Never too Late to Learn: Ibsitu Asbaa's Story

Ibsitu Asbaa cried when she had to leave her school in Ethiopia after only completing 6th grade. "Girls' education wasn't valued,” she explained. “My mother said I was young and could maybe go back to school someday. All I could think was, 'But where? How?'"

But obstacles like that have never kept Ibsitu down for long. A determined problem solver and logical thinker with drive and grit to match her equally gracious and funny personality, Ibsitu never gave up on her goal to finish her education. "I was feeling hungry to read," she said.

When Ibsitu grew up, she married her husband Jamal, an Ethiopian refugee with a compelling story of his own, and they moved to Lancaster County. Jamal was laid off at that time, and Ibsitu began searching for a job.

But there was a problem - Ibsitu didn't speak any English. In 2003, she connected with The Literacy Council of Lancaster-Lebanon and her instructor and tutor, Marcy, who helped her begin working toward accomplishing one of her most important goals - completing her education.

^Ibsitu and her Literacy Council tutor, Marcy

As Ibsitu and Jamal struggled to make ends meet, moving from temporary position to temporary position while also starting a family, Ibsitu continued making connections and improving her ability to speak English. But still, finding her niche in the marketplace was a challenge.

"My first job was at a printing company," she recalled. "I cried when my husband dropped me off before work each day. I could only understand some English words and the loud machines and all the people made it tough."

Ibsitu continued with her education at The Literacy Council, earned her GED and decided she wanted to become a nurse. She tried to apply for CNA positions, but they all asked for two things - a CNA certificate and experience - things Ibsitu didn't have. "At one interview, the woman asked me if I had experience, and I finally said, 'How do I get experience if I don't get a job!?'"

Undeterred despite yet another setback, Ibsitu found her answer at PA CareerLink of Lancaster County, where they helped her to obtain her CNA certificate. "That was an open door," she said.

Armed with the support of her husband Jamal and her friends at The Literacy Council, the love of her four children, a GED and a CNA certificate and a full-time job, Ibsitu took a critical step towards her goal of becoming a nurse - she began taking courses at Harrisburg Area Community College.

"I'm the first of the ladies in my generation to get this education," Ibsitu said.

Ibsitu is described by her friends at The Literacy Council as a beacon of persistence and bravery. Her tutor Marcy has one word to describe Ibsitu - courage. "She keeps getting back on the horse," Marcy said.

Ibsitu and Jamal's story has many more twists and turns and challenges and victories, but Ibsitu herself summed it all up beautifully - "We all need help. It's never too late to learn."