News reports often make escaping for safety as a refugee appear simple and quick, just jump over a border and you're safe. However, Ethiopia Faisa, 42, had to wait six long years as a refugee in Egypt before she could move to the United States in January 2015, having fled her country of birth, Ethiopia, in 2009.
The breaking point came in 2009 when the Ethiopian government passed two rather repressive legislations that further diminished the already bleak human rights scenario in the country. This had added to the growing intolerance and lack of civil rights, resulting in many fleeing the country ahead of the 2010 General Elections. Faisa was one of them.
Faisa remembers how she and her family had to look on helplessly, as inhuman treatment was meted out to her father and others. They were innocent civilians, she says. “My dad didn’t do anything, but they (government officials) keep on harassing him.”
The high-handed methods of the authorities, degrading civil rights conditions, years of political unrest, harsh criminal penalties for civilians made her take a leap of faith as she fled to live as a refugee in Egypt. She applied to the UNHCR for resettlement.
Her case was approved but she had to wait for six years to be assigned a country for resettlement.
She met her husband in the meanwhile, and they got married in 2014. Unfortunately, they only managed to spend a couple of months together before he was called back to join his work at Doha, in Qatar and within months she was to move to the US.
“It was really hard to be away when you are married, and it became harder when I moved to the US all by myself,” says Faisa.
The African Coalition helped in the initial months, but Faisa was in a tough spot since did not know any English. “It was so hard because learning every single word was a struggle in the initial days.”
“I did not come in summer, but in the peak of winter, in January and I was shocked by how cold it can get in America,” she smiles. “It was a big change for me and I realised that not knowing English was the biggest challenge. I speak English now, it is not perfect, but I understand everything and speak slowly to make myself understandable. But at first, I didn't even know how to get food from a supermarket,” she confesses.
She applied for asylum for her husband, and at the same time, started working to sustain herself in Greensboro. However, the job meant that Faisa had to discontinue with her classes at the NAI but she was determined to keep up her efforts to learn English, so she joined GTCC evening classes.
When her husband moved in with her in 2016, she found the added support and strength that was vital in continuing with her English classes. In 2017, the couple were blessed with their first daughter, spurring her husband into training so he could find a job as a truck driver.
Learning for a brighter future
“I had an interpreter when I was in the hospital, but apart from that, I manage to do everything on my own now. I have become confident because I can speak and understand English.“
Faisa’s next step is to take up short courses from GTCC that will help her gain the skill set and make her job ready. “I haven’t decided on what I want to do yet, but it will be something where I won’t have to read or write a lot, but the job has to be good for me and my family,” she says.
Faisa smiles as she optimistically says that her life will only get better from here on. “Life is better in the US, because if you are smart, you can do a lot with your life. Every year has been a blessing for me and my family, and I am sure if we work hard and stay focused, we will be able to make a good life for ourselves and our daughters,” she concludes.