Student Draws on Past Experiences to Help Others
Faziri Ndahiro came to the United States as a refugee and has started a non-profit to aid others like him.
When Faziri Ndahiro was 12 years old, he and his family were forced to flee their home in The Republic of the Congo. His country was in the midst of a civil war and the Banyamulenge Tribe, to which Ndahiro’s family belonged, was the target of genocide.
The tribe planned to seek refuge in neighboring Uganda. But getting there wouldn’t be easy — or safe. The voyage took nearly two months. They would take cover in the wilderness during the day and attempt to sleep. They’d walk at night, hoping to use darkness as a shield.
Finally, they arrived at a refugee camp in Uganda. It would be the Ndahiro family home for the next eight years. Those years would be filled with struggle and tragedy — ultimately leading to the family earning refugee status in the United States.
Today, Ndahiro is a senior at SUNY Brockport, majoring in political science and international studies. And he’s launched a non-profit organization that aims to help other refugees in the Rochester area as well as those he left behind in Uganda.
“It’s not something you do to make a lot of money,” Ndahiro said. “It’s something you do because you want to impact people’s lives.”
Rochester Global Refugee Services was founded to advocate for the economic needs and educational development of refugees. Ndahiro aims to empower refugees to become self-sufficient by teaching the skills needed to thrive in their environments through targeted mentoring, educational programs, and connecting volunteers and resources to refugees at a local and global level.
“We are unique because we become a bridge between refugee families and various services in the community. If a family doesn’t know where to go, how to approach them, or if they are uncomfortable speaking with them — we help identify those issues and connect them with the right people,” he says.
Ndahiro’s services are also unique because of his experience as a refugee. While he believes it may be surprising to some, Ndahiro grew up in a strong home. His father was a teacher and his mother was an entrepreneur.
“The only thing I had to do was go to school,” he said. “I didn’t even have to make my own bed. We had housemaids.”
That all changed when they fled for Uganda. Life in the refugee camp was “horrible.”
“There was no access to medicine, no access to food, no access to clothes, no access to school. Some people think you end up in a refugee camp because of choices you make. You don’t have a choice. You just thank God for having a plate of food at night.”
For years, Ndahiro’s family worked to obtain refugee status. But it’s a difficult and complicated process that required evidence of physical danger. That evidence didn’t materialize until it was too late — Ndahiro’s sister was killed by a rival tribe.
Following that tragedy, the family was selected for refugee status by the United States. Their case was accepted by the Catholic Family Center, who brought them to Rochester. Adapting to life here for refugees is challenging, Ndahiro says, but it’s a little easier for those — like him — who know English.
Ndahiro feels fortunate. But he is driven to help those who have been less fortunate. He recently returned from spending two months back at the Ugandan refugee camp that had once been his home. The United Nations asked him to share his experiences with a variety of service providers so that they could gain insight into how they can make a larger impact.
He’s already putting one of his ideas into action — but needs help to implement it. Refugees in the camp are provided rations of “posho” or maize. But that maize is useless without the ability to grind it into flour. The poorest refugees often must trade half of their ration to someone with a grinder so they can grind their other half.
Ndahiro is seeking to change that. His organization has raised more than $10,000 to purchase an industrial-size corn grinder that will be made available to those most in need. The grinder has been purchased and assembled, but it needs electricity. He is now seeking to raise $20,000 to buy and install a transformer through a crowdfunding campaign.
As for himself, after graduating, Ndahiro hopes to pursue a Master of Public Administration at Brockport so that he can grow his organization.
“I don’t know where it will take me, but I want to help people as much as I can,” he said. “Peace of mind doesn’t come from money and happiness doesn’t come from wealth. Peace comes from within. Loving what you do, being part of a society — that makes me feel like a human being."
“If I can be able to afford what I need and be able to help someone else…that’s all I need.”