When Merci Mukeshimana left her home in Rwanda to study food safety and human nutrition in CSU’s College for Health and Human Sciences, she had dreams of one day running her own food company.
She admits that she had led a somewhat sheltered life under the guidance of her parents. Getting the opportunity to go to college in America was a dream come true.
“All of my life I have been following what my parents told me to do,” she said. “Here, I was put in charge of my life and that has helped me become the mature person that I am today. Colorado State really helped me become the type of person I want to be. Now, I live on my own, cook my own meals, take care of myself. I’m so thankful that I came here because I have become a person I never thought I would be.”
Expanding her horizons
She has taken full advantage of her first two years in America, traveling to cities like Nashville, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Las Vegas. She still can’t get used to American food – “Everything here has cheese on it! And everywhere you go they serve chicken wings, burgers and pizza – at home, those are luxuries,” she said – but she has enjoyed her time at CSU immensely.
Still, while enjoying her personal growth in Fort Collins she couldn’t get her mind off her homeland and camps filled with desperate refugees trying to escape the ongoing civil strife and famine in the neighboring Democratic Republic of the Congo. Mukeshimana said hundreds of refugee children in Rwandan camps are malnourished and facing uncertain futures.
“I wanted to do something to help people back home,” she said. “Here, we have a really good life and are healthy. At home, that is not the case for these children. I wanted to do something.”
Three friends band together
So, she talked with longtime friends Racheal Nikuze and Cecile Mwamikazi – who came with her to study nutrition science at CSU – about putting together a plan. They helped set up a GoFundMe page, hoping to raise $5,000 to provide food and medical attention for children in the Kiziba refugee camp.
“People in our culture help each other, and that’s why we’re trying to help,” Nikuze said. “We wanted to help the children. People in those camps need more support than they are getting.”
Added Mwamikazi: “Rwanda doesn’t have enough resources to provide for all of the refugees. That’s why we want to help however we can.”
The trio of friends attended high school together in Rwanda and collectively chose to come to CSU after receiving scholarships via the Rwanda Girls Initiative.
They have banded with other Rwandan college students in the U.S. – all studying in health-related fields – to start Heart For Kids, and they have worked with Rwanda’s Ministry of Health to identify areas of need. When the project is completed the students will file a report with the government on the project’s effectiveness.
“Our hope is that the project can be transformed into a sustainable, long-term project that can be implemented in different corners of the country,” Mukeshimana said.
The girls will return to Rwanda later in June – heading home for the first time since they left nearly three years ago to study at CSU.
“We have been through dark times in our country, and we don’t want to go back,” Mukeshimana said. “We’re hoping our work can lead to positive change.”