Elizabeth Ayana – Ethiopia

Elizabeth and her son and daughter came to America in 1996 from Ethiopia and came to Youngstown to live.  Her husband had arrived earlier and was studying for a PhD in history. After completing his studies, because of the conditions in Ethiopia, he decided it was best to stay in the United States and he sent for his family. They recently became naturalized citizens. Elizabeth’s family remains in Ethiopia.

From first grade to sixth grade, Elizabeth attended a school in the town where her family lived.  After that, her parents enrolled her in a private school built by German missionaries, and the primary focus at that school was religion.  Elizabeth started to learn English in the third grade and continued to do so until twelfth grade.  Outside of the school, however, everyone spoke in their native tongue and Elizabeth had no opportunities to practice speaking English.

When Elizabeth talks about relationships as she experienced them in her country, she emphasizes the closeness, the sharing of food, home, and giving to family and friends whatever it was they needed. No matter how small your home is, if a friend or neighbor needs shelter, you share your space.

Elizabeth is busy, taking care of family, acting as a Deacon and serving on various committees at her church, and attending Youngstown State University where she has received a degree in social work. Social work is very natural for her. In Ethiopia she loved taking care of children and now, in addition to helping people, she wants to assist other Ethiopians adjust to American culture.

Although Elizabeth is very comfortable in this country, she wants to maintain the values and belief she brought with her from Ethiopia. Belief in God is very important to Elizabeth.  When she was 15 and Ethiopia was becoming communist, religion was banned.  Because Elizabeth and other young people continued to sing and praise God, they were put in jail and threatened with torture if they did not deny God. After spending six months in jail, they were released with the warning that if anyone of them said they believed in God they would die. Yet they walked away saying God was with them.  Elizabeth believes that “even to come here to raise my children in this country, that is God willing, that is my faith.”

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