To have the opportunity to go to Kigali for a University education was a mixed blessing. To leave to go to the Rwandan capital city would mean being very far away from the prison where her parents and sister were being kept. However, for a chance at a meaningful future life, the University education provided her with the best chance of being able to help in the long term. The Teacher Training College would allow Specy the opportunity to finish her education and make an income. “If I could work and my parents were still alive when I finished school, I would be able to feed them.”
The impact of genocide and the poverty of the years that followed had caused Specy to be void of faith. She was no longer praying. In Kigali, she met Dominique Gumirikiza. As a Junior student of Business and Economics, he was leading discussions on the scriptures. Specy was drawn to him. “I could see that God was with him. I needed someone to talk to. I needed someone to offer me counsel. My heart kept leading me to Dominique. Not for love or for romance, but as someone I could talk to.”
Dominique accepted her request for counsel and became a force of healing in her life, especially her spirit. Through her first year of school Dominique would be there to encourage her in her studies, her daily living and her faith.
During school breaks, Specy faced the same struggle of homelessness. It was after one such break that Dominique shared he never wanted Specy to have to live in such miserable conditions again. “He asked me if he could be my counselor for life. I knew my feelings for him had changed. I knew I loved him. Since the genocide, he was the only person who had shown me care. I believed he felt love for me too, but we were not sure how to tell each other. By asking to be my counselor for life, he was proposing and I said yes.”
The first year of their marriage was an impoverished year. As students, they had little. A daughter, Divine, was born in that first year. Dominique became a teacher and with some income, their life became a bit easier. Honette, a second daughter was born to them just as Specy graduated from college. Dominique was offered a Fulbright Scholarship to receive his Master’s degree in the United States. He and Specy agreed that she would stay in Rwanda with their daughters and he would accept this opportunity and return to them after the two years. Dominique left his country, taking his first airplane ride to the United States, becoming a student in Utah.
Through unexpected circumstances, Specy became the assistant to a government official with a job equivalent to a cabinet member in the United States. This position was fulfilling to Specy, but the distance from Dominique was taxing. She made the decision to try and get passports to try and visit him in the United States. She had little hope her requests would be filled, as the Visa and Passport requests were often denied. The appointment for her and the girls was during their normal nap time. When she arrived, both girls were crying, fussy from a departure from their schedule. The clerk processing the request asked Specy why they were crying. “They miss their father so much!” She answered. To her surprise the clerk said they should go see them and approved their paperwork.
“We did not understand appliances. We did not know what went into a refrigerator or freezer. We did not understand what to do with the microwave,” Specy explained. The technologies and equipment that are everyday items to Americans were new to them. Basic information, such as where to find groceries, medical care, and transportation were challenges not only because of the language obstacle, but also because these were the first exposures they had to things most of us take for granted. With the help of Americans willing to help teach, Specy began to feel comfortable with these things. “Dora the Explorer and Paw Patrol became my English teachers. I wish Dora was a real girl so I could tell her thank you and giver her a hug!”
Dominique received his Doctorate and spent a year in Idaho before moving to Bowling Green, Kentucky to teach at Western Kentucky University.
In 2016, Dominique and Specy, along with a group of friends established Foundation for Connecting Communities, FCC, a non-profit organization serving minority groups and immigrant families by building social and economic connections. Their vision is to work toward stronger socioeconomically connected communities. FCC builds economic connections with the community through Family-to-Family mentorships. Established families helping new families to succeed by providing friendship and assistance in areas such as employment applications, navigating the educational system, financial literacy including home ownership. In simplest terms, these mentorships are helping hard working families understand the culture and tools that are unfamiliar to them to help them to best succeed and assimilate into their communities for the benefit of the community and individual. These mentorships are relational allowing immigrant families to become self-reliant through the ability and confidence to serve themselves.
Mentor families assist their assigned families through building relationship while also teaching the skills and cultural norms that will help new families succeed. This could include connecting these families to members of the community, helping them understand financial tools, and transportation needs. Mentors can help these families navigate American grocery stores, fill out paperwork, or practicing conversational English.
This mutually beneficial relationship affords the mentor family the ability to explore international cultures, foods and stories while extending the borders of their community. There is as much to learn from the mentee families as there is to teach.
Currently, FCC has a great need for mentor families. Each mentor family receives training on how to best serve their mentee family. Through this training the family also learns of resources that can help new families to get the skills, education, and benefits that will help them transition into American culture. If you don’t feel being a mentor is a good fit for your family, but you want to support the mission of the organization, your tax deductible donation is appreciated. To learn more about how you can get involved, visit Foundation for Connecting Communities BG on Facebook or call 2705996963. Donations can be mailed to FCC, 2501 Crossings Blvd, Bowling Green, KY 42104.
Specy Nyiramana works diligently to expose new refugee and immigrants for understanding to American food systems, how to get jobs, transporting families to medical appointments. She has felt the loneliness and despair of trying to find her way in a new country and she remembers the importance of help. She now devotes herself to going back into that despair and showing others the way out. She mothers five beautiful daughters and loves well Dominique. It seems little to call her an Everyday Extraordinary Woman because she is simply extraordinary…Everyday.
(By the grace of God, all twelve members of Specy’s family survived the genocide. Her parents were imprisoned without trial for fourteen years. At the age of five, her baby sister was removed from the prison system and adopted by a good family. It was through the process of Gacaca Court justice Specy’s parents were released from prison. Dominique’s family also survived the genocide. Their parents are living in Rwanda.)