“I still remember running in the forest as a little girl running over dead bodies, hearing gunshots, and seeing people killed by machetes. I remember arriving in the first foreign country where we were told we were not welcome and that we needed to go back where we came from. There was no way we could go back home and survive. So we went into hiding, hoping we would not be found and sent back home. With a war going on in my country, no one was safe to stay. We had to leave as soon as we could to try and find shelter outside the country. I remember seeing people run all over the forest as many people were hiding and I was running alongside them. We would be instructed not to go to a particular part of the forest because people were being killed there. I was so scared; remaining positive was not easy. One thing about war is that it’s not hidden from kids, no matter how little they are. The kids were included in the conversations about hiding, survival and running as fast as you could even if you got separated from your parents. There was no looking back.
I don’t think we ever slept while we were hiding in the forest because everyone was scared about sleeping and being killed in their sleep. For the people that stayed behind, almost a million of them were killed in a month. No bombs were used for these killings in this war. I don’t understand how so many people lost their lives in such a short amount of time but that’s the thing about a genocide, nothing is safe and I thank God for letting me leave.
I still remember my first time in school, we couldn’t go to a regular school because we were illegal, the refugee parents would take kids, divide them by class and we would sit under the tree with a blackboard hanging. The ‘teachers’ would use it for lessons. We did not have textbooks or notebooks, so we all made mini blackboards and would use them to take notes, and try to remember as much as we could, erasing the board to write new materials. Then I was finally able to enroll in a refugee school, though we could not wear shoes to the school since most of the kids didn’t have shoes. As girls, we had to cut our hair off and go natural. However, we were fine with these rules, we were just happy to be able to go to school and learn; period. Some kids from school would get back to find their families deported.
After realizing where we were staying was not safe, we packed our bags and moved to a different country. We prayed and hoped for the best. I was thinking in my head ‘time to meet new people and learn a new language’ since each country in Africa speaks a different language (one country can be multilingual too). When we finally settled into our third foreign country, we were granted refugee status, which meant we could stay there for as long as the government allowed it. From there with the help of a resettlement agency called RefugePoint, I was resettled to my fourth and final country, the United States.
Thanks to the help of an amazing family who took me in when I arrived to the USA, I was able to transition smoothly with my new life. I am very thankful to a family who chose to welcome a stranger into their home when they didn’t have to. I’m forever in debt to them for what they’ve done for me. They saved me from a life full of anger and depression. For that I will always be grateful. They gave me a chance to be able to go to school, a chance to become a nurse and a chance to help others through my nursing career. From the moment I stepped foot on USA soil, my host family became my family. I will be celebrating a decade this September, a decade full of love and gratefulness. I feel joy whenever I call them Mom and Dad. Their love inspired me to open up my heart and meet the man who would become my husband. I love celebrating each milestone with all of them along with my six sisters they blessed me with, in-laws, aunts, uncles, cousins, a niece and nephews.
Today I am proud and grateful to say I do not suffer from depression, anxiety, or PTSD despite what I went though. I focus on the good things in my life. When I didn’t have anything to feel good about I would instead focus on being grateful for what I have, being grateful to be alive, and being grateful to be a survivor. I remained hopeful when in doubt. I remember being in my first college class and being like ‘how am I going to make it to nursing school when all my science background was in French?’ But then I remembered being a little kid and having to move country to country and learn new languages each new place we settled. I remembered trying to take as many notes as I could while in refugee school because we never had textbooks. I remembered my chemistry and physics teacher drawing experiments on the board because our schools had no labs. I remembered our history teacher going through history and just day dreaming about what the paintings of Michelangelo looked like because we had no way to know, no textbooks, no computers, nothing. Therefore, I knew there was only one thing that could prevent me from achieving my dream of becoming a nurse. I was the only obstacle, and I was not going to let that happen.
Even after getting close to being in the USA for 10 years, whenever I meet new people and they ask me ‘where are you from?’ My go to answer is always my USA home town but then I see people’s faces and then am like ‘oh I am originally from Rwanda.’ I can’t help that I have an accent, and I don’t think my accent will ever go away and I don’t want it to go away, I want my future kids to be proud of their mom having an accent as much as my American husband does (and no I didn’t become a citizen because I married an American). I have worked hard to be where I am today thanks to my supportive family, I can say I am a proud immigrant, former refugee, wife, daughter, nurse and friend.
I survived the Rwandan genocide 25 years ago.
Kindness is what has led me to be the person I am today. Being surrounded by kind people has helped me be a new person, a person who does not let her past define her future. We do not know what the future holds. I would not wish on my worst enemy to become a refugee but am thankful for the people I have met along my journey. Being a refugee shaped me into the person I am today, it made me humble and grateful. As an American citizen now, I am just grateful I have a place to call home after almost 20+years of being a refugee. Start at home, show love to your neighbor, stranger. Pass love and leave love whenever and wherever you are. Teach your kids about unity, love and prosperity, and maybe one day the world will live as one.”
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