Ex-refugee tells story at forum

Ex-refugee tells story at forum

Stories about family, holidays, dating and other life experiences outside the United States were shared at the Mungano-sponsored Diversity Forum March 1.

The featured speaker, Zerihune Dissassa, father of freshman Di-Tu Dissassa, spoke about his experience as an Ethiopian refugee.

Dissassa said he was invited by his daughter to speak and decided to talk out of respect for her and the students at Baker.

“I hope they get to see the present opportunity this country has to offer,” Zerihune Dissassa said. “I want them to know things will change. Nothing is guaranteed. If they take advantage of what this country has, and keep a positive attitude in whatever situation they face, they can use that knowledge.”

Zerihune Dissassa, a Kansas City resident, came to the United States about 20 years ago after facing several years as a refugee in Ethiopia. He said he hoped his explanation would help people understand even though life isn’t perfect in the United States, there is a lot of opportunity. He said that he had never expected to be in a dire situation while growing up in Ethiopia and emphasized the importance of humility and good decision-making.

“I just wish they understand this is the reality compared to other countries,” Dissassa said. “To have a positive attitude and make what is wrong in this country right, you have to have a positive attitude and character building. To hold on to those values can go so far. If you (use) your idea and have character and believe it, you can affect the society you live in.”

Sophomore Kendra Scarbrough said members of Mungano wanted to continue holding diversity forums because they offer opportunities to learn about other cultures.

“I learned a lot more about the culture of Ethiopia,” Scarbrough said. “I learned about what it is like to live in luxury and how he was considered rich and how becoming a refugee humbled him and how in America we take things for granted.”

Di-Tu Dissassa said even though she had heard several of the stories her father told prior to this event, she enjoyed watching the reaction of her peers.

“It was really nice to see how everyone reacted to it,” Dissassa said. “The shock on their face when he talked about having only a little bread and tea for dinner. I enjoyed the learning experience it provided.”

In addition to Zerihune Dissassa’s discussion, three Baker University students shared their own experiences. Senior Kelly Dawar and freshman Shalini Patel spoke about their Indian heritage, and freshman Sheena Wong spoke about her family’s Chinese heritage. Scarbrough said she thought the forum went well and served its purpose.

“It’s to learn about other people, and how you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover,” She said. “If you learn to actually listen to someone, you can learn more about someone else.”