Rwandan refugee builds his future from his past

Denis Biswangwa, freshman business administration major, dribbles a ball while playing with kids and Union students as part of a youth ministry in Hartland Place Apartments in Jackson. | Photo by Zac Calvert

By Katherine Pullen, Staff Writer

“People, when they are educated, they have the capacity to choose what they want to do,” said Denis Bisangwa, freshman international business major from Rwanda.

Less than a year ago, Bisangwa traveled to the U.S. to complete his education. He hopes to return to Rwanda to promote development in his nation, which was torn apart by genocide in 1994.

“All great nations, all great countries, are built on good platforms of education,” Bisangwa said. “So that’s why I think that my country needs more education — so the people can get out of the bubble of poverty and illiteracy.”

During a three-month period in 1994, mass genocide took more than 800,000 lives when tribal tensions between two ethnic groups, the Hutus and the Tutsis, erupted into unprecedented violence.

Bisangwa was 4 years old at the time and lived in a refugee camp in neighboring Uganda for three years. His father, a soldier, was killed in a skirmish during the period leading up to the genocide.

Three years after Bisangwa returned to Rwanda, his mother died from an illness. Her death left him responsible for two younger siblings, so Bisangwa began to think about how he could help others hurting in his country.

“I started thinking about orphans, thinking about how other people live — other vulnerable people, people who don’t have parents and other people who lack things in their lives,” Bisangwa said.

In 2007, Bisangwa joined a group of friends to launch Peace and Love Proclaimers, an organization that promotes unity and reconciliation between Rwanda’s genocide survivors, to show his countrymen life is still worth living after tragedy strikes.

“God directed me to other people who had some problems but (who) didn’t have that courage that I had (been given),” Bisangwa said.

Through his work in the organization, Bisangwa met Andrea McDaniel, co-founder and executive director of the “As We Forgive” Rwanda Initiative and Union alumna.

When Bisangwa earned a high score on a national high school examination that placed him among the top students in the country, McDaniel helped introduce him to Union.

A combination of his high school grades, leadership involvement and community activities, as well as a series of exams and interviews, earned Bisangwa a full-tuition international student scholarship, paving the way for him to start classes in the fall.

“I wanted to go to the U.S. because I wanted to acquire (a) good education and then come back to Africa and be part of the development of my country,” Bisangwa said.

Bisangwa is taking advantage of every opportunity he has while he is in the U.S. He attends First Baptist Church of Humboldt, Tenn., and is a mentor at a youth outreach program at Hartland Place Apartments in Jackson.

He hopes to attend graduate school and earn a master’s degree in business administration and eventually return to Rwanda to share what he has learned with his people.

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The Cardinal & Cream is a student publication of Union University in Jackson, Tennessee. Our staff ranges from freshmen to seniors and includes a variety of majors — including journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing, digital media studies, graphic design and art majors.