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New Horizons

Finding the Miracles


Nichols, right, with inspiration
Emmy Baguma

Don Nichols knows a thing or two about struggle. A battle with polio left him with physical challenges for much of his life, his family struggled to make ends meet throughout his childhood, and he became involved in the Michigan Education Association during the turbulent 1960s, fighting for collective bargaining rights for public employees. Yet when a student named Emmy Baguma stepped into Nichols’ office at Oakland Community College seven years ago, his story of resilience left Nichols stunned.

“Emmy’s story can be described as a modern miracle,” he says.

Baguma came to the United States a refugee from Rwanda, where the 1994 civil war and genocide took the lives of half his family and from 600,000 to 1,000,000 Rwandans. Despite the tragedy in his past, Baguma was determined to finish college, become a United States citizen, and get his nursing degree. Nichols and Baguma connected over shared values and Christian faith, and Nichols and his wife supported Baguma’s education.

Three years ago, Nichols accompanied Baguma on his first trip back to visit family in Rwanda, where Nichols learned about the effort to build Rwanda’s first public library, a project led by the Rotary Club of Kigali-Virunga. Currently, libraries in Rwanda are open only to university students, yet the country’s widespread poverty and lack of educational opportunities make a public library especially necessary.

“Kigali is a beautiful, vibrant city, but there are many poor people there who don’t have opportunities for education of any kind,” says Nichols. “Most students don’t attend school beyond junior high unless they get a government scholarship or are fortunate enough to get into a private high school run by a charity.”

Back in the United States, Nichols spread the word about the project on his campus and beyond. Today, he has retired from his career as a psychology professor and counselor, but still teaches part-time, with all of the proceeds—about $3,000 a semester—going to the Kigali Public Library or to support a Rwandan school. The Kigali Public Library is in the final stages of completion, and the project has raised over two million dollars thus far.

Emmy Baguma has also achieved his goals: he is a United States citizen and registered nurse working in Dallas with his wife, who is also an RN, United States citizen, and Rwandan refugee. The couple recently had their first child, and Nichols and his wife plan to fly to Dallas to visit.


Photo courtesy of Kigali Public Library

Although the challenges facing a country like Rwanda may seem overwhelming, Nichols believes—and Emmy Baguma proves—that a little support can go a long way, for an individual or a nation.

“It’s unbelievable how a little money is multiplied when you take it to a poor country,” says Nichols. “There are lots of miracles out there. People just don’t know to look for them.”

To read more about the Kigali Public Library, view photos of the library’s progress, or to make a donation to the project, visit the Kigali Public Library website.

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