply because in a lot of developing countries, those two groups are really marginalized.”
Mucyo hopes a law degree will help boost his credibility on an international platform and enable him to make a difference for other kids with disabilities and prove to them that they too can make something of themselves.
“In my mind, if a kid is born in my country with similar problems that I had, the two choices in life should not be either you have no life or you leave your family at age 6,” he said.
He plans to change the image of what people with disabilities can accomplish and show that having a disability “doesn’t make (him) less of a person than anyone else.”
Contact Ashlee Larrison at (602) 639-8488 or [email protected].