Ethiopian refugee finds success in Rochester through education, - KTTC Rochester, Austin, Mason City News, Weather and Sports

Ethiopian refugee finds success in Rochester through education, translation


The Intercultural Mutual Assistance Association, or IMAA, has been helping newcomers to Rochester for years.

They have come from countries all over the world, speak different languages, and all have unique stories. But one thing remains the same: they're seeking a better life here in Rochester.

Ngathe Bongo is no different. His American Dream began in Africa.

He was forced to leave his home country of Ethiopia as violence erupted. He found himself at 15 years old at Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

"I lived in Kenya for a decade. In the refugee camps, in the largest refugee camps in the world,” said Bongo.

Through his future was uncertain and his situation was grim, Bongo kept learning. He worked on his English and published two stories for children in the camp's newspaper. Ten years later, life changed.

"In 2014, I was among the few lucky ones to get this opportunity to come to America,” said Bongo.

Bongo was a stranger in a new country, and sought help at IMAA. Staff helped him register for classes at RCTC and get the financial aid he needed to begin earning a degree.

With no car, but determined to make the most of his chance to succeed, he biked an hour each way to class after work year-round.

"There I am. I started going to RCTC, and actually this year I graduated in Advance Hospital Nursing,” said Bongo, proudly holding his certificate.

He saved enough to buy his first car, which he uses to get to work at Mayo Clinic. He's a translator for other refugees who have made their way to southeast Minnesota; fulfilling a dream that once was a world away.

He said, "Some of the people I have lived with in the refugee camps, when they come, I help interpret for them. They say, 'How did you do this?'. I say, you have to open your eyes.”

As IMAA helped Bongo find his voice, he has helped countless others to find opportunity where some may see hopelessness.

"The most important thing is that people live in peace here. Something I never had, something I lost many, many years ago. But now I have it here,” he said, hoping, he adds, to instill that sense of gratitude into his two young children as the grow up.

Bongo plans to return to school this fall, but many immigrants like him still depend on the life-changing work at IMAA.

The organization is hosting Walk Around the World this Saturday, June 4, at RCTC. Performances, ethnic food, and fun activities will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the Field House.

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