The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 85

G R O W I N G R O OTS I N R OA N O K E

from W A R
to a N E W L I F E

COURTESY OF BLUE RIDGE LITERACY

Nzikobanyanka was 10 when her parents
escaped increasing violence in their
Burundi homeland in 1995. They took
shelter at a refugee camp in bordering
Tanzania.
Nzikobanyanka grew up in makeshift
huts and tents. She spent 13 years learning,
marrying, finding employment as a social
worker, all while living in a series of
Tanzanian camps.
She's reluctant to talk about this time
in her life. "I'm not going to lie," she says.
"Sometimes it's hard to tell this story.
When I tell it, I see pictures. I don't want
to see those pictures anymore."
In June 2005, violence broke out in
the Lukole camp where she was working.
Her baby had come to work with her,
supervised by a nanny, as was common. In
a moment, she and her son and the people
she was with all had to flee for their lives.
For weeks, they were on the run. They
didn't know who they could trust or
where to go. They had no food, no drink.
When they finally found safety at another
refugee camp, Nzikobanyanka had lost
her husband, her parents, her siblings. She
didn't know if she would ever see any of
them again.
She tried desperately to locate her
husband, Nsengiyumva Ramadhan.
"People tried to help a lot," Nzikobanyanka
remembers. "Nothing seemed like my
husband had been able to survive." So, she
accepted that he had likely died and she
soldiered on.
She applied for refugee status and, in
2009, she and her son, Ahmad, landed in
Roanoke. Her parents and younger siblings
had come before her. They helped her find
her way.
"It's scary, emotionally, losing my home,
losing my job, thinking how to begin
another life," she says.
Within months, Nzikobanyanka had
found work in the kitchen at Our Lady
of the Valley retirement community. She
bought a car and moved into her own
apartment. Her family lived just minutes
away. They could care for Ahmad while she

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was at her job.
She connected with an English tutor
at Blue Ridge Literacy to improve her
language skills. Soon she began a training
program to become a nursing assistant. She
set goals for herself: within five years she vowed
to own a home and become a US citizen.
Then, in 2012, Evelyne received a phone
call that changed everything. Nsengiyumva
was on the line. He was alive.
Nzikobanyanka worked furiously to
bring him to Roanoke. In early 2014, he
arrived. Husband and wife were reunited
after nine harrowing years. Nine months
later, baby Amida was born.

it takes
a VILLAGE
Six students, dressed in brightly colored
head scarves and lime green flowing
pants and layer upon layer of thrift store
sweaters, smile at their teacher, Blue Ridge
Literacy staff member Mary Lowder.
They've come to this corner classroom
below the downtown public library to
complete 40 hours of English-language
instruction. This 10-week session focuses
on health literacy. Students learn to read
a prescription, choose nutritious food and
where to go for free dental care.
Along with their purses and coats, these
refugees bring their worries - a depressed
spouse, an upcoming citizenship test, the
bare shelves that haunt their kitchens. They
have overcome so much to be here - taken

Mary Lowder teaches English language learners.
Immigrants from more than 80 nations have learned
at BRL in its 34-year history.

MAY/JUNE 2019

85


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The Roanoker - May/June 2019

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of The Roanoker - May/June 2019

The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Intro
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover1
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover2
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 3
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 4
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - 5
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The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover3
The Roanoker - May/June 2019 - Cover4
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