Tagesse Larebo learned about Canada through missionaries who worked in his homeland of Ethiopia. “I knew it was beautiful and peaceful and that Canadians helped a lot of people,” he says. So after five years in a Kenyan refugee camp, he was thrilled to be on his way. “I was so happy and grateful to come here. “
His family – six siblings and his mother – remains behind. “It’s not easy leaving your country and your loved ones far away. That’s hard for my family and for me.” But the welcome Tagesse received from his sponsor, the Ethiopian Association of Nova Scotia, made life easier. He was met at the airport by group members. “I never thought I’d find people speaking my language. I felt so lucky. The apartment was ready, our clothing was ready, our food was ready,” enthuses Tagesse. “In one month we didn’t stay in our home; they took us to their homes, cooked for us and fed us and showed us many things.”
The Ethiopian group worked with the Halifax Quakers to bring five people from Ethiopia, two of whom have since moved west. Elfinesh Zewde, who came to Canada in 1988, is not only part of the group, but she has also sponsored 20 people on her own, including her mother and five siblings. Family isn’t the only reason Elfinesh is compelled to help. “I found it painful to think of refugees living in camps with no opportunities; they can’t study, they can’t work, they don’t do anything, I feel bad so I really want to help.” Elfinesh says the group works hard to help the new arrivals settle, but to see them do well makes it worthwhile.
Tagesse had worked as a teacher in Ethiopia and a baker in Kenya. Here he studies English every morning at the Immigrant Services Association of Nova Scotia (ISANS) and then works at Dalhousie University as a dishwasher. His first job was a garbage collector, but after three months he was laid off. “They gave me a good letter and said they’d hire me back if they could.” His weekdays are busy while Saturday is for cleaning and cooking and Sunday is for church activities.
Tagesse is happy here. “When I go to grocery store they treat me with respect and dignity. People in offices respect me.” The 34-year-old says he hopes to find someone to marry. A more urgent goal is to sponsor his brother who is suffering in South Africa. “I will save money,” he says confidently. Tagesse would like to work as a garage mechanic. “I don’t want to ask for help. I want to work hard for my money.” He has already saved enough to send some home to his mother. “I sent her money and helped her life a bit. That’s the best thing I ever did.”
Fatiya Baker and her daughter Lensa, now 11, arrived on the same plane as Tagesse. They lived in a refugee camp in Nairobi Kenya for eight years, a trying time especially when her daughter was a baby. “Life is life. Sometimes no good, sometimes okay. Police chase you, you go back, life was like that.” Fatiya’s two brothers remain in Kenya.
After completing the approval process, Fatiya thought she’d be sent to Europe, not Canada. “I know National Geographic, I saw pictures, but I never thought I’d go there.” She was delighted that her support group had a furnished apartment waiting for her, with a kitchen full of food. “People help me. People are so good to me.” The weather, naturally, was a shock. “I didn’t go out for three days,” admits Fatiya. She chuckles over memories of getting lost. Unable to find her language school, she noticed some Nepali citizens and followed them. On another day she flagged down an “out of service” bus where a helpful driver took her to the right bus stop and gave her directions. “I’ll never forget that,” she says.
At home Fatiya worked in sales and making clothes. She is currently a cleaner, two bus rides from her apartment, but hopes to get a better job once her English improves. She studied at ISANS for several months, but stopped to work fulltime as she hopes to sponsor her sister. Fatiya’s daughter is a good student and dreams of becoming a doctor. They have settled well and enjoy going to the library and the sports centre. “If you eat, sleep, peace, no fighting, that’s a good life. God helped us to come here. I have a good sleep here.”
Those sentiments please Elfinesh. “I still contact them; they call me – just for conversation and to see how they’re doing. It’s very rewarding to know that they’re doing well.”
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