Seven refugees from Burundi, Africa are now calling Dayton home after coming to the area last year. On Wednesday, May 13, four men from Burundi visited CJ to talk to students in Tony Ricciuto’s freshmen International World Cultures Honors Class.
The refugees were connected to CJ because of Herb Schwendeman ’71. He has been helping teach English to non-English speaking refugees for more than two-and-a-half years.
“I had an opportunity to do something different. When I started, I found out that I really enjoyed it,” Schwendeman said. "Brother Bettice emphasized the importance of being in service to others. I wanted to do something different in my retirement years and still be in service. This opportunity afforded both."
The four men who spoke to Ricciuto’s class talked about the struggles they faced in Burundi, which for many of them, included being orphaned due to genocide. The men, who have high school diplomas and college degrees, also described their tribulations in finding work.
“It was difficult to get a job [in Burundi] because of discrimination,” said Emmanuel Bishariza, to the students. “If you finished your studies and you were not in the ruling party, you cannot get a job.”
Armand Muvunyi studied computer science in Burundi and said he plans to continue pursuing that degree in the United States. Ramadhan Ndayisaba came to Dayton in 2008 before becoming a U.S. citizen in 2013.
“Being in Dayton helped open up doors,” said Ndayisaba. Since graduating from a Dayton-area high school in 2012, Ndayisaba has been working and went to Sinclair. He has hopes to become a police officer.
While in Dayton last year for A World A’Fair, 35 drummers from Burundi showed the local community their culture and history behind their talent. Seven people from that group, including Bishariza and Muvunyi, chose not to go back to Burundi because of the violence in that country. The seven are seeking asylum in the U.S. and many are taking an English speaking course taught by Schwendeman.
While talking about the transformation he has seen in the group over the last year, Schwendeman said, “their self confidence has been the biggest change I have seen in them. They’re eager to become a part of the United States.”
“It’s a good country,” Ndayisaba agreed. “It feels like we’re home, this is our home!”
Fabrice, 31, also told the students, “what I can say is you are blessed to have peace in your county. I can say you are blessed.”
You can see a performance from last year’s World A’Fair from Burundi drummers here.