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Friday, May 20, 2011
Rwandan siblings escape war-torn Africa, excel at Bronx college
Richard Harbus for News
Delphine Bararwandika (front), with brother Hubert and sister Joselyne, survived perilous life in Rwanda, Burundi and Tanzania.
The memories flash back in snapshots for four siblings from Africa as they look out on a green, rolling Riverdale campus thousands of miles away from their native land.
Guns. Bodies on the street. Men accosting young girls.
The Bararwandika siblings fled a dangerous nomadic life in central and eastern Africa and ultimately came to America, where they received full-tuition scholarships to study at the College of Mount St. Vincent.
"During those times it was war, so there was a lot of moving around," said Hubert, 21, the youngest of his siblings to pursue a degree in the U.S. He is studying biochemistry.
"That's the way I remember a lot of stuff," he said.
Those words were softly echoed by his sisters, Delphine and Joselyne, and brother, Albert.
Their family left Rwanda during the genocide in 1994 for Burundi, where their mother was killed. They spent two harrowing years in a Tanzania refugee camp, where their father, a doctor, tended to the wounded. The family eventually settled in Kenya in 1997.
"[Little kids] don't understand, but I was older and it was horrible," said Delphine, who was 10 at the time. "There were child molestations, people would just kind of take you and make you their wives at age 9 and 10."
Now 25, she reflected on how lucky she is to be able to graduate Saturday with a business degree.
"It's everything I prayed for," she said. "If I was staying at my father's house, I probably would be married right now."
The college's president, Charles Flynn, said he first met the eldest sibling, Albert,through a mutual friend in 2006. Flynn said he noticed more than the scar the young man carries on his head, left from an attack by soldiers who stormed the family's home and beat him and his brothers.
"He comes across as a person both very self-possessed and very gentle, which is an admirable response to what I had heard as far as his background," Flynn said.
Albert won a green card through a lottery, but still couldn't qualify for state or federal financial aid. Flynn decided to waive fees for him.
His first semester, Albert received As in every class - except for an A- in history.
"I was impressed enough by Albert, and he was talking about the aspirations of his siblings, and, together, we hatched a plot to get them to the college," Flynn said.
Delphine hopes to use her degree to help women in Burundi run their own businesses. Joselyne, 24, a freshman, plans on becoming a nurse when she graduates. And, even though he admits there was a time he didn't know biochemistry research even existed, Hubert, also a freshman, hopes to do just that.
They often think of their father and four other siblings back home when they are cooking traditional food where they live in the Helpers of the Holy Soul Society convent, a couple of blocks away from campus.
Though they miss home and their family, the siblings are pursuing dreams and careers that they plan to use to better their country.
"Back home, people are just sitting there waiting for chances," Hubert said. "They can't do anything about it. I couldn't do anything about it. But now, I got this education, I have a second chance and I have to take it."