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Taking the Educational High Road from Rwanda to Portland

By October 2, 2015December 12th, 2015Blog

Earlier this week we shared Joeseph Mushishi’s story of perseverance and dedication to education as a recipient of the Maine Development Foundation (MDF) 2015 Next Step Maine Scholarship. Today we spotlight Daniel Dusabimana, a fellow recipient of the Next Main Scholarship.

Daniel Dusabimana’s future looked uncertain. He had witnessed the slaughter of his father and brother during the Rwandan genocide and was responsible for the support of his mother and his two younger sisters.  Daniel had completed high school and a year of college in Rwanda, a rural, densely populated country that has suffered civil war, genocide, and high poverty, yet he still wanted to advance his education and to provide his family with a better life in a safer environment.

Opportunity presented itself in the summer of 2009, when Daniel—along with his mother and sisters—were among the early wave of central Africa immigrant refugees to arrive in Portland. Unable to seek paid work while his asylum request was being processed, Daniel enrolled in English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) classes at Portland Adult Education. Upon receiving permission to work, Daniel secured several part-time jobs to support his family of four.

While juggling revolving work schedules as a City of Portland shelter attendant and helping adults living with severe mental illness at Shalom House, Daniel added a third position to his resume as a certified direct support professional (DSP) at Spurwink Services.

Daniel’s kindhearted nature and attention to detail quickly caught the attention of the residential live-in staff: “In a very short time Daniel became the most requested weekend DSP by our live-in couples and worked himself into one full-time position at Spurwink”, explains Residential Supervisor Phil Nagem. “It takes a very thoughtful, dedicated and compassionate person to care for special needs adults living with functional or intellectual disabilities, such as autism spectrum disorder or ADHD.”

The flexible Spurwink work schedule and steady paycheck afforded Daniel the ability to go to Southern Maine Community College, where he earned an Associates Degree in Computer Science. This fall Daniel begins work on his Bachelor of Science in Computer Science at the University of Southern Maine.

Ultimately, Daniel’s hard work and educational aspirations were recognized. On June 23rd, Daniel Dusabimana received a Next Step Maine Scholarship. In a presentation at the Senator Inn in Augusta, the Maine Development Foundation (MDF) recognized Daniel, along with 11 others winners. This is the third year of the Next Step Maine Scholarship, a fund designed to recognize “Employees of Promise” who are nominated by their employers. The goal of the fund is to support and recognize outstanding employees who are working adults pursuing college degrees or certificates while balancing their professional careers, supporting family members, and juggling additional life responsibilities.

In addition to his college courses, Daniel’s DSP work requires that he complete behavior management classes regularly, as well as complete and maintain Certified Residential Medication Aide (CRMA) CPR and first aid certification. Additional, online training is also required.

According to Sue Murphy, a Program Director for Adult Services, there is an across the board shortage of direct care (DSP) professionals: “Spurwink is so fortunate to have employees like Daniel and we are presently looking to hire more kind, compassionate and reliable people who want to help others and are willing to complete necessary training and certification requirements.”

When asked about his future dreams, Daniel muses about owning his own business. He chose to study computer science because he loves computers and he heard the jobs pay well. He is already inquiring into internship opportunities. In terms of long-term goals, education is still a high priority. However, this time it’s for his high-school age sisters. “I need to keep working hard to save money for my two sisters to go to college”, explains Daniel. “One of my sisters dreams of becoming a doctor, so I really will need a high paying job.”

In the meantime, Daniel gives thanks for what he has, including the cars he purchased without loans (Daniel explains that taking loans is discouraged in Africa, different than the USA) for himself and his sisters, his job at Spurwink and his ongoing education. All indications are pointing toward a very bright future, indeed.

Spurwink Services