Monday, January 21, 2019

Rozina Negussie and Leah Gebre

Two years ago, Rozina Negussie moved from Ethiopia to APAH's Arlington Mill Residences along Columbia Pike. She knew no one in the community except her family. In 2018, she received the  Virginia Governor's Housing Conference Outstanding Youth Award for her exceptional volunteer work with food distribution programs, school supply drives, and caring for the elderly in a local hospital. She is especially close to her younger sister, Leah Gebra.

Rozina Nigussie: "I've lived here in Arlington for two years now. I used to live in Ethiopia. I was born in Addis Ababa but I grew up in a place called Jimma. It is a city in Oromia, in the southern part of Ethiopia. My father lived here in the United States for quite a long period of time, so he was processing to bring me here to get me with my family, so that's how I came here. My mother is here also.

When I came here, I had just a small knowledge of English, like school-level English, because we don't speak English in Ethiopia, but Amharic. When I came here I kind of had to improve my speech by talking with my sister, by reading books, and watching movies.
I was supposed to go to college back in Ethiopia because I was in 12th grade, but when I came here they put me back to 10th grade. Because I didn't bring my school documents, they didn't think that I was in high school, because they didn't have the proof. So they said, "Just start with 10th grade." I would say school is harder in Ethiopia because of the resources, and the teachers. Here there are resources, so if you ask a question you can get answers right away, or easily, so I think it's kind of easier here.
I was scared when I first came here because I was shy about my speech and I thought people would laugh at me or something, so that's what was scary for me. The other thing is, I was scared the school would be hard, but I'm doing okay.

When I first came here the food was a bit difficult. The only thing I used to eat was chicken because it was kind of the taste I know, because everything was new, but now I am eating different cultures' food, which is good, and I'm getting used to the food. At home in Ethiopia we have injera, but we can get that here, too.

I'm studying different courses because it is high school. Particularly, I love science and math, so I'm taking AP, advanced classes for that. I'm hoping to go to college. I finished my applications already. I'm waiting. I applied to George Mason University, Marymount, Augustana, and Allegheny, they're small liberal arts schools, and John Hopkins, VCU, William and Mary. I also am applying for scholarships. I want to go into the health field  -medicine, doctor, nurse, researcher. My dad is going to graduate this year from pharmacy school. He's my inspiration.

In school, I've made friends from the whole world, from Vietnam, from Mongolia, from China, from Bolivia, from Ethiopia, my country, from Eritrea. People do get along. And I love talking to them because I hear different stories about some stuff from different countries' perspectives, so that's great. I have not experienced many difficulties, because when I need help everyone is here, so I just have to ask.

I am Muslim and my sister is Christian. Our family is mixed this way. I haven't experienced problems wearing my hijab, personally, but there were some stories that I've heard from Fairfax or somewhere else about people who wear hijab, that some people see them as bad people or something, but I haven't experienced this yet.

When I came here to the Pike, I expected to just stay home and go to school, that's it. I didn't expect to communicate with my community. I was kind of scared, I guess, because I was new, but when I came here everybody was smiling at me, everybody was accepting, so I kind of feel like home, and I didn't feel alone, I made some friends, so that is a great thing.

One of the volunteering jobs I do weekly is called the Hospital Elder Life Program. Patients who got admitted to hospital who are elderly, we every day go there and talk to them, do hand massages to relax them and ease their pain as much as we can. We give them magazines, which is kind of entertaining for them. We also help them do ‘range of motion’, which is exercising, while they're in the bed.  We talk to them, ask them about how their day went. We do that every day. There are some college students along with the high school students. I made friends there, too. They are really nice people.

I volunteer with APAH (Arlington Partnership for Affordable Housing), too. If my schedule allows me, I do my best to help out. For example, if there is a holiday event that they need help with, distribution, or helping set up the table, things like that, I help out. I also want to help out with tutoring, but I haven't been assigned a person yet. I want to help kids with maths or things like that. I am good at mathematics."

Leah Gebra:  "I have been here my whole life. I was born in Arlington. I go to Drew Model School. I’m in 4th grade. It was nice when my sister came here. We are close. She helps me, and I help her. When she's sad I try to make her feel better."

Rozina Nigussie: I'm hoping to stay here, because this place helped me learn a lot and to go to school, even though it's not directly, but indirectly they helped me be what I want to be, so I want to help out here as much as I can. In ten years I see myself staying in this area, maybe helping out in hospitals, being a doctor.

The thing that I want to talk about is, we as a community can be whatever we want, we can get anywhere we want if we stay together and stick together. The love we have can improve our life for better. That's the thing that I want to say."

Photography and interview by Lloyd Wolf.

Thank you to Venus Burgess of APAH for her help with this profile.

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