Listen to Austin 360 Radio

English lessons, education biggest priorities for family from Burundi

Michael Barnes
Austin American-Statesman
Deogratias Niyongabo pushes his daughters Esther, 5, left, and Brianna, 3, on a swing. The family came from Burundi in 2015. This fall has been difficult as wife Françoise Irankunda has been on bedrest during her pregnancy. They both want to complete their education -- she hopes to become a nurse, while he worked in human rights before they came to the U.S.

Françoise Irankunda and Deogratias Niyongabo, along with daughters Esther and Brianna, are a credit to the modern concept of asylum.

Deeply involved with helping others in Burundi, they fled war, persecution and political insecurity to arrive in Austin in 2015. Despite medical and financial setbacks, the university-educated wife and husband have built a life from scratch in the United States.

They have secured stable housing and jobs — although Irankunda lost her post at a nursing home in August after she says she was injured by a patient. They have purchased a used car while pursuing an education for themselves and their children.

“Not only do Deo and Françoise have incredible work ethics, they also manage their money scrupulously,” said Heather Courson, the family’s former caseworker for Foundation Communities, which sponsored them this year for the American-Statesman’s Season for Caring campaign.

“They both demonstrate a willingness to work long hours, review their funds carefully and budget everything, and persevere through hardships,” Courson said. “They are very conscious of what their priorities are and buy only necessities. Deo and Francoise also emphasized their ability to work collaboratively together in managing their finances and taking care of their family. They are always thinking of and planning for the future.”

The Statesman’s program helps featured families like the Niyongabo family, as well as hundreds like them, through local nonprofit organizations.

For Niyongabo and Irankunda, their children’s education remains a priority. Both attended preschool despite the transportation barriers related to their one used car and Niyongabo’s night-shift job on a custodial crew at the University of Texas campus.

“The learning is not limited to just the children,” Courson said. “Both Deogratias and Françoise have worked very hard to learn and improve their English. Deo attended ESL (English as a second language) classes at Austin Community College, while Francoise went to ESL classes that Foundation Communities provides at a nearby property. Françoise also attended school to become a certified nursing assistant. They would like to continue pursuing English language learning and job training classes.”

In fact, the No. 1 priority on the family’s Season for Caring wish list is fees for ESL training. If they were more fluent in English — they do well in Kirundi and French — they could secure a better education that would make them candidates for professional careers in their new home.

“I want to go back to school,” Irankunda told the American-Statesman in French through a translator earlier this fall, “to complete a nursing degree and become a professional nurse. To have a better job.”

“I want to continue my career, too,” Niyongabo said. “Given my background, I need training to have a proper income to take care of my family and settle down here.”

The family also needs a washer and dryer, a second gently used car, a desk, gift cards for clothes for the children, and supplies for a new baby that is on the way.

To find out more about the Niyongabo family or to donate an item on their wish list, contact Foundation Communities, 512-447-2026, The family’s wish list is available at Amazon.

Austin American-Statesman

Statesman Season for Caring

Read more stories and make a donation at,or find a donation coupon on page B2.

Now through Christmas Day, the Sheth Family is matching your monetary donation up to $250,000.