"My Kids Have a Future"
By Julie Riddle
Bietlehem Fantahon wanted to complete her schooling, but she had no family or other support in her home country of Ethiopia. "I wanted to work," she says, "but nobody gave me a chance because I didn't finish school. So I got out."
Fantahon, then 19, lived in Sudan for a year, then traveled for six days across the Sahara in a small truck loaded with 35 people, arriving in Libya. When fighting erupted there, she relocated to Egypt. Finally, after five years as a refugee, Fantahon landed in Spokane in 2014 through the assistance of World Relief.
Just after graduating from Whitworth, Brent Hendricks '06 worked as a refugee resettlement caseworker at World Relief. "It threw me into the deep end of understanding what the refugee experience is like," he says, "and left me wanting to do more."
Brent, a theology major, and his wife Amy (Johnson) '09, a sociology major, founded the nonprofit Global Neighborhood in 2007. "We didn't have a lot of specific plans," Brent says, "just a desire to provide ongoing support and to be driven by the needs of the community we were serving."
The couple soon discovered that what many former refugees needed most were jobs. "The very experience of being a refugee means you don't have stability and security," Brent says, "and that's where things start to break down."
In response, Brent and Amy opened Global Neighborhood Thrift in 2011. Since then they have provided job training to 128 former refugees from 30 countries and have hired 38 permanent employees.