I am Tigist Solomon Gebreselassie from Ethiopia, and here is my short story and current situation. I was an entrepreneur and co-founder of a solid waste management and recycling company, Dream Light PLC, with over 170 employees in one of Ethiopia’s largest cities, Bahir Dar. Dream Light was established over 12 years ago with my friends immediately after we graduated from college. The company received the World Business and Development Award 2012 among 115 projects from 38 countries, presented in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Apart from being a founding member, I served as an accountant, finance manager, strategist, and business advisor. Since 2015, I have worked as a business development service advisor at EDI Ethiopia, Bahir Dar. In 2021, in coordination with Askamar Consulting and Engineering PLC, I served as a regional coordinator while giving entrepreneurship training to 760 youths, with over 100 starting their own business. Furthermore, I owned a small restaurant serving Western and Ethiopian traditional dishes and managing about 14 full-time employees. Lastly, I am a wife and mother of two girls, 6 and 4 years old. I have been married for nine years.
In the meantime, due to the political situation and civil war in the last three years in my country, Ethiopia, I faced discrimination, abuse, detention, corruption, sexual abuse, and many more challenges. I was fortunate to become the recipient of the Mandela Washington Fellowship and was assigned to the business track at the University of Nevada, Reno, from June 8 to July 17, 2022. During my participation, the hard time for my family continued and worsened, and my husband, who was a professor at Bahir Dar University, lost his job due to his ethnic background. Before I came here for the fellowship, my husband and I were detained, discriminated against, and abused since we have a Northern Ethiopian ethnic background, ‘Tigrayan,’ the one under siege in Ethiopia for over two years. Fundamental human rights within every corner of Ethiopia for the ‘Tigrayans’ and those with Tigrayan backgrounds and their families are imaginary and unthinkable. Despite the agreement between the two sides in the conflict, social discrimination, abuse, and denial of basic human rights continued. International societies and organizations working on human rights produced reports blaming the federal government for the ethnic cleansing act. I am a living witness to confirm these.
We are in a perilous situation as a family. My girls couldn’t handle different forms of abuse and hate speech, and we have been having the hardest time of our lives. We decided that my stay in the USA and asylum application would provide us with hope for a new and safe future, even though it meant a temporary separation from my family.
During my stay at the University of Nevada, Reno, I met Joanna Kardys-Stone, one of the university’s professors. Joanna offered to help and introduced me to the Mentors Foundation and the support opportunities for self-sufficiency. She became my mentor. The Mentors considered my situation and brainstormed with me on successful approaches to gain self-sufficiency. They approved my request in October 2022 to get a grant for the attorney service and the LinkedIn learning annual subscription. These contributions made my journey easier here in the USA as a newcomer. I began taking courses related to my business management background. My attorney applied for and facilitated an employment authorization document. In March 2023, I got my employment authorization and became eligible to work in the USA. With the help of Joanna, Marilyn, and Rachael from the Mentors, I finalized my CV and began looking for a job. In May 2023, I received and accepted a job offer and started my career. This brought a remarkable change for me and my family. I can support myself and my family while waiting for asylum approval. Even though my family reunification process is underway, and I have been separated from my children for the last year and three months, the generous assistance from the foundation saved my family’s life and has changed our life dimensions during our self-sufficiency path.