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Hear My Story: Shewit

Stories of tragedy, courage, and hope reborn: these are the voices of the refugees served by Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri.   Learn more about the refugee experience from those who have lived it first hand.

What is your name?

Shewit

Can you tell us about where you’re from?

Asmara, Eritrea

Where were you living before you came to the United States?

I lived in Sudan, Libya, and Malta, and then came to the United States.

What was life like before coming to the US?

Life was difficult. I went from Eritrea to Sudan, and it was hard. From Sudan to Libya, it was on foot and it was a desert. We had to travel, so that alone was hard. In Malta, I had trouble getting my papers, my residency papers.

Did you come to the US with family?

Yes, I came with my husband and daughter, and then had a son here.

How old were you when you came to the US?

I was 25.

What was your first impression of Columbia?

First, what impressed me was the hospitality. It’s also a small city, so it was not hard to learn where to go.

What was the hardest thing to learn about life here?

It was a little bit of an adjustment to learn how to drive, getting somebody because if you don’t have someone, you don’t necessarily know what to do or where to go. 

What do you think of Columbia now?

Now I like Columbia because it is a city that has a lot of school opportunities. There are colleges and a university, so I don’t want to move.

What’s your favorite thing about Columbia?

Everything is easier here because it’s a small city. You can go from work and then go home in minutes, there’s no traffic.

How has Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigration Services helped during your transition to life in the US?

RIS kept all their promises to us. They paid our rent for six months, they gave me rides when I had doctors appointments. RIS goes the extra mile, so I’m so grateful.

What was your first job in the US?

Housekeeping at the University Hospital, and now I’m at a factory.

What is your greatest accomplishment?

My biggest accomplishment is coming to the United States. I can raise my kids in a safe environment, and whatever goal I have in life, I can reach here.

What is your dream for the future?

Going to school for myself is always on my mind. I also want to send my kids to good schools. I also dream of owning a home and earning enough to one day invest.

What is your favorite thing about your home country?

The social life. Especially back home, we don’t even eat separately. We all eat together at a big table.

What do you miss the most from your home country?

I miss the special occasions to spend with my family and my friends, social occasions, but also daily occasions. 

Are there any family or cultural traditions you keep?

We still continue some traditions even though we’re not all together and it’s different. We still invite friends, have coffee together. We also make our traditional food like injera and eat it with our hands.

What does being American mean to you?

Americans are very hard working, so I want to become more like that. I’m very impressed by how hardworking Americans are and even being here is a privilege.

What does being a refugee mean to you?

In America, it feels like home because there’s a sense of belonging and acceptance. There’s no rejection. So compared to being a refugee in Sudan, Libya and Malta, I rarely experienced acceptance. When I came to the United States, it was even hard for me to believe it was a reality. It still feels like a dream. Being a refugee, there’s no security.

What does World Refugee Day mean to you?

It’s a special day. I used to hate being called a refugee because of the insecurity, but now it’s inevitable to remember where I came from because that was one stage, a stepping stone in my life. It’s a special day. It reminds me of where I came from and also where I’m standing now. I started to even forget I’m a refugee because of how secure and safe I feel, the quality of life.

What do you want the community to know about Eritrea or being a refugee?

My message is for Eritreans and I want to tell them that they should take the opportunity to help themselves and their families to change their lives, be more productive instead of staying in a bad community. 

What would you tell yourself when you first arrived in Columbia?

The system by itself was not easy to learn, to understand how to navigate the community, at that time. There were a lot of challenges.

Is there anything else you would like to share?

I’m so thankful for RIS. It’s like a family, and for all the help I get, I’m very thankful. What this office does for us outweighs what my friends have done. I’m thankful.