What’s Your Story: Ernest Nijimbere

BHS senior escapes a troubled past to start a new life in America.

Adrianna Jordan, staff writer

From Southern Africa to America, this high school senior doesn’t let his travels keep him from accomplishing his goals. With a little hard work and dedication, it has helped him make his dreams become a reality.

Ernest Nijimbere moved to America from Burundi to meet up with his dad. This change of scenery meant a new hope to Nijimbere.

“We moved here in 2015, so my sophomore year,” said Nijimbere. “Me, my mom, [my] two siblings and three cousins.”

Moving to America wasn’t just for the fun of it. Nijimbere’s family had to make the tough decision of leaving hardship back home in order to create a happier life in this foreign country.

“We had a bad situation in my country,” said Nijimbere. “One day, they put him [my father] in jail. We had to pay a lot of money to get him out.”

Not only is racism an issue in the United States, but it also takes place in other countries as well-especially for Nijimbere back home.

 “In Africa, all people are black,” said Nijimbere. “But, sometimes you can get a newborn who looks like a white person [albino]. Most people kill them, take their bodies parts and then you can sell them for money.”

Back in Burundi, killings like these have been linked to regional witchcraft. According to the Independent, “More than 20 albino people have been killed in Burundi since 2008, with the last case being in 2012.” They also stated that the government has recently banned witch doctors who performed spells and charms using these body parts to bring them wealth and good luck.

Nijimbere’s uncle had one of those kids, but his uncle had already passed away. After he passed, his kids got caught up in the trouble and got their body parts taken as a result. In the end, Nijimbere’s dad got caught up in this.

In order to escape this chaos, Nijimbere’s father moved in 2012 and found a job in Portland, Maine. Nijimbere’s father then called them one day and said he had bought an apartment in Biddeford, Maine. So, his family, all seven of them, packed up and flew to America.

“It took us three days to get here,” said Nijimbere. “We first flew to Uganda, then from Uganda to Dubai, then from Dubai to Boston. If I hadn’t moved here, my dad would’ve been dead.”

One of the hardest things for him was learning the language. However, for Nijimbere, he had help from a special staff member.

“The first ever person I really made a connection with was Mrs. Haufe,” said Nijimbere. “She helped me learn English.”

Nijimbere started Mrs. Haufe’s class the first week he moved to America from Burundi. From the first time she met him, she could tell he held a drive for what he is passionate about.

“When I first met Ernest, he didn’t speak a word of English,” Haufe said.

Despite not knowing the language, this did not hold him back. It pushed his determination even harder to learn English and to be able to understand everyone around him.

“He is super hard working. He never gives up on anything,” said Haufe. “He went from being in the beginner level ELL class in the first year to being in the advanced ELL class this year.”

Not only does Nijimbere work hard in the classroom, he works even harder outside the class as well. No matter what he is doing, he gives it his all.  

“He works like crazy, after school, on the weekends,” said Haufe. “At one point, he even had three jobs. He just never takes a break, not even during the summer.”

All this hard work isn’t for fun though, behind the hard worker is a student passionate about a childhood hobby.

“When I was little, I tried to do some stuff like connecting wires,” said Nijimbere. “Like when your radio dies, you just open it up and see which ones need to be connected. That’s what inspired me.”

With this passion in mind, Nijimbere joined the electrical class at the Center of Technology (COT) when he started at Biddeford.

“It will only take me two years to get my certificate,” said Nijimbere. “One year here, then one at SMCC. Then I will be an electrical engineer.”

This dream won’t come easy though; with college there comes a hard price. Most students get help from others in order to pay, but for Nijimbere, he is motivated to do it himself.  

“I work three days a week, Friday, Saturday and Sunday delivering at Dominos,” said Nijimbere. “I make a least $100 a day just from tips. That will help me pay for college.”

This drive for college Nijimbere carries has not gone unnoticed either. It is clear where his priorities lay.

“He is very motivated to save money for college,” said Haufe. “Definitely one of the most hard working students I have ever seen.”

Haufe says Nijimbere is a quiet student, but one that is always working above and beyond to achieve his goals.

“He works very hard in the COT,” said Haufe. “He is one of the few people who will have all their homework done. Overall I just can’t say enough about his positive work drive.”

This drive of his comes from moving. For Nijimbere, if he hadn’t moved to America, life back home in Burundi would’ve been a whole lot different. Thankfully, he was able to started a new life in a new home.