Tishitaa Tufaa- Entrepreneur, and Oromo Refugee

Mohamed Malim

Hi, my name is Tishitaa Tufaa. I was born and raised in Ethiopia. I came to Minneapolis in 1992. I was a schoolteacher back home for about two years after finishing college in Zimbabwe. After that, I went to graduate school here at the University of Minnesota

The political climate in Ethiopia wasn't very positive at all; it was not a good time. The communist government was overthrown, and they were forming a new government. It was a very difficult time.

I arrived in the United States in my early 20s. Everybody was always very welcoming, so, for me to say I was discriminated against is a little unfair. I can't really say that because I came a very long way from the worst system. But it wasn't easy to get into graduate school. What made it difficult to go into graduate school, I think, was probably my accent, I was told to take graduate-level courses in order for them to be able to see how good I would be in my classes. I think I took three of them or four courses prior to being admitted.

The biggest I obstacle I faced was starting over. I could not go to school. I could not get professional development work. I had to restart everything from the very beginning. I started as a dishwasher for five dollars and sixty-five cents at the Minneapolis Hilton and then after that is when I pursued my graduate education.

I studied International Relations and Politics and government. After I graduated, I worked for the Minneapolis Housing Authority as a Civil Servant. I was at the Minneapolis Public School district for a number of years prior to going into the work that I'm currently perusing.

I always worked two jobs, as a foreigner, as a person who had never had opportunities to grow. I never worked for eight hours and went home. I had two jobs; one driving, one a civil service. I was fired from Minneapolis Schools. I was a Taxi Driver as well. The taxicab also fired me because I was making more money than others.

The tough experiences I went through were teaching moments for me.

In the summer of 2003, I had a very aggressive marketing campaign to do business. I went to school districts and transportation companies to seek services to start this transportation business and many of them actually were making fun of me.

Fortunately, I had a transportation directory in the Osseo school district to who just wanted to pay attention to me. I went to him so many times. In September 2003 they had a job opportunity, and he told his secretary to give me a chance

I was responsible for providing 3 children transportation to school and bring them back. We grew from there, and that's how we got where we are today.

I think the challenge is number one I was a foreigner. Two, I didn't know many people, and they don't trust you because they don't know you. I think it made me to be very cautious and very careful make sure I had little to no mistakes.

As we started the business, the contractor we worked with worked for the state of Minnesota and would actually give us services. We would go around and pick up people and take people to their hospitals and clinic appointments. We didn't have an office space at the time. We worked at my house. 

Success to me is taking advantage of your Time and Opportunities. Take the opportunities available to you without any complaint. I think that is a success. 

I think my biggest accomplishment was to find opportunities to provide the services necessary for customers. That's one thing I have learned. Because our success is to be able to provide services beyond and above other providers so customers choose you over competitors.

What empowered me I think in my past. The challenges that I faced in the past made me stronger. My family comes from a farming background, and we lived in a challenging environment, working 8 plus hours a day.

I do a lot of work in my own Community. I've been a board chairman of the community for about four or five years now. And whatever Services the community and the elders need that I try my best to provide. 

It's jumping don't complain take advantage of the opportunities. Look at your environment as a positive thing. Look at the people who empower you. Surround yourself with people who are better than you.

Recently with the new Ethiopians new prime minister, there's now a consulate office in St. Paul. There is a good channel of communication between the communities here and back home. They were recognizing community members in St. Paul. The Prime Minister was here about a year ago. We were able to host him. It was a complete turn around experience.

I went back to Ethiopians many times. I was actually on a mission trip to provide food and medicine and back in 2017. We went to Remote areas for months. I repeated the same thing last June for one month providing missionary work and delivered goods and services. We were providing food, aid, and medicine. We were mostly in the Eastern regions, near the border of Somalia. 

I think there are brilliant young members of the community who could do anything they set their minds to. So, I want to make sure they get the support they need.

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