Born a Rwandan Refugee, Student Will Use Loyola LLM to Boost Public Interest Career

Lydia Taima Munganyinka
Lydia Taima Munganyinka

Born a Rwandan refugee in Uganda, noted East African public interest lawyer Lydia Taima Munganyinka doesn’t let anything get in the way of her public interest law ambitions. So it is no surprise that she managed to complete her first semester as an LLM student at Loyola Law School, Los Angeles while giving birth to her first child nearly 10,000 miles away from home.

Munganyinka was an orphan by the time she was 10 years old as a result of the country’s civil wars and genocide. An older cousin, impressed by her elementary school grades, took her in. She soon announced that she intended to become a public interest lawyer.

Munganyinka’s dedication to public interest law is evident in nearly everything she does. Aftera tumultuous childhood, and growing up in Rwanda in the post-genocide era, she studied law with a simple goal: “I said that I will teach the people about justice. I will advocate for the interest of the public. I wanted to become a voice for the voiceless, especially women.”

She has succeeded. Since graduating in 2009, she has worked for the social justice organization Never Again Rwanda, for the community-building program Stories for Hope Rwanda and for a youth-peace-building project under the U.S. Agency for International Development.

In 2011, Munganyinka became a legal officer in charge of public interest advocacy and regional integration with the East Africa Law Society. The regional bar organization has authority under the East African Community Treaty to sue partner states in the special East African Court of Justice on matters related to public interests.

Munganyinka chose Loyola for its excellent reputation and faculty, she says. She also appreciates the support of LLM Faculty Director Aaron Ghirardelli, who schedules Skype calls and online chats with prospective students. “He is recruiting the best international students,” she says. “He tells you about the benefits of Loyola, what you can learn here and take from here,” she says.

“Studying law in the U.S., which has centuries-old legal infrastructure and systems, is very important for me and my country. There’s a saying in Rwanda that the ‘law is heavier than rocks,’” she says. “In America, that makes sense. The law means the law. You cannot dodge it. That is important for Rwanda, which aspires to be a country of laws.”

Munganyinka plans to return to Rwanda with new skills in advocacy for public interest and international business law, and she plans to draw on her newfound American legal knowledge when she returns home. “The skills will empower me to become one of the greatest East African women lawyers,” she says.

Beyond the education and skills she is acquiring, Munganyinka has been especially impressed by one other aspect of Loyola: the professionalism and kindness of everyone on campus. “There is a good culture here, and you can see it in everyone, from the professors to the administrators, security guards, even the students,” she says. “They make you feel at home.”

As a fellow of the Ford Foundation, which provides funding to fight inequality, Munganyinka greatly appreciates their role. “For me, pursuing an LLM from one of the best U.S. law schools was a longtime dream come true,” she says. “Thank God that He fulfils His promises.”

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