By Grant V. Ziegler
In April 1994, Rwanda experienced a genocide that left more than 800,000 men, women and children dead. Among those who perished were the mother, grandmother and other family members of Claver Nsanzumuhire, a North Lake College student and graphic design major.
Claver was six years old and staying with his uncle when the genocide occurred. After losing his family, he was moved to an orphanage where he lived, attended school and worked until he was 23 years old. Despite the tragedies and the terrible circumstances, this Gisenyi, Rwanda, native dedicated his life to working hard and getting an education so he could transform his life from tragedy to opportunity.
“After the genocide, life was hard because there were so many k
ids in the orphanage,” said Claver. “When you’re an orphan you have to get a diploma to survive. You don’t have your family or your parents, so you need the degree to help you.”
Claver’s journey to the United States is full of luck and fate. He met Mark Jacobs in March 2011 while Jacobs was visiting Rwanda to adopt a boy. Claver was one of the few English-speaking people in his area and was able to take Mark and his family on a tour.
“We took a trip to Rwanda to learn about the culture because if we were going to adopt outside the U.S., we wanted to keep the culture a part of our lives forever,” said Jacobs.
Interestingly enough, the Jacobs family did adopt a young boy, but it wasn’t Claver because he was beyond the age limit for adoption. However, their paths soon crossed again.
Jacobs returned to Rwanda with his company, Biotech Cardiology, where he performed consulting work with the biggest hospital in the country and to learn more about Rwanda’s cardiology programs and resources. Claver helped Jacobs and the nurses and doctors he brought with him by building a database to identify children who needed special follow-ups.
According to Jacobs, there were nearly 20 children who needed surgeries and Claver was instrumental in making sure the documentation was available, working with local authorities to ensure that the surgeries happened.
“He has an unrelenting work ethic and is always motivated,” said Jacobs about Claver. “Here is a guy who had lost everything, but still had a focus and determination to accomplish more than what his circumstances would allow him to.”
Jacobs saw potential in him and extended an invitation for Claver to live with him and his family. After going through the appropriate channels and getting a student visa, Claver hopped a plane to Irving and Jacobs held true to his word offering him a place to live with the opportunity to further his education.
“I want to take what I learn here in the United States and bring it back to Rwanda to help my brothers and sisters,” said Claver. “I want to start my own business there so I can train people and give them jobs. That way I can help the people and the economy.”
Claver began his American education at Brookhaven College by taking an English as a Second Language course and then came to NLC to take his graphic design courses because NLC is closer to his new home. After he receives an associate degree from North Lake, he plans to attend a four-year university to collect more degrees in technology and business-based courses.
Away from work and school, Claver says he’s finally getting accustomed to American life. He says he loves the people, the food and especially the technology, such as Wi-Fi, because it helps him with his homework. He admits that he wasn’t a fan of American movies until he took a film-appreciation class at North Lake.
“Claver will always be a part of our family even though we’re not technically related,” said Jacobs. “He’s always full of one-liners and cracks us up when he tries to sound like a Texan. He has a heart of gold and greets everyone with a hug.”
The United Nations declared April 7 “Day of Remembrance of the Victims of the Rwanda Genocide.” According to Claver, in Rwanda families and friends get together to appreciate the things they have and the relationships they have with each other. Last year, Claver honored his family’s memory by attending a church in the U.S that held a sermon commemorating the lives that were lost.