The International Rescue Committee in Baltimore is known for helping humanitarian immigrants begin their new lives in Charm City, but little is often said of the extraordinary talent and experience of the staff who guide newly arrived clients along the way. Berihu is one such staff member. Highly educated and multi-lingual, his life experience is also the refugee experience—which he shared with us in the following interview.
- Can you talk about your journey to the United States and what brought you here?
My journey to the United States began in 2009 when local political upheaval forced me to leave my job at the Eritrean Ministry of Health. In March, I fled to Ethiopia and stayed in the Mai-Aini refugee camp where I found a job with the IRC as a Health Social Worker Team Leader. Thanks to their “Out of Camp Policy” I was able to enroll in Addis Ababa University to further my education and in 2012 I earned an M.S. in Environmental Science. With my education I had the opportunity to conduct several national and international trainings and workshops in Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda. In 2015 I was notified that my application to resettle in the United States as a refugee was approved. On December 15, 2015 I landed in Maryland and received services from the IRC in Baltimore. Lily was my caseworker at the time and she helped me to get on my feet and start my new life.
- When did you start working at the IRC in Baltimore and what positions have you held?
I started working for the IRC in Baltimore office in 2018 as an occasional interpreter to help Tigrigna, Tigre and Amharic speaking clients to access services and communicate with IRC staff. Then I had the opportunity to work as an IRC caseworker, the same position that Lily held when she picked me up from the Airport in 2015. I am now an employment specialist and help clients find entry-level employment opportunities around Baltimore city.
- What is a typical day like for you?
I remember the day I arrived. Everything was new for me! It was my first time eating roasted chicken and my sleep schedule was upside down. With all these experiences behind me I’m always happy and eager to welcome new arrivals from the airport and hope they are inspired by their new home. I always share my story with them, and I stay in close contact with them so they don’t feel alone. When I was a caseworker, in a typical day I would assist clients who were like me to access nutritional benefits, enroll in school or connect with English classes at the community college. As an employment specialist, I help clients to get their first job to support themselves and their families.
- What would you like most people to know about your work?
I would like people to know that we deliver services to those who are seriously in need of help, but with just a little assistance they are also full of capacity to help themselves. I would like people in the community to know that they may also contribute their part to helping newly arrived refugees to start their lives in Baltimore. Community members can volunteer their time to help clients or make a financial contribution to the office.
- If you could go travel in the world, where would you go?
During this critical time of COVID-19, and the bad news coming out of Eritrea that many refugees in Northern Ethiopia were killed, disappeared and displaced from the refugee camps, I would like to travel home to encourage and support them. I would like to do my best helping them to get food and water as well as to stay and feel safe.
Even though my journey exemplifies a success story, I continue to feel the impact of the refugee experience. I would like to travel to my homeland to see my family. It’s been 12 years and I want to travel to Ethiopia to see my first son who I haven’t seen since he was born.
If you want to help clients like Berihu to resettle in Baltimore and start their new lives, consider purchasing something from our Amazon wishlist—to be shipped automatically to our office for distribution to refugee families. Or consider making a donation to our office for the benefit of all programs, including our immigration legal services department which helps people like Berihu to reunite with their loved ones.