Monday, February 22nd, 2010
“I came to D.C. in 1996 because of the political situation. I was a member of the Ethiopian Constitutional Assembly. I was active in the Parliament and became a victim of the current government. They threw me in jail. After I was released, I managed to come to this country as a political asylum case. Now, I have all of my family here. I personally believe that Washington is the capital city of the world just like Addis Ababa is the capital city of Africa.
Some people come here with a one year old baby and no place to go, no family, and thinking about kill themselves. When they come here, I talk to them and change their mind.
“Before I came here, my expectation of America was different. I thought things were no hassle and everything was easy. My first shock was seeing the homeless and those struggling to survive. But the longer I stayed, I became familiar with things here. Now if you ask me, I like the system here and the work culture. Many newcomers from Ethiopia have trouble settling in and experience depression, suicide, or end up on the streets. We have very strong family values in Ethiopia. We live with family and friends. When you came here, you miss your family, your neighbor, and your country.
“I had the idea to open the Ethiopia Community Services and Development Council when I moved here. In 1996, there was a lot of snow and I heard that two Ethiopians died because of the weather. When these two Ethiopians died, it was not a big issue. The next year, a Hispanic guy died in a similar situation and it was a big issue. The newspapers wrote about it and the city opened a shelter after his death. I said, ‘This happened because we are not organized. Our voice is not heard by city officials.’ Those experiences paved the way to start this center. After I graduated from university, I gathered known people in the community to develop a strong organization to provide our community with what we need.
“Now, we offer a variety of services for the community. We have a training center that offers pharmacy technician courses, computer training, dental assistant program training, and English as a second language. We also help people find jobs, do counseling, help with immigration issues and offer free health services. Once a month, we have a program about how to live in this country, things like what you can and can’t do. Let me give you one example. There was a guy who was shot by the Virginia police years ago. In Ethiopia, when the police tell you stop, you can either stop or run. Many times, you can outrun the police and they leave you alone. Here, when the police ask you to stop, you should stop whether you do wrong or right. This person did not have the same information. He didn’t stop for the police and tried to outrun them. The police eventually shot him. They thought he had drugs or something, but he was innocent. As a community, we teach people about their rights and the rules and regulations to live in this country.
“This job helps me to understand people. Here, I meet different people. People who are not rich or successful, but people with situations. Some people come here with a one year old baby and no place to go, no family, and thinking about kill themselves. When they come here, I talk to them and change their mind. I show them a better future than what they see at that moment. Helping people gives me great pleasure. I sleep at the end of the day, nice good sleep.”
The Ethiopia Community Services and Development Council is located at 1901 9th Street NW.