Forced to leave her home in Ethiopia for fear of persecution, Danait landed in Portland, Oregon, in 2014 as part of the refugee resettlement program. She left her home, including her family and friends, without being able to bring any personal possessions or even prepare herself for life in a new culture.
In Portland, she was connected to Africa House, a part of Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO), a local nonprofit that serves African refugees and immigrants living in Oregon. United Way of Columbia-Willamette partners with nonprofit agencies like IRCO to provide social services such as housing, vocational training, English language learning and culturally-specific counseling to refugees and immigrants to help speed up their transition to economic self-sufficiency.
New to the U.S., Danait enrolled in classes to learn English and started making new friends. She even met her partner and moved in with him shortly thereafter. When she learned of her pregnancy, her joy knew no bounds. She gave birth to a healthy baby girl, whom she named Heyap, meaning ‘Gift of God’ in Amharic, her mother tongue. A far cry from living a life of fear in Ethiopia, life was beginning to look up again for Danait in Portland.
However, things went downhill with her partner. Their disagreements got worse over time. After a particularly terrible dispute, she could no longer live with her partner and before she knew it, Danait and Heyap were homeless. With no place to live and a 10-month-old daughter in tow, she ended up staying in a motel for a month. But money was running out and with no child support, Danait knew she had to come up with an alternative or she would soon find herself on the streets with her baby.
Through an IRCO-led vocational training program, Danait completed caregiver training and found a job as a caregiver. But she couldn’t leave Heyap alone in the motel. Luckily, a friend came through and let her stay with her till she could find a viable solution. Her friend worked the night shift, so she took care of Heyap during the day when Danait went to work.
Since her childhood Danait dreamed of becoming a nurse. Having seen suffering in her home country, she knew from a very young age that all she wanted to do was to help others. But she also knew that finding a safe place to live for Heyap and herself was her first priority. Her dream motivated her to work hard and with her savings and assistance provided by United Way, she was able to rent a small apartment.
Now with a place to live, Danait could finally focus on pursuing her passion of becoming a nurse. She began her Certified Nursing Assistance (CNA) training in March, 2018. Once she completes her training, she hopes to be able to find a better paying job so she can put Heyap in day care while she finishes school.
When asked about her dreams for her daughter, Danait’s eyes light up. She feels blessed to have Heyap in her life and have come this far.
“I do not want Heyap to face what I went through. I want her to grow up to be a strong, successful woman and follow her dreams.”
Danait’s story is one of courage, survival and hope. She has embraced her newly adopted homeland with tremendous energy and success. Not only is she working toward becoming self-sufficient and a contributing member of society, she is passionate about helping those less fortunate than her.
Danait's story originally appeared on unitedway-pdx.org to mark #WorldRefugeeDay (June 20, 2019). On World Refugee Day -- and throughout the year -- United Way celebrates people like Danait who have embraced their new country, are a contributing member of society and are passionate about helping those in need.