Erick’s is one of five brief interviews I conducted at the Catherine McAuley Center.
In 1994, Erick was a ten-year-old boy living in war-torn Rwanda. Things had been bad between rival ethnic groups for a long time, but at that point, the Hutu government and Tutsi rebels were attempting to implement a cease-fire under international pressure.
Then, on April 6, 1994, the President’s plane was shot down. The Hutu-led government and military reacted with what we now know as the Rwandan genocide, a hundred-day killing spree that left somewhere between 500,000 to 1 million people dead.
Erick survived, with machete scars on his neck to remind him of all the family and friends he lost. He walked seven days with other refugees until he reached a protective camp across the border in Tanzania. He lived in the camp until he was 22 years old.
“At first, it was too hard,” he tells me, “because I had no friends and no family. I was alone.” But in the years following, he grew into a young man and met his wife. One day, after interviewing with U.S. immigration authorities, they were given permission to emigrate to the United States.
At first they lived in Arizona, but nearly four years ago Erick, his wife, and his daughter moved to Iowa at the invitation of his wife’s uncle. He has no intention of leaving any time soon.
“I love Iowa. I will stay here. Here I don’t have any problems. If I’m working, I pay rent. I sleep. No problems. I take care of my kids.” Later, he adds, “I’m good. I have a family now. Three kids. I live with my wife, no problem. I try to make life better.” Erick says he will probably never return to Africa, where there is still violent conflict between Hutus and Tutsis.
When I asked Erick what he wanted for his children, he said he wants to make sure they study. His oldest daughter just finished first grade at Hoover Elementary, and Erick says she likes school.
Like other fathers, he simply wants what is best for his family. He tries to provide for them, to give them a better childhood than his own. He’s had to wait and sacrifice more than most in order to do that, but it’s happening right here in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Story by Courtney T Ball. Photo by Hannah White.