Refugee Employment – Five Years at University Hospitals

By USCRI February 27, 2024

University Hospitals has hired hundreds of USCRI Cleveland’s refugee clients over the years, training them on how to work in the kitchen and on American work culture. While many will move on from the job after a few years to proceed in a career in health care or to go back to school, some call the Food Services department at UH home.  Esperance and Ekyassa are a part of the first cohort of USCRI clients placed with UH and they have just recently celebrated their five-year anniversary on the job.

Everyone at UH calls Ekyassa “Mama”, a term of endearment and respect. With eight children at home, she has certainly earned her nickname. When Mama first came to Cleveland, after 20 years in a camp in Tanzania as a Congolese refugee, she was scared and did not understand any English. Now she is very comfortable in Cleveland, understanding much of the English spoken to her and able to speak a few words herself.

Mama loves the friendly environment at UH. On an average day, Mama puts on her uniform and sometimes stylish sunglasses, she washes dishes, wraps silverware in napkins, and chats with her friends. Mama’s advice to newcomers is to take their work seriously. “Without a job, you cannot live.” Mama plans to remain at UH unless her job is terminated. She loves her work and doesn’t want to have to be the new person at a job again. For her children, Mama is hopeful that they will go to college and complete their education.

Esperance is bubbly, with a beaming smile. Arriving to Cleveland as a 22-year-old woman with no friends or family, the cold weather and learning English were her biggest challenges. Starting at UH as a dishwasher, Esperance now delivers trays of food to the patients. Her favorite part of the job is talking to the patients. She says, “When you see that they feel bad, you can talk to them and make them feel better.” After taking English classes and practicing at work, Esperance is now fluent. Five years later, Esperance has just bought a house in Cleveland.

USCRI Cleveland is grateful to have UH as a strong partner in the resettlement and integration effort. Employers like UH who make the effort to welcome and train newcomers see the benefit of a multicultural workplace every day. We look forward to continuing to work with University Hospitals for many years to come.


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