Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=142485
Story Retrieval Date: 5/18/2013 10:14:01 AM CST
The Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago offers a variety of social services to immigrants in the Chicago area.
The Ethiopian Community Association looks back and plans forward
Thanks to the Ethiopian Community Association of Chicago, 29-year-old Bal Bahal doesn’t live in a bamboo hut in a refugee camp in Nepal anymore.
“The bamboo hut was so small, and it leaked when it rained,” said the Bhutanese refugee. “And there was never any food.”
In 2003, soldiers burned houses in his home village late one night, and Bahal and his family fled Bhutan. They headed for a refugee camp.
With the help of ECAC, Bahal came to the United States in February as a refugee. Soon after arriving, he landed a job in Skokie.
For 25 years, ECAC has assisted thousands like Bahal. Founded in 1984, ECAC settles nearly 3,000 immigrants and refugees annually. While most of the newcomers are from African nations, they also come from Bhutan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Russia, Columbia, Cuba and elsewhere.
ECAC was established to answer a desperate need.
In 1984, an Ethiopian refugee living in Chicago died in a car accident. Distressed that he had no relatives nearby, Ethiopians in the area organized to coordinate his funeral.
The small group has expanded to include services for refugee placement, computer training, health education and outreach, job training, financial literacy and youth development.
While helping others in need, ECAC faces its own challenges.
“Every year, we’re expected to do more and more with less and less,” said Erku Yimer, one of the association’s founders.
Yimer , the group’s tall, soft-spoken executive director, came to the U. S. in 1975 from Ethiopia. He helped establish ECAC after realizing that it was no longer safe to return to his home country. He said that budget cuts are always a concern for the organization’s 15 full-time staff members.
Despite limited budgets, ECAC continues to establish itself as a vital resource for African newcomers.
In 2003, the most recent year for which figures are available, there were 23, 087 African immigrants in Chicago and nearby areas, according to the Institute for Metropolitan Affairs at Roosevelt University. The state’s Bureau of Refugee and Immigrant Services reported that since 2002, nearly 450 Ethiopian refugees have settled in Illinois.
On Saturday, ECAC will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a benefit dinner in Niles. There will be performances and guest speakers. Yimer said that a representative from the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement will attend along with several state officials.
The association will honor its past and plan for the future.
ECAC is working out the final details for a radio program, and is planning to move into a cultural center that will include a child care facility, community home and historical museum. It will move into the new location, in Rogers Park, by the end of the year.
“Our future is tied with the cultural center,” said Yimer. “We have a lot of initiatives that will take off with the center.”