Student to show people her Rwanda

Posted Dec. 31, 2008, at 7:03 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — You could hardly blame Jackline Wairimu Rwigamba if she exhibited some bitterness when speaking about the land in which she lives. In the 1994 genocide in the African nation of Rwanda she lost a grandfather, grandmother, three uncles, three aunts and four cousins.

They were among the 800,000 to 1 million Tutsis and moderate Hutus massacred in the 100-day genocide carried out by government militias as the aftermath of a civil war between the Hutu regime and Tutsi exiles.

But bitterness is not part of what the soft-spoken freshman broadcast journalism student at the New England School of Communications is all about.

In fact, her major goal after graduation from NESCom is to return to Rwanda to promote the beauty that she sees in that part of the world.

“Rwanda right now has only one television station, which is controlled by the government, and five radio stations,” Rwigamba said. “That number should increase substantially in the next five years as things have settled down greatly in this country. I want the world to know more about the beauty of Africa than the poverty, AIDS epidemic and genocide that has dominated the news in recent years.”

It’s been an interesting journey for Jackie, as she is known on campus, from Kigali, Rwanda, to Bangor.

She was the recipient of a scholarship at the Kigali Institute of Science and Technology but she found little interest in the course of study the scholarship decreed. She was living with the only family survivor of the 1994 genocide, her aunt Eudenie, whose first thought when hostilities ceased was to contact Jackie in Kenya and ask her to come back to Kigali.

Jackie’s father fled Rwanda during the second of the three genocides that ravaged that country, traveling to Burundi and Tanzania before settling in Kenya where Jackie was born. Her mother died when Jackie was 4, and her father remarried but died when Jackie was 15.

Aunt Eudenie survived the 1994 genocide by moving from house to house and hiding in each one.

“She told me that Tutsis were even identified by Hutus through their fingers and toes, which were slightly different,” Jackie said.

At the Flamingo Secondary School in Nakuru, Kenya, Jackie was a School Head Girl, a liaison between the students and the faculty and administration. Later she attended the Data Center in Nairobi, but sought to come to the United States to study and received sponsorship from a relative, John Muthua of Southbridge, Mass.

She learned of NESCom through the Internet, which listed it among the best communications schools in New England, and she also considered schools in Connecticut and Boston. A reference from a friend helped her make up her mind and she arrived on the Husson University campus this fall.

Her problems didn’t end with her arrival, as there were issues involving finances and adapting to a new culture and language. Financial aid from an African church in Boston and her own ability to absorb English have lessened the confusion of the early class days.

Rwigamba knows she must overcome other obstacles, such as her quiet manner of speaking and her accent.

“In my country, loud talking is considered very rude and perhaps that is why I speak so softly,” she explained.

Someone once said to speak softly but carry a big stick. Something about Jackie reassures one that she will find that stick.

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