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Program director of migration was once an asylee himself

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In his native Ethiopia, Belayneh Loppisso was used to being on the other side of the table. For years he worked with local governments and non-governmental organizations to help people, whether it be preparing for disasters or resolving conflicts. During the Ethiopian-Eritrean War in the early 2000s, he helped resettle those who had lost their property or whose family members had died. 

In 2004, Loppisso himself applied for political asylum while visiting his brother-in-law in the United States.  (Refugees apply for refuge while outside of the country they wish to emigrate to; asylees apply while within that country.)

After he was granted asylum several months later, Loppisso was given the names of two resettlement agencies to call. He assumed he would go to the organization that served Ethiopians. But Catholic Charities answered his call on the first try. They helped him get his driver’s license and learn how to apply for jobs. 

Starting out, he worked at Target, then as a security guard — jobs with which he had little experience. “It was a frustrating moment for me who had been doing office work, but I also understood that to bring my family and to survive here, I had to work. Making that balance was really difficult,” he said. To afford an apartment, he worked two jobs. “I was sleeping three hours per day running between (them),” he said.

After a year, his wife and two children were able to join him in the United States. He brought his children to Catholic Charities to enroll them in programs for refugee children. His wife started English lessons. “All of us were clients,” he said. 

In 2006, diocesan Catholic Charities was looking for a part-time case manager, specifically someone who spoke Amharic to work with other incoming Ethiopians. Loppisso applied and has worked there ever since.   

Now Loppisso, who attends McLean Bible Church, is the program director of Migration and Refugee Services. “It means a lot,” he said. “Every day I see myself and my family in this office. When I meet a client, it’s easy just to share your experience. It might be hard for a few months, (but) then you’ll find out the way you can survive here. 

“It looks like a small office, but it's really changing the lives of a lot of people,” said Loppisso. Every year, they serve 600 new refugees, and hundreds more who have been in the United States for a while.

“When I see refugee children, I always remember my kids. If I see someone who’s struggling with the language, it reminds me of my wife,” he said. “It gives me energy every day. And really, it’s a pleasure.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017