Featured Young Africans On The Move with SAMY

NINA ILIZA On Her Roots & Helping Make a Difference in Rwanda

What’s the African Youth doing?

It has been said that the future of Africa lies in the hands of the youth. Most of the youth who are now young adults, have migrated to different places in the world, the United States, UK, Canada. One thing I can say about some of the younger generation of Africans in the United States is that they are very proud of their heritage. Just like our parents, we have not forgotten where we started from. I thought to give my readers at DUNIA a glimpse of what our youths are doing. I am going to introduce you to two extraordinary young people. When they are not enjoying being young, they are trying to make their home country a better place.

Nina IlizaThe first person I am going to introduce you to today is a young lady from Rwanda by the name of Nina. Nina currently lives in Chicago. She works as an executive assistant and is going to school to obtain her Masters in NonProfit management, which suits her well because on top of that Nina is the founder of her own non-profit organization in Chicago, A Heart of a Thousand Hills which focuses on orphans and street children in her country Rwanda.

I met Nina in 2011. Even back then she had a reputation for being a hard worker and one with a genuine laugh. She is always on the go. I can’t even keep up with her. Now I see why. Here is a glimpse of some questions that I asked Nina.

1) What is your background story?

Well, I was born in Rwanda, moved to America quite young but with no intentions to let go of my roots. I would say I went about school in an untraditional way – I started off at a University, then attended Community College, and finished online, mostly staying in the Midwest. I did move to San Antonio for a pretty much life changing year, it was there I realized my dream to start a nonprofit.

2) Describe yourself in 3 words.

African. Motivated. Ambitious.

3) Who is your favorite person in history and why?

I do not have one person who I can say is my favorite in history. My list of favorites is wide and really diverse. I mean, I admire Tupac for different reasons, I admire Winnie Mandela. I more so have favorite characteristics of different people known in history.

But if I had to choose one person, I admire my grandfather. I don’t know much about him, but I do know he raised my mother – and she is beyond amazing.

4) What is your favorite thing about being Rwandese?

Favorite THING as in one? Ha, impossible to answer. But I’ll try.

I have the privilege of knowing what cassava leaves, ugali and beans taste like.

I have the privilege of being bilingual [Nina speaks Kinyarwanda and English] and I love the way the language quickly still rolls off my tongue and how hilarious it is when you try to translate it into English.

I’m proud to be from a country that has worked and is continuing to work towards healing, reconciliation and forgiveness.

5) Describe your culture.

We are family oriented, family is priority. We have the most beautiful, elegant traditional dance, and our traditional wear is modest and decorates the women with the most stunning fabric and colors. The food is simple, beans, rice, potato, ugali, banana, yet can be made into a variety of delicious cuisines. We are kind, always embracing with a hug, or soft kisses on the cheek.

6) As noted that you started your own non-profit, what were some of the challenges and how did you overcome them?

I am still overcoming them. I launched my organization this year, but I had been working on it for about a year and half prior to the launch.

I think the biggest challenge is to understand and accept that not everyone will be a passionate about this cause and organization as I am. Sometimes I am disappointed when we don’t get the support and attention that I believe this cause deserves. However, this pushes me even further to be an advocate for these Rwandan children.

7) What were some of the influential people in your life that helped shape you?

Cliché answer with a twist: my mothers. My birth mom died in the 1994 genocide, and for a long time I could not bring myself to face that fact. Didn’t talk about it to anyone and kept every emotion I had towards her and the genocide to myself. Now that I have the courage to face the realities that have shaped my life, I happily embrace her and the blessing she was and still is. My organization is in honor of her, and because of her I hold onto my country and want to be a proactive entity towards rebuilding Rwanda.

My aunt adopted me after the genocide. She has raised me ever since. I find myself doing the simple things she used to do – from the strategic way I grocery shop keeping in mind all the money saving tips, to the way I should treat the important people in my life. When we are together and I get frustrated when she leaves a light on in a room, or leaves her cup at the table, she laughs because those are some of the smallest things she had a hard time disciplining us on while growing up.

There will never be words that can ever be put together to describe what she has done for me. Sometimes we would sit and reflect on the things she did in order to keep us safe, she shrugs it off as if she never had an option, and I stare in disbelief at the amount of love one person can have.

8) What were some of your personal challenges and triumphs?

I work for a nonprofit and live in Chicago – that is a challenge in itself. Lol. Personally, I try to find the resources to help push my nonprofit forward and it has proven to be very difficult. Sometimes I want something a certain way so badly that I find myself wanting to take over and do everything myself in order for it to be done right. So… basically my name is Nina Iliza and I have a micromanaging problem. My future triumph is to overcome that problem.

Other than that, all the small things that I overcome every day are triumphs to me. I go through so many small challenges that I fight every day and that to me is the biggest triumph. Facing my challenges daily and having the strength and wisdom to fight them before they become greater than myself.

9) What made you want to start a non-profit? Tell me about your non-profit.

As I mentioned my birth mom is who the organization honors and who inspired it all. I first just simply wanted to go do for my country, but I realized how much good I am doing for myself as well. This organization is helping me my face my past and embrace it, something I have feared for 20 years.

Heart of a Thousand Hills is a nonprofit that benefits Rwandan street kids and orphans by supplying them with new uniforms and school supplies. We work with a center in Rwandan that houses these street kids and orphans. By helping supply the kids with essential school needs, we are helping the center alleviate a portion of their budget to possibly bring in more kids.

We host events throughout the city of Chicago, and all the proceeds from ticket sales, and donations raised go to the children. I have an advantage in that Rwanda is my home, I plan on making a personal trip to Rwandan (with my own money) to give out all the uniforms and school supplies. With us there are no overhead charges when it comes to delivery of the donations – just me going back home.

10) What does 5 years look like for Miss Nina?

Five years looks like a long ways from here.

In five years Heart of a Thousand Hills will be very successful and thousands of street kids in Rwanda will be going to school with new uniforms and school supplies due to our strong supporters. Because of that, I will be able to look back to today and smile because every effort has truly been worth it. 5 Years from now looks damn good.

11) Any pieces of advice you want to give our readers or young people in general?

Dream, never stop dreaming and never stop at dreaming. No one else will achieve your goals for you and no one else will be disappointed when your dreams are wasted. God put us here to be greater than we can ever imagine- so I suggest you imagine greatness, and greatness only.

We at DUNIA hope to see nothing but greatness from Nina and other young people like her. Here is the website to Nina’s non-profit A Heart of a Thousand Hills. Go check it out Heartofathousandhills.org.


Samy TshimangaSamandu Tshimanga, who goes by Samy, is a college graduate from Indiana University South Bend with a Bachelors of Arts in Political Science and a minor in Sociology. She loves the study of people. She is a freelance analyst and talks about politics, human rights and whatever else floats her boat. Her column Young Africans On The Move with Samy showcases exceptional young people making a difference in the community and in their countries back in Africa. Originally from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, Samy currently resides in Indianapolis. Twitter: @chic_cocobelle

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