By Carol McCracken (Post # 299)
Eric Nkusi says he’s ready to join the United States Army next week; he’s prepared mentally and physically. But it comes at a high price for him personally. For the last few years, the Hill has been home to this refugee from Rwanda. This country took him in when he was “left with nothing. No where to go. The American government and people gave me a second chance at life,” he said yesterday afternoon at the Hilltop Coffee Shop. He lost his family in 1994.
“Life before here was always about war and death. I’m not going to run anymore,” he said. “I have a place in the world here in Portland.” He also has a wife and baby son that he’ll be leaving behind. Eric has lived in 18 countries and speaks 7 different languages. He volunteered for the Army and has been accepted for Officer’s Candidate School where he expects his language skills to be used. “I’m a people person and I want to interact with others,” said this well-educated man.
Eric takes with him a profound concern for his countrymen that he leaves behind. There are so many needs to be met for other African refugees that are not being met. Eric thinks the State of Maine could do better – much better. The State is and has been violating a federal mandate, ORR Rule (45CFR Part 400) (H), that requires it to have an advisory committee or council to advise it on problems that refugees have when going through the resettlement process. Issues such as mental health, safety, education and employment issues simply are not being heard by the state as federally mandated. “Refugees who come here to Portland are highly educated and skilled; doctors. lawyers, accountants andd former police make up some of the refugees. A way needs to be found to get them professional jobs for which they are qualified. “We are seen as people with no skills and that isn’t true,” he said earlier today.
Eric founded an organization called Intore Club that helps refugees where other organizations cannot. The need for this organizataion arose because refugees felt they were not being listened to and their feedback was not being taken seriously by service providers. Eric leaves all of this unfinshed work behind him. But he knows he leaves it in the hands of an excellent board of directors who will continue the work begun earlier. There are a total of 13 board members; doctors, educators and other professionals.
Eric knows that someday he’ll return to Maine because this is his home. He’ll miss the four seasons while at Ft. Knox, Kentucky and elsewhere. He loves the Maine snow. “The different seasons keep me in focus. They keep me engaged with nature and the climate. It’s healthy for me to plan ahead.’
“My home is Maine. I hope one day I’ll earn from Mainers the right to be called a ‘Mainer’,” he said laughing. “That’s what I’d like most of all.”
MHN hopes that Eric will stay in touch with us and from time to time let us know where he is and what he’s doing, so that his many friends here can keep track of him.