Daunting struggles inspired student to help others

January 14, 2022

Spider Pride

When Hiniye Madelaine came to Richmond as a 6 year old, she already spoke multiple languages. But none of them were English.

It was extremely difficult to really get anything and to understand,” Madelaine said. “I remember I used to get bullied for being African.”

Madelaine’s parents grew up in Burundi, but fled to Tanzania during its civil war. They remained there in a refugee camp, where Madelaine was born, then immigrated to the Richmond area.

Madelaine’s teachers went above and beyond to help her succeed. Her second-grade teacher came to her house on Saturdays to tutor her, and would even sit next to her during tests to make sure she understood the questions, even though they were in a language she was still learning.

“I was forced from my home in Africa,” she said, “so just having her welcome me and make me feel like a part of the family — that made me fall in love with school.”

Ever since, she’s committed to completing her education. Madelaine is the first in her family to go to college. Her parents stopped attending school in Burundi when they were 15. She is the second oldest of 10 children, and grew up with a nearly full-time job of family translator, because her parents do not speak English.

“I have to push myself,” she said. “I want to do it for my younger siblings, so I can be an example — and I want them to do better than I did."

In 2018, her challenges continued. She was involved in a hit-and-run accident in Richmond, while she walking. When she came to, the driver was gone.

“To this day, I don't know what happened exactly, but I have a chance to fight for what is right,” she said.

Despite the accident and all the added responsibilities, she graduated from high school in three years, and recently earned her associate’s degree from Reynolds Community College.

She is currently studying for a bachelor’s degree in paralegal studies through the School of Professional and Continuing Studies. Her aspirations are lofty, including spending time in Tanzania in the Peace Corps after graduation and going to law school to fight for victims of injustice.