The best day of 19-year-old Eric Tuyishime’s life was when he learned he, his siblings and mother Jacqueline Murorunkwere were going to leave Rwanda for the U.S.
“History was my favorite subject. We studied about America, and I was like, ‘Oh, I want to move there.’ They have good education, technology, a lot of opportunities. I want to live a different life so that I can make a difference, so I had a dream to go to the United States,” says Tuyishime.
Tuyishime, whose family resettled in Austin in 2016, was born in a refugee camp after his parents, members of the Tutsi tribe, fled civil war in Congo in the 1990s.
Although Tuyishime is grateful for many aspects of his new life, including a shot at college, he said he is under a lot of stress. In the past year, Tuyishime, the oldest of five siblings, has had to take on more responsibilities after his parents separated. Tuyishime, his mother and siblings live in transitional housing through Austin’s SAFE Alliance, which assists families who have experienced domestic violence.
Tuyishime is the only family member who knows how to drive. He starts his day at 5:30 a.m. He gives himself enough time to drop off his baby brother at his grandmother's and his mom at work before driving to Eastside Memorial High School, where he's a senior.
On weekday evenings, he juggles homework for multiple college-level classes while studying for the SAT and ACT. If his siblings who are still learning English struggle with their classwork, he will help them too.
On the weekends, he clocks in about 12 hours of work as a host for Kerbey Lane Cafe. He makes about $10 an hour.
“Most of the time when I’m by myself, I’m thinking about my family and the life we’re going through,” Tuyishime says.
Murorunkwere, who works as a hotel laundry room attendant, says she’s proud of her son. In the family's culture, each family member is given a different last name.
“I love my son because he’s a respectful son and … what I ask him he does,” Murorunkwere says through a translator. “But he takes on too many responsibilities. It’s too much pressure on him.”
When the stress becomes too much, Tuyishime turns to soccer, a sport he developed a love for while living in the refugee camp. He also plays for his school.
Tuyishime wants to go to the University of Texas or Texas State University so he can continue to care for his family. He dreams of becoming a social worker, lawyer or physical therapist so he can help others.
He said the second best day of his life would be if he could attend college at no cost.
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