Written by Oliver Stone Sindayigaya
First of all I would like to say how proud I am to be a part of the Lewis-Clark men’s tennis team. It has been awhile since I have been enrolled at Lewis-Clark. However, the experiences I have gained from my time here, from my team, and especially from my coach Kai Fong have been blessings for my life.
I feel blessed by each of the relationships I have formed here in the United States, and I searched out ways to give that feeling back to the community around me that had been so helpful to me. I would like to share with you how much my time with the community has affected me.
I know it is hard for most college students to get involved in other activities and still keep up with school. However, I have learned ways to combine my studies, my passion (tennis), and my involvements with the community. A relatively simple way to do this was to wake up early for Sunday morning tennis at 7 am with some local tennis members. This time gave me a chance to use my tennis skills and hit some balls, and share some stories with supporters of LC tennis. Waking up that early on the weekends was hard at times, but it was worth it to share the time with new people. I took joy in spending time with people from the community of Lewiston, but I soon had an opportunity to impact the lives of people in a larger area.
I am from Burundi, a country situated in East Africa, specifically in the great lake region. It’s a country that has a horrifying past based on an ethnic genocide among the Hutus and the Tutsis. Last spring I remember my coach telling me about an article about a number of Burundian refugees living in the state of Idaho. I was interested, but figured I would never have a chance to meet them and talk to them about their experiences. The following summer (2009) I traveled to Boise with my teammate Tyler Oram to stay for a couple weeks before I flew home. During my stay Tyler's mother told me about a person she knew who was trying to adopt a Burundian child by the name of Mady. She explained to me that Mady had suffered a traumatic experience with a black man as a young child and he had a real problem being exposed to black men. I was asked to help out the adoptive family, and help Mady be accustomed to people of a different color. This way Mady would realize that not all people from his home country are angry and violent.
The day I met Mady I was very anxious that he would be scared at the sight of me. I knew that this was an opportunity for me to make a difference in someone's live, so even though I was scared I decided to follow through with my meeting. Mady saw me from 50 yards away and came running toward me. I was unsure of his reaction, and of what I should do - should I speak Kirundi? I was somewhat shy because this was my first time in this type of situation, especially with a young child. I spoke some Kirundi with him, and hit some tennis balls with him. I quickly found out Mady really liked to dance and I was so glad I had brought my iPod with me. We listened to a couple of songs that we both knew, and showed each other some dance moves. Overall it was a successful meeting, and I felt great knowing that I had helped a young Burundian.
Months after meeting little Mady, I went back to Boise for Christmas break. I was just getting out of an appointment when Tyler's dad called me. He told me him and another teacher at his school were having an argument about the language of Burundi. I told him the native language is Kirundi. He thanked me and asked me to drive to the middle school he worked at as soon as possible because he had a meeting with a Burundian family who did not speak English. When I got to the middle school he explained that the family's little girl would like to enroll but the school did not have a translator who spoke Kirundi. I was introduced to the family and discovered they were refugees of Burundi who had re-located to Idaho. I translated the entire meeting, and explained many of the technicalities to the father of the family. I felt so grateful to be able to help this young girl get into school in the United States, where her opportunities will be so great. A couple weeks ago I talked to Tyler's dad about the little girl; he told me that she has made a lot of progress in her English. I am so blessed to be able to give back to the community, and to help people from my native country feel at home here in the United States. My experiences with them will be remembered forever, and I am so glad to have impacted their time here in a positive way. The smiles I can give, and the little things I can help with, benefit our world. I have experienced this love, and want to pass it on.
For information about Sindayigaya winning the Arthur Ashe Award click here