By Jesus Garcia, Special Assistant, Office of External Affairs
I had the pleasure of beginning this holiday season at a community dinner hosted by the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC) in honor of former refugees who were celebrating the very first Thanksgiving in the United States.
Located in Arlington, Va., ECDC’s center welcomed dozens of families from all over the world to its celebration sponsored by several local businesses who want to help integrate new citizens into the community.
The temperature outside was freezing cold that night, but the warm, nicely decorated dining hall made everyone feel comfortable as families sat at white linen-draped tables next to a row of buffet-style tables showcasing the best dishes the holiday season had to offer.
Among the volunteers serving slices of turkey, mashed potatoes and desserts were employees of the Administration for Children and Families (ACF). ACF has a long history with ECDC, an Office Refugee Resettlement grantee.
ECDC has resettled more than 25,000 refugees since it opened its doors in 1991. The organization empowers refugees from all over the world with programs like matching grants, individual development accounts and other social services.
ECDC opened the ceremony with remarks from its leadership, White House Senior Policy Director for Immigration Felicia Escobar, and ACF’s Acting Assistant Secretary Mark Greenberg. Welcome speeches eventually gave way to international music which signaled that dinner was ready to be served!
As parents and teens lined up for food, children from various parts of the world danced together on stage. They may have not understood each other, but playtime needs no interpretation.
While the majority of guests came in family groups, one young lady from Somalia was experiencing this new American tradition all by herself. Hibo Ahmed Couled, a shy, 19-year-old student, left her family eight months ago for a better future in the United States.
“I’m very thankful to ECDC,” said Hibo, who works full-time and is attending college to become a psychologist. “I’m thankful for their kindness. They have been very helpful to me.”
Hibo admits life is very different here in the United States, but she is acclimating to her new home 7,700 miles away from East Africa. “When I ride the bus, I see so many different cultures,” said Hibo, who enjoys Tex-Mex food and likes going to see romantic comedies at the movie theater.
She may not have immediate family to rely on in Virginia, but Hibo has an extended family in ECDC. She is one of the organization’s success stories that falls in line with the agency’s ultimate goal: transforming former refugees into self-sufficient individuals who can contribute to their communities.
And that’s something we can all be grateful for this year.