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Elham Ibrahim

Entrepreneurship Award

Community educator, entrepreneur and former refugee

I am originally from Ethiopia, the northern part of Tigray. I came to the United States with my mom as a young child to build a better life with my father, who was also here. But growing up as a refugee and immigrant, language barriers were obstacles. There is prejudice that you deal with, especially in the school system. I really looked to my teachers for resources, as well as my parents. Some stereotypes I dealt with were that we're uneducated and we're here just to take over and take from people, but that's not the truth.

I faced many challenges as a refugee, including prejudice, language and cultural barriers - especially having parents who were not accustomed to American culture and lifestyle. It was very difficult for me and my family. Some misconceptions I’ve faced are that immigrants or refugees are uneducated or illegal. I’ve often witnessed people treating us differently because we’re not American. It’s important to know refugees and immigrants just want a fair and equal opportunity to build a successful, happy, healthy and safe life in America. We can empower the immigrant and refugee communities by providing that support and resources. It’s also important to educate those who have misconceptions about refugees.

My definition of success is financial stability, being healthy and happy overall with life. Ultimately, I want my family to live the life they’ve always worked so hard to achieve.

My motivation comes from my parents and many other refugees and immigrants who’ve sacrificed so much to be here in America and build a new life. Everyone across the world, especially in Third World countries, looks at America as the golden country. It is the place where they can come to and live the American dream. America offers opportunities to people who come from all walks of life and I believe that’s what makes it so unique. America can empower refugees by opening its doors and giving them the opportunity to build a new life because many of us are escaping war, political tension and famine.

We’re here for better opportunities and to build a better life for our families. I think education is key. There are great opportunities here. If you come here and get an education and figure out what exactly you want to do, when you get in that lane and on that path, you will succeed.

It’s helpful for refugees to find a community of people to connect with and create a sense of “home.” People are friendly, and there are many resources to help refugees and immigrants get on their feet. Don’t be intimidated by not being American-born. There’s a place for everyone here!

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