Coming to America: From Rwanda to the American dream
To listen to Freddy Kaniki, you’d never know how much he has lost and how far he’s come. In 1994, at the age of 18, he saw civil war break out in his homeland of Rwanda. Two years later, his father and three brothers were killed by Hutu militia. Touched by 100 days of mass killings and the aftermath of poverty and misery around him, he vowed to do something to make a difference.
While in pharmacy school in Rwanda he came to the realization that he didn’t have the power or means to make a significant difference in the suffering of his fellow Rwandans, and resolved to move to America after obtaining his degree. “I couldn’t live there any longer and remain sane,” says Freddy.
In 2002, he moved to Portland, Maine, with his wife and two children and tried to get licensed as a pharmacist. But not knowing any English proved a stumbling block. To pay the bills, he began working in a meat packing plant.
During that time he met Colleen Hoffman,director of pharmacy operations for the Maine Medical Center – a 600-bed teaching hospital – and asked her for a job. “I was willing to do anything to get into the pharmacy,” says Freddy. She gave him a job delivering medications to floors throughout the hospital. Within four months, Freddy was promoted to pharmacy technician and within three years he was fluent in English. In flawless English he says, “When you don’t have a choice, the brain learns faster.”
For 18 months he studied, read books, converted his pharmacy knowledge from French into English, and in 2005 took the NAPLEX and passed.
Even though he was a pharmacist, he knew that in order to advance and equip himself sufficiently to make a difference back in Rwanda he’d have to obtain his PharmD. So, in 2006 he applied to the nontraditional program and was accepted. For the last four years, he’s been diligently working and studying and in May he will be Dr. Kaniki. For Freddy that’s only part of his journey. Having never forgotten his painful past, he’s working on becoming an American citizen and finding a job that marries his education with his passion for humanitarianism.
Originally published in the UCD School of Pharmacy newsletter. Reprinted with permission.
2 Responses »
Leave a Response