Karl Rasquinha

Karl Rasquinha

Immersed in the culture

Students from Burundi now living and studying in Vernon

Olinda Rasquinha, 18, and her brother, Karl, 17, don’t remember the genocide in Burundi in 1993 and 1994, but they have grown up with its effects on their family and country.

They were born in India but lived with their extended family in Bujunbura, the capital of Burundi, while they were growing up. Burundi has a population of eight million with two million in the capital.

“You would call it a Third World country but it is slowly coming up. It is a beautiful country of farming, hills and greenery on Lake Tanganyika but there is often a shortage of water and electricity to homes,” said Olinda.

“Our parents have seen the war. Our father is a pharmacist and people would always come and ask for medicine, sometimes they would break in. It was a terrible time for people and they are still hurt by all that happened.”

They did some of their schooling in India and then went to private high school run by missionaries to learn English. There, they heard about the opportunity to study in Canada and came to Vernon in the fall of 2009 where they have stayed with local host families. Karl is now in Grade 12 at Fulton secondary school and thinking of going on to study engineering, while Olinda has graduated and is going to Okanagan College to upgrade her English so she can study kinesiology.

“The first thing we noticed about Canada was the cold but now we have warm clothes and we like skiing. The school system is different here because it is more creative and you use your mind; in Burundi, it was more strict,” said Olinda.

While they both found it difficult to make friends at first, that changed.

“Now we have lots of friends with Canadians and international students. Once you get to know them, they’re pretty cool,” said Karl.

They both said most of their friends are impressed that they can speak so many languages in addition to English — Kirundi, the national language of Burundi, French, Swahili, and Kokani, an Indian language.

Both have been involved in church activities, Karl playing guitar and Olinda singing.

“We have a wonderful time here. Grandma and Papa (Marlene and Tom Buffie) have been so kind to us. They have really taken us into their heart,” said Olinda.