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Client Story: Berra & Banchi

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Couple Encourages Each Other’s Success

Berra dreamed of becoming a doctor when he was a child in rural Ethiopia. Now an adult, seated next to his wife in their newly purchased Minnesota home, he shared the memory of traveling for four hours by horseback to find medical care as a little boy.

Many years and experiences have since passed, but Berra is proud to say that after much courage, perseverance, and support from organizations like the International Institute of Minnesota, he has gone from being a refugee who spoke little English, to working as a registered nurse in a Twin Cities hospital.

“Even though I’m not a doctor, I’m in healthcare. I’m able to help treat patients,” Berra said while enjoying a cup of Ethiopian coffee.

Since being resettled by the Institute in 2001, he has also brought over his wife, Banchi, from Ethiopia. The two share a passion for medical care. Both became clients of the Institute’s Medical Career Advancement program in 2015, receiving scholarships and academic support to pursue their dreams.

“You have to have a support system to go forward,” Berra said. “Challenge is everywhere as a human being. But you have to see the future for yourself, for your kids, for your family. We didn’t do something simple, but we did a lot to get here. It’s worth it I think.”

Beginning Again as New Americans

Berra and Banchi explained that New Americans often start work right away to pay bills and send money to family in their home country. Working low paying jobs is a difficult cycle to break, however.

Berra and Banchi decided they would take turns supporting each other through schooling so they could earn higher education degrees and break that cycle.

Banchi finished high school in Ethiopia and had started nursing school there. Here, though, she needed to start over in the 11th grade and improve her English language skills before attempting nursing school in the United States.

She studied, attended classes, and graduated all while becoming a mother and taking care of a newborn. When she graduated American high school, she was four months pregnant with their second child.

Meanwhile, Berra worked three jobs to support their growing family. He ceaselessly encouraged Banchi to continue her education. Though they struggled financially, they kept their eyes on the future and leaned on each other for support.

“It wasn’t easy,” Banchi said. “But you have to believe things will change one day and work hard for it.”

She was ready to apply for nursing school.

 

Working Toward Their Medical Careers

Returning to the International Institute of Minnesota 14 years after his arrival, Berra knew he, too, was ready to advance his medical career.

He and Banchi enrolled in the Institute’s Medical Career Advancement program for academic and financial guidance.

Pouring coffee

Both worked one-on-one with Institute staff for personalized academic support, at no cost to them, thanks to generous donor support.

Berra and Banchi arranged their daily schedules carefully. If one was at school or work, the other would take care of the kids and study. Sleep was a luxury.

Banchi graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Nursing in 2021, while continuing to grow their family. She also taught the Institute’s online Nursing Assistant Training for aspiring CNAs during the pandemic shutdown.

Berra continued working to support the family while enrolled part-time in an Associate Degree program to become a licensed practical nurse (LPN). He then completed his own Bachelor of Science in Nursing, an honor he graduated with earlier this year.

Their perseverance paid off.

Today, Berra and Banchi are both working as registered nurses in hospitals. They recently bought their first home after years of living in an apartment, including public housing.

“It didn’t come easy, what you see right now,” Berra said, gesturing to their new home.

“Now we are able to provide for our kids, even though we had to work hard without a break,” Banchi said.

“At least we are able to put food on the table for them. To live in a house we purchased almost two years ago. That’s the best part of our family – living the life we’ve been dreaming we’d have.”

What’s more, they love giving back to the community through medicine.

“I’m not working only for money. I’m giving care,” Berra said. “I’m caring for someone who is suffering some kind of pain. Caring for them gives me more than money. It gives me happiness. I am in the right place.”

 

Prioritizing Home and Family

Throughout the many challenges of arriving as refugees, learning English, raising children, and little sleep while working and studying, Institute support and Berra and Banchi’s belief in each other kept them going.

“It takes teamwork. It takes understanding each other and encouragement. And having support,” Banchi said.

Even after years of sacrifice, Berra and Banchi continue envisioning their future. She aspires to become a nurse practitioner. They dream of owning their own business.

For now though, they’re ready to take a break from school to spend more time as a family.

“In this country if you do the right thing, you can be successful,” Berra said. “From the time we got denied jobs because we did not speak very good English, to now. If we can do it, anyone can do it.”


Reported and written by Alisa Blackwood, Communications Manager at the International Institute of Minnesota. Alisa’s work at the Institute comes after years of writing for publications and organizations such as The Associated Press, O, The Oprah Magazine, TravelandLeisure.com, Health and more. She hopes her writing about Institute clients, students and staff bring to life the stories behind the news headlines.

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