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Job training helps refugee find his way

Being new to a country that is vastly different from the one you left is like being blind, says Hailu Gago. "You have a vision but no idea how to get there," relates the Ethiopian immigrant, speaking through a translator.

Neighborhood House, he says, opened his eyes, connecting him to "the system" that can lead to self-sufficiency and a feeling of belonging.

With the help of employment specialist Kamaria Al-Harazi, he got a job, a driver's license, a bus pass and Ethiopian roommates to share the rent of a north Seattle apartment.

He also completed a nursing assistant certification program and is receiving English-language instruction and tutoring.

Kamaria, also from Ethiopia, even helped him find a place of worship.

On a recent afternoon, Hailu wore unglasses inside to hide his tired eyes. He is working nights at a gas station while he waits for the nursing assistant certification that he hopes will qualify him for a well-paying health care job at a hospital or long-term care facility.

"Hailu is very determined," says Kamaria, who has been workign with him almost since he arrived in the country more than two years ago.

He hopes to be reunited soon with his wife and three children, still living in Ethiopia. The separation has been difficult, he says, but he believes the family's sacrifice will be rewarded later with a better life.

"If my kids come here, they will have human rights and a nice education," says Hailu, who owned a convenience store in Ethiopia but never felt like he was getting ahead. "Here you can earn at least a basic living if you work hard. Dreaming is allowed."

Hailu Gago