Co-Founder and Jua co-chairman Orest Ndabaneze has a story unlike many Canadians, at is his story that motivated us to open our school in Africa's poorest nation; Burundi.
In 1972, Capitoline Nikundana and Manasse Ndabaneze left Burundi Africa and moved to Rwanda for a better life. They were entrepreneurs who built homes, and started their own businesses. After the Rwandan genocide in 1994, they moved to the Congo briefly, then returned to Burundi.
Orest Ndabaneze was born on October 6, 1998 to Capitoline and Manasse in Burundi. Orest has eight siblings. Shortly after Orest’s birth, rebels came to the family home. That night, Orest’s father Manasse was killed, leaving Capitoline a single parent.
“Being raised by my mother was a blessing, Orest said. “She opened stores and built homes everywhere she went. But being a successful woman in Burundi, you’re always a victim for everything.” When Orest was two-years-old, his mother was wrongfully accused of causing a plane crash in Burundi and sentenced to six months in prison. Because Orest was so young, she pleaded with the authorities to bring him with her. Capitoline was devoutly religious and began her own church congregation while in prison. “I still remember the songs they used to sing,” Orest said.
But the targeting of Capitoline didn’t stop. On September 9, 2003, after being released from prison, rebels came to their house looking for Capitoline. She told the children to go hide. All the children went to a spare bedroom and hid under the bed.
“It’s a miracle we’re still alive,” Orest said. “When they took my mom, one of the rebels came into the room with a flashlight. I was about to yell, and one of my sisters held my mouth to keep quiet. The soldier looked around with his flashlight – he actually looked under the bed – I don’t know how he didn’t see us. There was six of us under the bed.”
Capitoline was killed hours later.
Orest and his siblings were taken in by an uncle for two weeks after their mother was murdered. That uncle had just relocated his family to South Africa but stayed with Orest and his siblings during their journey to Kenya to claim refugee status.
The process of declaring refugee status was long. They waited for status for four to six months.
“I actually had to go talk to them because they didn’t believe our story. They brought out toys so I would tell them the truth, and I told them the whole truth because that’s the only thing I knew. I had lost both my parents in a span of five years. That’s the only truth I knew,” Orest said.
The family was successful in getting refugee status. At that time, the seven children were living in a one-bedroom apartment in Kenya, living off money from their mother’s inheritance. Their uncle slept on the couch in the apartment for months, but he had to return to South Africa to relocate his family once again, to Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. After he left, hard times began for the siblings. Their inheritance had run out. A year later, they were approved to come to Canada. Their uncle had moved from Moncton to Edmonton, Alberta. And that’s where Orest and his siblings arrived on July 12, 2006.
“It was the best day of our lives,” Orest said.
They arrived under Catholic refugee status and were cared for by five local families. One of the families, Sandra and Jerry Simmard stayed with them, and became part of the family.
Orest said settling into Canada wasn’t difficult for him. When they were in Kenya they lived under the British system, and had attended Francophone schools. In Edmonton, they attended a Francophone school. They lived in Edmonton for three years until one of the older sisters, Rachel, got married in Calgary in 2009. The family moved to Calgary to be closer to her, and they’ve been there ever since.
“Moving to Calgary was the hardest part because there were no Francophone schools. The closest one was French immersion, and I started learning things in English. I wasn’t the best English speaker,” Orest said.
In Grade 9, Orest realized improving in English would have to be a priority for him to get into the university. Throughout high school, Orest excelled in sports and played on Team Alberta for soccer. While his athletic performance was stellar, he found he had to work much harder than the other students at school. He was, however, offered scholarships to Trinity Western University, the University of New Brunswick, the University of Calgary, and Mount Royal University.
Orest has made education the priority in his life. Going from a struggling student to a 4.0 success story has made him passionate about education.
Now, Orest wants to provide an opportunity to educate future generations. He felt called to start a school in Burundi, and that’s how Jua was created. A team of six people is now working to establish the school. “Jua is a name in Swahili that means the sun. It means hope, aspirations for the future. My dream for Jua is to inspire and educate kids in Africa.”
The Jua team has secured ownership of a building suitable for the school near Bujumbura. Through coffee sales and other fundraising efforts, we are raising money to get water and electricity to the school. We had planned to open to our first year of students in Fall 2020, but COVID has slowed down our plans by a few months. We will travel to Africa to get the school opened as soon as possible. In the meantime, we continue to raise funds through our coffee sales. Internet and online learning are part of our long term plans. Your support of our school will help us get there.
Thank you for your support!