Rwandan refugee fulfills longtime dream with citizenship

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Fifteen years ago, Donat Kubwimana believed that coming to the United States from war−torn Rwanda was out of his reach. But last Thursday, the Flushing resident and Queens College graduate achieved something he never thought possible: He became an American citizen.

“So many people in Rwanda dream about coming to the United States. But I never thought I was going to be able to come here. For me, where I was, it was aiming too high. That was a dream,” Kubwimana said.

Kubwimana, who fled Rwanda in 1995 after several of his closest friends were killed in the Rwandan Genocide, was sworn in as a U.S. citizen in Brooklyn federal court last week.

A Catholic brother in the Congregation of the Holy Cross, Kubwimana has been living in Flushing since 2003, when he stepped off a plane to begin a new life after the one he knew was destroyed by war.

Several of Kubwimana’s Christian brothers and closest friends were among hundreds of thousands of Tutsis killed by Hutu militiamen during the Rwandan Genocide in 1994 and 1995 — an event that ultimately drove him to leave his country, travel through Africa and eventually make his way to the United States.

“Personally, I think I am someone who likes peace, who likes people to be in harmony. But when I lost my friends and brothers, it was so hard for me to accept,” Kubwimana said. “It was almost like starting a new life. I think about them all the time: How good they were, how close they were to me, the jokes we shared. I wonder if I can ever have relationships like that again. It has been a struggle for me.”

After fleeing Rwanda, Kubwimana moved from the Democratic Republic of the Congo (formerly Zaire) to Uganda and then to Kenya, where he said he eventually was able to secure a religious visa to come to the United States in 2003.

Since then Kubwimana has earned his GED and attended Queensborough Community College before transferring to Queens College, where he graduated with a bachelor’s degree in French with a minor in education. He said his fellow brothers in his congregation as well as his faith in God have helped him cope with what he left behind in Africa.

“God was the only friend I could rely on. I talked to him every day in my prayers. At that time, I almost gave up, but I never lost hope,” he said. “My fellow brothers, they wanted me to recover, to feel free, so maybe somehow I forget what I have lost. They have been helping me in many ways financially and emotionally. I’m also getting friendly with them. This is maybe how I can recover from the fellowship I lost with my friends who died.”

Kubwimana is currently working on obtaining a master’s in French at Queens College and is expected to begin student teaching at Holy Cross High School in Flushing, where he hopes to eventually begin a career as a teacher.

“I want to become a teacher because our congregation has an encouragement in education,” he said. “What has been given to me I also want to give to others.”

Kubwimana said though he would eventually like to return to Africa to visit family, he was elated to become a U.S. citizen.

“There are so many opportunities here. I am feeling so good here,” he said. “When I was in Rwanda, I was not thinking about it much because I didn’t think it was going to become a reality. So for me it was something that surprised me and delighted me so much.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e−mail at or by phone at 718−229−0300, Ext. 138.

Posted 6:35 pm, October 10, 2011
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