Tuji, originally from Ethiopia and a former resident of Johannesburg, South Africa, was astonished when he came to America. He thought he would see beautiful green scenery, but as he arrived in New York, he was surprised to find old houses and highways. However, something impacted him more--the way people behaved. He could not believe how much people respected one another and how safe he felt.
In Ethiopia, Tuji was a business owner, but it was a dangerous place to live. He explains, “There are a lot of political problems; if you don’t support the government, they put you in jail. All the family suffers.” Seeking a better life for him and his family, he decided to move to South Africa. Little did he know, living there was not an improvement. Tuji describes his experience: “There are no rights for human beings. There is a lot of violence, people kill you, torture you… lots of robberies. South Africa looks like a democracy, but it is not.”
While in South Africa, Tuji felt his life threatened and sought protection from the United Nations and the American Embassy to leave South Africa. This process took a long time. As he waited, he saw his friends sent to other countries, such as Norway and Canada. “The U.N. chooses the country for the candidate,” Tuji explained. Finally, after 12 years in South Africa, it was his turn, and he was sent to America.
Now, Tuji is taking citizenship classes through the IU13 Community Education with help from the Lancaster and Lebanon Literacy and Success Centers and Church World Service. In class, when his teachers asked him what is the same and different from his life before, he answered, “Nothing is the same. Everything is different here. People care for each other and respect each other at work. We are safe here. I work the night shift, and I feel safe. In America, if you work and are a good person, life is easy for you. Not like in South Africa.”
He also talked about his class. He likes the citizenship class because he is learning so much. “It’s fantastic! The teacher helps me so much. I also learn about the Constitution.”
After he becomes a citizen, he would like to bring his children’s grandmother to the U.S. He states, “My mother died when I was 20, and my dad passed away before I came here. Now it is only my wife’s side. When my children see an elderly woman, they ask me, is that my grandma? They can’t wait to meet her.”
Tuji’s dream is to be able to travel to visit his family, which includes 17 siblings, anytime he wants. He has not seen them since he moved from Ethiopia 17 years ago.
When asked why he wants to become a citizen, Tuji’s first response is “to vote, to give me my rights. After citizenship, I will continue working. I want to help people and I continue to respect the American flag.” He would also like to add his entrepreneurial spirit to American culture.