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Miami University senior gains American citizenship after long and dangerous journey

<p>Miami journalism major Godwin Agaba became an American citizen after fleeing Rwanda years ago.</p>

Miami journalism major Godwin Agaba became an American citizen after fleeing Rwanda years ago.

Godwin Agaba was born and raised in Uganda and had a dream of becoming a recognized journalist. After undergoing a long process of immigrating to the United States, applying to Miami University and becoming a naturalized citizen at the 42-years old, Agaba said his dream is that much closer to becoming realized.

Living in Rwanda’s capital city of Kigali, Agaba became interested in sports at an early age, specifically soccer. To become more involved with the game, Agaba said he started reporting on high school matches in his area for the local newspaper as a way to pass the time.

“I really enjoyed filling up those pages for [the] sports [section] of the local newspaper,” Agaba said. 

Agaba said his main focus at the time was getting good grades in dentistry school, not making a career out of journalism. But when Agaba didn’t have enough money to pay for more schooling, and the local newspaper found itself in need of a news reporter, Agaba said he gladly signed up. 

Armed with a camera and a notepad, Agaba spent 10 years writing until he eventually worked his way up to corresponding investigative journalism stories. While Agaba said investigative journalism was a breakthrough for his career as a journalist, things took a turn for the worse.

“I started writing hard hitting stories, and then eventually, I ended up on the wrong side of the [Rwandan] government,” Agaba said. “I was touching on the wrong buttons.”

Soon after realizing he was a wanted man for writing a story involving the Rwandan military, Agaba snuck across the border to Uganda. 

After two years and eight months of being on an immigration waitlist, Agaba was offered settlement into the U.S., which he later wrote about in the Oxford Observer.

Agaba’s three year journey of being on the run finally ended after four connecting flights saw him land in Dayton, Ohio, where he was welcomed into a refugee resettlement agency. 

At the top of Agaba’s list of priorities in Dayton was going back to school: this time for his newfound career in journalism. Agaba said he came across Miami after searching for colleges with favorable journalism courses.

“I was online searching for the best colleges in Ohio with the best journalism courses, then I came across the Miami University department of media, journalism & film,” Agaba said. “I stopped the search, and the following day drove to Miami’s regional campus for registration.”

After taking English and math placement exams, Agaba was admitted to Miami with declared majors in journalism and English creative writing.

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Shortly after stepping foot on campus, professors within the media, film and journalism department at Miami learned about Agaba’s story, including senior clinical professor Joe Sampson.

“Godwin’s story is truly inspiring and a powerful example of perseverance and determination. It also reminds us not to take things for granted including our citizenship, freedom of expression and the rights of a free and open press,” Sampson wrote in an email to The Miami Student. “When Godwin sent me his photo from his recent naturalization ceremony, I immediately shared it with faculty, colleagues and students in my classes. It's been a difficult year in many ways so it was nice to celebrate something so positive and uplifting.”

Jerry Martin Jr., regional director of Miami’s campus global programs, was a big help in Agaba coming to Miami.

“His journey to the United States was a long one filled with daily threats; yet, he willingly shares with you stories of all the people who helped him along his journey.” Martin Jr. said. “I am confident that I learned more from Mr. Agaba then he learned from me.”

For Agaba, his long journey was cemented with an oath of citizenship to the U.S. on Feb. 8.

“To be an American, I never thought I could have done it,” Agaba said. “I just feel truly blessed to be in this position right now.”

Graduating later this summer, Agaba hopes he can help other immigrants and refugees via journalism.

“My aim is to establish a publication dedicated to refugee news and information with a global reach. It will be called ‘The Refugee’ or ‘Refugee Country,’' Agaba said. “I want to put all my energy and skills on immigrants. Apart from being covered in general news reports, these people, numbering in the millions, have personal stories to tell that have never been told.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misspelled Godwin Agaba's first name as Goodwin. It also stated Agaba was from Rwanda, but he was born and raised in Uganda.

@simmons_taj

simmontp@miamioh.edu

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