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Belanoadia Ndayizgiye's Story

Belanoadia Ndayizgiye

Bela's smile lights up the room! She is enthusiastic and articulate on the cold, winter day. Her story is not a painless one to tell, but she is forthright and positive about her experience.

Born in Burundi to poor, illiterate farmers, she was the fifth of 12 children and the first to attend school. She recalls those mornings when she left for school without breakfast because there was no food, but her gratitude is profuse for the gift of education that her parents gave her. As others of her siblings attended school, the parents often bought pencils rather than food to "feed" their children.

War came to Burundi after Bela completed 7th grade. Encouraged by her mother to flee to Congo after her uncle was brutally murdered, Bela escaped alone, but was soon on the run again. This time her mother had sent several of her younger siblings to Congo to join her, and Bela, at 15, became the parent for both her siblings and other young refugees. They fled to Tanzania and were given shelter by a family there. A man from this family offered to take the younger children back to Burundi, and ultimately Bela received word that they had arrived safely. She also received a warning, however, to stay out of Burundi and not to return because of the danger involved.

Bela's journey was far from over. She found herself in a refugee camp in Tanzania. Life in the camp was not easy, but Bela continued her education. She received her high school diploma in the camp, was married there, and birthed her first child there. At 20 years of age, Bela had been in the camp for five years. And her life was about to take a very different path.

Bela and her immediate family arrived in Atlanta, Georgia in July of 2001. The three years of their life in Atlanta was an experience of pain and joy. The pain came from the violence of the city, the confusion of the new culture, and the great misconceptions of life around them. Bela recalls how when they first arrived, they interpreted the sound of fireworks as gunshots, and they cowered in their apartment for hours, fearing the worst. She says that when 9/11 happened, they "...just sat inside the house and waited for death." They felt that "Everywhere we tried to go, death was following us." Now, firmly established in Maine, since 2004, she says, "I feel more relaxed, like I can breathe, like I'm in a safe place." The joy of their time in Atlanta came in the form of a very helpful church group that provided all the daily necessities, the birth of another child, and the beginning of her English study. She studied formally in a classroom and with a tutor, and she studied informally with Barney and other children's show and cartoon characters.

Bela is thoughtful and philosophical. Before she began taking classes at USM, she asked a friend, "Who am I going to be tomorrow?"

The friend answered, "You will be you! And why are you asking me this question?"

"And I said, 'You know what? It looks like, no education, no life.'"

Bela works in a daycare center and hopes to ultimately earn a degree in early childhood education. She has goals and wants to be the "best example" for her children. She says with great enthusiasm and commitment, "I can't wait to get where I want to get!" The PESLSF scholarship that Bela received for the fall semester at USM is helping her to achieve her goal, and she is very appreciative of the opportunity.