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Student Story

Student Story: Yonas

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Yonas has always believed in education. He knows it’s central to the life he desires and the best way to impact society. Yonas’ parents instilled in him that belief when he was a child living in Eritrea, Yonas did his homework by candlelight so that he could one day make positive change in the world.

“When I was very young there was electricity scarcity in my country,” Yonas explained. “I was really into helping the community and wanted to solve the problem. My mom would say, ‘OK, If you want to solve the problem, you have to go to school. You have to inspire people.’”

Yonas excelled at school in his East African country. He ranked among near the top of his class and was excited to begin his college career.

Then Yonas was arrested for practicing his religious beliefs.

“Eritrea is a very strict country,” Yonas explained. “There is no freedom of speech, freedom of religion or that type of stuff.” Yonas began an unfathomable, excruciating months-long journey that took him half-way around the world. After six months in prison, he managed to escape and fled to the bordering country of Sudan. From there, Yonas got a flight to Brazil and embarked on a perilous journey north through Central America to the southern border of the United States.

Yonas’ 14,000-mile trek from Brazil to the California border took four months. He recalls many trials: “From Columbia to Panama, we had to stay for five days in the jungle without food or anything. We were without a mattress to sleep on. There were some very sad stories.”

Once Yonas reached the border, he sought and was awarded asylum on the grounds of religious persecution.

After an eight-month stay in a Los Angeles-area detention center, Yonas traveled to Seattle to be with his sister and began his new life. Soon after, a relative told Yonas about Goodwill’s resources. He took the advice, came to Goodwill two years ago and enrolled in classes.

After taking a break to focus on work, Yonas soon returned, and with the help of Goodwill he earned his High School 21+ high school equivalency diploma.

Yonas wanted to attend college, but he didn’t think it was possible given his financial situation. At Goodwill, he met mentors that helped him find ways to access a college education.

“Coming to Goodwill was very helpful,” Yonas said. “When I first came here, they were giving me bus passes and were trying to connect me with jobs. I was able to meet people, and I was inspired to go back to school.”

Yonas began volunteering in Goodwill math classes and was able to enroll at Seattle Central College. He works full time and is one year away from earning his associates degree. Afterward, he plans to transfer to the University of Washington, where he’ll pursue an electrical engineering degree.

“Goodwill I think is doing a very great job, especially for people who are hopeless and don’t see their future,” Yonas said. “They even do all the services for free. I recommend people to reach out to someone at Goodwill.”

Goodwill’s free Job Training and Eduation programs help thousands of student like Yonas get a second chance at continuing their education. Together with donor support, we give people in the community the skills and confidence they need to transform themselves and gain better economic opporunity.

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