HUERFANO — The interpreter is so integral to this remarkable chapter in the life of Dwight Nelson that the story cannot be adequately articulated without some illumination on Peter’s life. For most children growing up on the African continent, high school is a privilege that is not provided by the government. Peter’s mother had no resources and his father vanished when he was a small boy. Prospects were grim yet somehow he became fluent in French, Swahili, English, Kinyarwanda and Lingala (Congolese). As explained earlier, Peter was driven to further his education. After Dwight Nelson left Africa, Peter was able to complete high school. Peter’s ability with language brought him to the attention of the UN when he was able to diffuse a border incident by stepping into a dangerous situation as an impromptu interpreter. This serendipitous experience led to a job with the UN, a position that helped him tremendously in his quest to obtain a passport. Finally able to travel internationally, he was awarded a visa to attend a college course in New York. Dwight Nelson paid his college fees and flew to Newark. When Peter arrived in the United States, his good friend Dwight Nelson was right there to help him find his way. They stayed together in a YMCA, in New York across from Central Park. During this visit Peter informed Dwight that he could not and would not be returning to Rwanda, as he feared for his life. Faced with this news, Dwight could think of nothing else to do but pack up his friend and bring him back to La Veta. By this time, around 2005, Peter was married with three children. Denied permission to leave Rwanda, his daughters, infant son and wife had to be left behind in Africa. Peter (a Hutu) and his wife Asuma (a Tutsi) were in deep peril in their war torn country. Not unlike the story of “Hotel Rwanda,” the danger to such a family cannot be overstated. Years earlier, two friends who lived in Boulder visited Dwight at the Camp in Rwanda. When they learned that Peter was aspiring to seek political asylum in the United States, the couple called upon a powerful lawyer friend in Denver who took Peter’s case pro-bono. Several La Vetans wrote letters to U.S. Senators. Though it took a year and a half, Peter was eventually granted asylum. While wading through the muck and mire of government red tape, Peter had no way to make a living or support himself. This is where the citizens of the little town of La Veta take a starring role. Local residents found an apartment for Peter and the whole town came together to help support him through his ordeal. When all other efforts to get his wife and children out of Rwanda proved futile, Dwight’s wife Madi Nelson organized a fundraiser to pay passage for his family to immigrate to the United States. In one night, the town came together and raised over $10,000 to meet this goal. As a form of twisted punishment for Peter’s defection, his wife and children were denied exit visas. It took more than a year to finally get them out of the country and this could only be accomplished with the help of a professional smuggler. The dramatic scene at the border of Uganda is the stuff of nightmares, but the happy ending is that his wife and children made it out of the country alive. According to Dwight Nelson “The town of La Veta played a huge role in all of this. They embraced Peter.” Dozens of people gave shelter, clothing, furniture, everything necessary to get Peter relocated to Colorado Springs and into an apartment suitable for a family. In the Springs, Peter got a job at the Broadmoor Hotel. In December of 2006, the family was finally reunited. Later the family moved to Alamosa where Peter’s wife studied medicine. She graduated from nursing school as the Valedictorian of her class. The family returned to Colorado Springs where Asuma works as a nurse and continued her education in medicine. Peter has also continued his education. On December 14 of 2012, Peter graduated from university with a degree in economics and on the same day, Assouma obtained a degree in nursing sciences. Dwight Nelson beams with pride at the mention of Peter and his family. So self-effacing is Nelson that he preferred to have this article be focused on the subject of his friend rather than his own extraordinary role in all of it. Many good folks from La Veta had an enormous impact, from the family who gave Peter his first car to all the people who supported him for the first half a year or so when he was new to this country. One remarkable resident inspired so many others to become beacons of decency in the face of unspeakable hardship. Dwight Nelson’s legacy will no doubt live on for generations through Peter and Assouma’s progeny.
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