Tadesse Hagos, 35 years old, from Awhne, Eritrea
“I was born in a village which is called Awhne,” said Tadesse. He has nothing but fond memories of Awhne, which is home to about 450 families and around 3,250 individuals. “I really enjoyed my childhood in that place. I played a lot, and enjoyed being with the community. I did a lot of funny cultural ceremonies.”
Tadesse, now 35 years old, grew up in an agricultural and interconnected society. “We are responsible to help our families.” This inter-dependence often meant participating in agricultural work and cattle herding, both of which Tadesse’s family had plenty. He remembers his family owning a large number of oxen, goats, and sheep. Tadesse’s parents and siblings remain in Eritrea. He misses them dearly and does not know if he will ever see them again.
“I have three sisters, no brothers. The two are older than me and the one is younger. They are married, and they have children. They are good families, they are in Eritrea now.”
In Eritrea, Tadesse worked in construction to put himself through school. He managed to finish his studies, and continued on to military training like many other Eritreans do. Due to his hard work and high test scores, he was able to enroll in the University of Asmara in 2000 and complete his studies within 4 years. “The government… assigned me to the Ministry of Labor and Human Welfare in Asmara,” Tadesse remembers his first working assignment with mixed feelings.
His work in Eritrea would not continue for long. The authorities made it increasingly difficult for him to remain in his homeland and Tadesse decided to flee. “We are Christians and we are familiar with Israel from the bible… I considered Israel as welcom[ing] state. And it is a developed democratic state.” Tadesse has felt a connection to Israel through religion and says that his entrance to the country was a joyous experience.
“The Israeli security guards, they clap their hands when they see us. You know, we crossed the border of Israel at 2:20, 2:30 in the night. It was very dark. But, they have light, they see us, we are tired, we are weak. But they clapped their hands and they say welcome to Israel.”
Tadesse has been in Israel for four years. He has lived in many parts of the country including Eilat, Rehovot, and Tel Aviv. Today, Tadesse lives with a cousin in Tel Aviv. Like him, many migrants rely on family and friend networks when they arrive in a new country. “We take food, sometimes we drink, we play, like that…It is convenient to have time to enjoy and to have fun, to organize some events.”
Tadesse sees the community as a place of belonging and a source of stability. Tadesse got involved with the Eritrean Women’s Community Center (EWCC) through a female cousin, who went to school with the woman who runs the Center. Tadesse helps facilitate asylum form-filling events at the EWCC and helps translate for the Eritrean clientele. “We are coordinating the RSD [Refugee Status Determination] assistance activities…we are also calling some translators [and] volunteers from the community. And we are finding a lot of people to help.”
Tadesse makes time to volunteer in his community in spite of working six days a week. Aside from the Eritrean Women’s Community Center, he also dedicates a lot of his time to educational initiatives for the Israeli AIDS society, encouraging community members to learn about HIV risks, and offering medical translation to those in need.
He believes his community is consistently placed under immense pressure, which in turn causes some of its members to behave in negative and potentially harmful ways. “Most of the people are [in Israel] 5 years, 6 years, and until 7 years. Now because they are living an uncertain future they have problems, some stresses, hopelessness, that's why there is some bad behavior…like drinking, fighting, stress, some psychological problems also.” Tadesse’s workload is tremendous, but his commitment does not falter. He maintains hopes for the future.
“I hope to finish the asylum request process and to finally get refugee status, and also I am hoping to join my family urgently.” Tadesse’s wife and young son are in Uganda now, and he hopes to reunite with them soon. The lengthy separation has been painful for the family and lacking a clear end-date has made hope difficult to maintain. Nevertheless, the potential of a reunion with his family is his driving force and it is what pushes him to continue fighting.
Photos: Shayanne Gal / Story: Untold Stories of Success
Photo: Tadesse posing with flyers in English, Arabic, and Tigrinya (the official language of Eritrea). He routinely passes these flyers out to members of his community, in an effort to increase HIV/AIDS awareness in collaboration with the Israeli AIDS society.