Kyrgyzstan Refugee Helps Welcome Newcomers to Erie

Anna Tischenko loved her tight-knit community in Kyrgyzstan and dreamed of living near her parents. Anna grew up nonreligious, but after marrying a Baptist Christian—a religious minority—she saw a different side of her country. When her husband was younger, he didn’t feel safe walking alone because gangs and corrupt police officers targeted him and his siblings for their faith. As an adult, he worked for a time in construction, but hiring bosses often shortchanged him or failed to pay him at all, aware that he had little protection. Every time his mother gave birth, the doctors and nurses berated her for not using contraception – something her religion prohibited. Anna knew life would be intolerable for her children if they stayed.

In 2004, the family resettled as refugees in Erie. The experience was like night and day. On their third day, Anna’s husband was offered a job at a local manufacturing plant, and neighbors who worked there offered to drive him every day. The company trained him to become a computer numerical controlled (CNC) machinist, helping him advance from an entry-level machine operator to a machinist who tests and programs computer-driven machines to manufacture intricate parts. In fact, many local manufacturing companies rely heavily on refugees for labor. “Refugees reliably show up to work every day,” Anna says. “Employers can count on them.”

“Erie has given me so much, including my dream of living close to family.”

Anna became a volunteer interpreter at the Multicultural Community Resource Center. Then, her career took off. She was hired part-time, but quickly rose to full-time social worker, program manager and then director of refugee support services. Today, she’s a case manager at Multicultural Health Evaluation Delivery System, where she helps new refugees navigate the medical system.

Anna credits Erie’s welcoming culture and accessible services for her family’s success. “Erie offers social services that help refugees at every stage of their journey, from helping them find housing and employment, to helping them truly integrate into the community long term,” she said. The resource centers that refuges rely on, such as the International Institute of Erie, Multicultural Community Resource Center, Catholic Charities, welfare office, health department and even Wal-Mart, are within walking distance of each other. Anna says that’s important for newcomers who may not own a car when they first arrive.

Today, Anna and her husband are U.S. citizens and homeowners on Erie’s East side. They are proud parents to two daughters, one of whom plans to enroll as a premed college student in the fall. In 2012, Anna was able to bring her parents to Erie and buy them a house next to her in-laws’ home. “Erie has given me so much,” she says, “including my dream of living close to family.”

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