My name is “B.G.” I came from Eritrea, northeast Africa, next to Ethiopia. I came to the United States of America in 2013 as an asylum seeker. I traveled though many countries, as most people do when they try to find a place to save their lives. My mother used to work day and night in the field, cutting firewood to make charcoal. We were barely getting our daily meals. Also, we had a very small shelter, which was made by my mother out of rocks and wood, and had a roof of mud and grass. It was so small, it was impossible to stand up straight in the doorway.
When I was 8 years old, I started school, and I finished my studies from 1st til 11th grade in neighboring villages. I walked to school at least an hour and a half each day. In my country, when we finish 11th grade, we are required by the government to go to military camp to finish 12th grade and take military training before and after classes. Then we must take the final test, to see if you get a chance to continue higher education. The results don’t come quickly after the test, it may take six months, a year or it may not come forever, nobody knows. In reality, they don’t use the test for educational classification. Unfortunately, they started to divide us in to different military units. They sent me to one of the national military camps. After that happened, I automatically understood my dream was taken away.
While I was in the military camp, I didn’t have the right to ask about my education or why I was there. One day I started to ask about my education, even though I knew it wasn’t right to ask, because education was the only dream I had to escape from the poverty I grew up with. The same day I asked about my education, two armed guys came while I was sleeping and took me to jail. I was in jail almost for four years. One evening, we were being transported to somewhere in chains with four guards. I didn’t realize we were going to be killed, until two of the guards who did not believe in killing overtook the other guards and released us into the jungle. I became free and I left Eritrea and the jail at the same time.
First, we went to Sudan, then I flew to Dubai, then from there to South America and finally to North America, from smuggler to smuggler. When I crossed the border of Mexico into Texas, I was taken to a detention center in Port Isabel. After six months, I was released, but my immigration status was unfinished. I had many things to do to get my political asylum granted. Don’t forget as I was in a new country with no family member, barely understood the language, zero clue about immigration, and so on. Also, don’t forget, I needed food to eat and a place to live, these are the most fundamental things in life. I started living with a person who never met me before, so I was very worried about every aspect of life.
I had been in San Antonio about one month. One day, Pat from CRS came to our apartment to help a refugee who was living next door to me. We had to go with her to move the sofa from the donor’s house to the refugee’s apartment. While we were going to bring the sofa, I told my situation to her, she wasn’t surprised at all. But she promised me she would help me earn money to survive. The next morning, she took me to her house to paint her fence. The day after that, she also took me to her son’s house to paint his fence too. But still she was worried, because the money I got from her and her son was not enough money to pay my bills. Then she took me to CRS (Center for Refugee Services), which is on Wurzbach Road in San Antonio, then she introduced me to Margaret, Jann, and some other members of the Refugee Center. Since it was about the end of the month, they were really worried too, because my rent was about due, other volunteers took me to their own house to cut grass and paint their fences. They told some of their friends about me, so I found more cash labor jobs and I was able to pay my bills.
Later when I was seriously ill, I got help from CRS to get medical treatment, I would like to give a huge thanks to Margaret about that issue. What other help did I get from the Center for Refugee Services? During my year and half long political asylum process, they were standing with me from the beginning to the end in every aspect. I was granted my asylum status in June 2014. Some days later I started working at the Ford company. Then later I worked as a taxi driver, because it was flexible with my studies.
Ok let me take you back to the point, I hope you didn’t forget, it was about my education. As you heard my story, back in Eritrea, my dream to be educated had died. When I came to America, my dream came to life again and I started to ask if there was chance to go to school at my age again. I got the answer “yes.” From that day on, many volunteers helped me to get a library card, test for the GED, and get started at San Antonio College in spring 2015. Now I’m a transfer student to UTSA beginning spring 2018. I have my own proverb. It says, “Nobody is too old to learn and nobody is too young to teach.”
When you have this kind of endless opportunity in this land of opportunity here in United States of America, we can learn no matter how old we are, there are lessons out there waiting for us. If you ask me what I would be majoring in UTSA, my answer would be everything. Don’t take my answer as greediness, but rather it is eagerness. In many countries, including my own which is the worst, like North Korea in Africa, they choose the way you live your life, and many times people get killed for choosing their life the way they want to live. But of course, I do have a major, it is Civil Engineering.
School was not easy, with barely speaking English. I had been told once or twice, you are not qualified to take my class because of your English. But class after class, they changed their mind and I proved to them I could take their class by hard work. I shouldn’t forget I had extra help from the CRS. I went there to get help with my assignments, if they could help, they did, and if not, they referred me someone who could. What does being in the U.S.A mean to me? I feel completely reborn again. It’s like coming to the world as a newborn baby. Not only that, to live in this country, which has endless opportunity for everyone equally, has helped my dream of education come alive again. Because I can work freely on my dream day and night, I now live with hope for the future. What would my plan for the future? First and foremost, I have to finish the degree I am working on, to be a civil engineer. Then I want to give back and help people. So many people helped me along my journey that I want to pay them back by helping others who need it the most.
Let me come to the second and most important point, let me start by asking you a question. What are refugees? Some time we don’t differentiate refugees from immigrants. Immigrants have a home and right to live back home where they came from. But with refugees, it is vice versa. Refugees are forced to leave for many reasons from the country they belong to. So, to be a refugee is not an option. Please take some time and think deeply. Who wants to be a refugee? Who wants to leave the land they were born in, leave the people they grew up with, leave the road they walked on? To leave all those things and be a refugee–no one wants it, and no one needs it. Refugees are the ones who need the most help. So, ladies and gentlemen, if you really want to help refugees, start helping these people right here in San Antonio, in front of you. These volunteers at CRS have lists of refugees who are struggling to get their needs met. They are always surrounded by refugees who need the most in every aspect. By helping these people your help will reach the hands of the refugees who need the most help.
UPDATE – Note from CRS:
BG was granted asylum in 2016. He is now considered a legally resettled refugee. In 2019 B.G. graduated with a BSE in Civil Engineering from UT San Antonio.
Because so many refugees, like B.G. dream of continuing their education, CRS has awarded over 150 college scholarships since 2012. Won’t you consider donating to CRS to help more young adults fulfill their dreams of education?