Phyllis Cohen Stevens
Deputy Director of News Services
CATHOLIC BROTHER AND SURVIVOR OF RWANDAN GENOCIDE
DEVOTES HIMSELF TO LIFE OF SERVICE
-- Donat Kubwimana, a Recent Queens College Graduate Now Studying
To Become a High School Teacher, Becomes U.S. Citizen on January 8 --
FLUSHING, N.Y., January 6, 2009—For Donat Kubwimana, 43, a Catholic religious brother in the Congregation of Holy Cross (Congregatio a Sancta Cruce or CSC), surmounting daunting odds is part of the natural circle of life. After learning that his friends and a member of his family had been murdered in the Rwandan genocide, he ultimately escaped to the U.S. knowing little English and lacking even a high school diploma. Today the Flushing resident is working toward a Master’s degree in French at Queens College, with the hope of becoming a high school teacher.
According to Brother Donat, his steadfast faith in God, the support of his order, and dedication to a life of service gave him consolation and the strength to persevere, despite his harrowing experiences and the obstacles he faced.
“It was hard to accept losing those close to me,” recalls Brother Donat. “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.”
After fleeing from Rwanda in 1995, Brother Donat and 10 of his peers, all in their 20’s, made their way through the Congo into Uganda and then Kenya. For the next eight years, Brother Donat tried to put his life back together. He went to French high school for three years, but dropped out before graduating. He then enrolled in a technical school, taking construction as well as computer programming classes. The rest of the time he worked in various parishes doing social work and teaching catechism to children. Unfortunately, Brother Donat and his peers had fled Rwanda without any documents, which left them vulnerable to being deported by the Kenyan government. The CSC finally managed to bring Brother Donat and one other Rwandese brother to the U.S. with a religious visa.
When Brother Donat arrived in the U.S. on a 20-degree day in 2003 – temperatures in Africa rarely drop below 50 degrees – one of his first goals was to learn English. He already knew Kinyarwanda (his native tongue), Swahili and French, but he wanted to communicate in the language of his adopted country and eventually go to college. Brother Donat succeeded in earning his GED, was accepted into Queensborough Community College and eventually transferred to Queens College, where he majored in French and minored in Education.
After school and during vacations, Brother Donat donates his time to charitable pursuits. Last summer he worked in Montreal at the St. Joseph Oratory, the ministry’s shrine that attracts pilgrims from all over the world. He also volunteered as a religious education teacher at schools in the local parish and tutored fellow college students in French. This Spring Brother Donat will be student-teaching French at Holy Cross High School. When he received special recognition for his French tutoring service from the college’s European Languages and Literatures department at his graduation last May, he simply said, “I studied in order to work and serve.”
Brother Donat has successfully met another challenge. He just learned that he has been granted citizenship and will take his oath as a new U.S. citizen on January 8. This news strengthens the advice he continuously gives his students: “Even if you’ve suffered through war, crime, poverty or other adversity, you can still be successful if you’re motivated and don’t give up.”