VFAJL is currently fundraising to help free orphaned girls in Burundi's capital city. For information on how to contribute, please email: email@example.com
The news is grim these days from Burundi, a landlocked country of 10 million people in Southeast Africa.
According to Al Jazeera, the government is planning a "major crackdown" after a grenade attack. It's the latest in a series of violent protests that began a week ago. Problems intensified when the ruling party named President Pierre Nkurunziza as its candidate in the June 26 election.
Meanwhile, Reuter's news agency has reported that hundreds of students spent the night in front of the U.S. embassy in the capital of Bujumbura after their university was shut down.
All of this distresses Severine Nzeyimana, a student-support worker at Killarney secondary school in Vancouver.
For a decade, the Port Coquitlam resident has been trying without success to sponsor her niece, Josiane Rukundo, to move to the Lower Mainland so she can be reunited with her brother.
"She's in Bujumbura, exactly the area where the fighting is happening," Nzeyimana told the Straight by phone from her school.
The Canadian government rejected her sponsorship application to bring Rukundo to Canada because she wasn't a blood relative, unlike her brother, who was allowed to immigrate in 2012.
That's because the two have the same father, but not the same mother. Nzeyimana's sister raised Rukundo from infancy after the father was widowed.
Nzeyimana, who was born in Burundi and moved to Canada in 1987, wanted to look after both children when they became orphaned.
"I have an older niece who writes to me by email and tells me the situation," she said. "The last email two days ago said 'we can't stay here.' "
Rukundo, who's now 18 years old, is looking after a nine-year-old orphaned cousin, Bijou Niyomutoni. Nzeyimana would like the federal government to permit her to bring both girls to Canada.
Nzeyimana has been a model immigrant herself and her two children have done exceptionally well. Her son Hervé worked with at-risk kids while studying at Simon Fraser University and has applied to go to law school.
Her daughter Eden won two Governor General Awards, was president of her school student council in secondary school, and will graduate this year from university.
Nzeyimana said that her nephew from Burundi is doing well in school, but he misses his sister.
The Straight emailed a request for an interview with Nzeyimana's MP, Industry Minister James Moore. He hasn't responded.
She said that when she originally applied to sponsor Rukundo, Moore's office said that he couldn't help because Rukundo wasn't a blood relative.
Nzeyimana works at Killarney secondary school with teacher Stuart Mackinnon, who's a Green party commissioner on the Vancouver park board.
In a phone interview with the Straight, Mackinnon described her as "one of the kindest colleagues we have here".
"She works so well with the students," Mackinnon said. "She's very hard working, very dedicated, very kind and loving with them. We work with kids who are integrated into regular classes, so she goes in to support them in their academics."
Nzeyimana also speaks fluent French.
"For her to be working so hard to bring these children out—to get them away from war and to give them a better chance at an education and a better life—is something that we should all aspire to," Mackinnon said.