Let me share his story
30th Jun 2023
This blog is part of our “We Are CPLC” series of letters from CPLC staff. We hope you are inspired by these stories of our community by our familia. When you donate to CPLC, you directly support their work.
Often, we meet people whose memory stays with us forever.
Maybe it’s their personality, their achievements, or their story— but something makes it impossible for us to forget them.
For me, that person is Richard Irakiza.
My name is Reeta Nongmaithem Sanchez, and I manage CPLC’s Youth Refugee Mentorship Program (YRMP). This is how I met Richard and was inspired by his story.
Richard’s family fled their home in Rwanda during the genocide of 1994. Upon returning, Richard’s father and younger sister were killed. Richard and his remaining family had to flee their home once more.
For the rest of his childhood and adolescence, Richard, along with his mother and grandmother, lived as refugees in seven countries, often without access to medical treatment or running water. To survive, Richard learned nine languages.
Richard’s experiences living in each of these places as a refugee had a profound impact on him. He became friends and would play with other refugee children, most who lacked adequate health care and some who suffered from horrible cancers. One, Richard remembered, had a visible tumor growing out of his head. During this difficult time of loss and uncertainty, Richard began to dream that maybe someday, he could become a pediatric neurosurgeon and help other children with much-needed medical care.
He and his mom did not have much, but education was something she told him no one could ever take away.
He took his mother’s advice to heart, studying for the Cambridge exams with his friends in a refugee camp in Zambia and walking three hours to school each day.
In the end, his determination paid off.
When I met Richard, he had just arrived in the US, and though he didn’t understand all the new things in this country that were foreign to him, I could vividly sense his hunger to learn.
After he and his mother were granted asylum in the United States, he was referred to our YRMP office for guidance with the American education system. With our help, he quickly enrolled in and completed Medical Assistant and Phlebotomy certifications and a paid internship at a hospital, which led to further employment.
But his arrival in the US did not mark the end of his challenges. Settling into a new place, with a new culture, and a new system—he struggled to acclimate. He had a thick accent. Sometimes, he needed help with groceries or paying for books. Thankfully, we were able to cover some of these costs.
Now, as a Pre-Med student at Arizona Christian University, he is closer than ever to fulfilling his dream of healing young children suffering from brain tumors.
Through it all, he has persevered and is making his dream come true.
I never tire of sharing his story.
With other students. With other young people. With other refugees.
Richard’s story is one I will never forget.
And now, I am sharing it with you.
Reeta Nongmaithem Sanchez
Youth Program Manager, Workforce
For more information about this program, please visit https://www.cplcworkforce.org/wioayouth.