Ellen Tadese is not a typical certified nurse assistant (CNA). With a year-long tenure at Manchester Manor, a post-hospital rehabilitation and long term nursing care center in Manchester, Conn., Tadese is among the newest members of the team, but she brings with her years of life experience in difficult and challenging situations.

Fleeing Persecution

Tadese fled as a refugee on March 25, 2006, from Eritrea, a country with about 5 million people located in the Horn of Africa. There, Tadese and her family faced religious persecution. According to Human Rights Watch, the Eritrean government’s human rights record is among the worst in the world.

“I grew up with a beautiful family, and my country was good, but there was a lot of persecution for Christians,” says Tadese. To continue to practice her Christian faith without fear, she decided to leave. Her first stop was Sudan. She then trekked through the Sahara Desert where she remained for three months before journeying through the Mediterranean Sea for five days. Finally, she arrived in Malta.

She would stay for three years in Malta working, and it wasn’t easy. “Over there it’s very difficult,” she says. “It’s a small island, and there are too many refugees.” But after three years, things changed for Tadese when she was given the opportunity to come to the United States. “The U.S. came in, heard my case, and upheld it,” she says. “They paid for my flight, and the flights of my husband and two children.”

Tadese’s seven sisters and one brother are all out of Eritrea. One sister who just left the country is currently living in a refugee camp.

Taking Charge

The next stop for Tadese was Springfield, Mass. She was pregnant at the time, and her third child was born there. A stranger in a new country, Tadese’s personal challenges came to a head when she took action to leave her then abusive husband. “I had no language, no family to help me,” she says.

Tadese took to Google to figure out what to do next. She searched for information on domestic violence and how one should protect oneself. “I looked up what you’re supposed to do if you cannot live with an abusive person,” she says. And so Tadese left to live at a women’s shelter in Hartford, Conn., with her three young children at ages six months, one year, and five years. She stayed there for nine months.

At the women’s shelter, Tadese met more challenges, but this time she found help. “I was working housekeeping at the time, and it was not easy for me to work or do anything because I needed to provide for my kids,” she says. But after securing housing with the shelter, Tadese was able to earn her certificate to be a CNA. She worked in home care for a year before her supervisor suggested she apply at Manchester Manor.

New Support

Working at Manchester Manor has been a game changer for Tadese. “I am not just lucky but blessed to be at Manchester Manor,” says Tadese. “When I started this job it wasn’t really easy, it was very difficult, and they walked me through it, to be what I am now.” In the beginning she was under extreme emotional stress, and management supported her, she says. “I started with time management. I was saying, ‘Maybe I cannot do it,’ but they told me, ‘You can do it. You’re doing good.’ And I said, ‘I’m doing good? I’m so slow,’ and they told me, ‘No, you are a good aide.’” The staff stood by Tadese and were patient with her, she says. This gave her room to grow.

The support from the staff at Manchester Manor continued, says Tadese, especially when it came to day care for her three children.

“My schedule started out being from nine to four,” says Tadese. “Now it starts at seven. I had no family, no friends, and it was difficult. But they have been there for me like a family and a friend.” Tadese recalls coming in almost 20 minutes late during her first month. “They worked with me to get together my baby sitter and day care, and I am just blessed and thank God for this favor from them.”

A Typical Day

On a typical day, Tadese helps eight residents. Like every other CNA, she runs a normal routine of helping residents get up in the morning, getting them dressed, supporting personal hygiene, and helping them start their day. “The best part of my job is to help people in need,” she says. “Everything that they need I do all with my heart.”

Most residents at Manchester Manor would describe her as patient, she says. “People give me compliments, they say, ‘You’re too kind.’ Love is patient so I love people the way that God loves me so I give that to people. And that gives me joy.”

It’s the kind of joy that comes with giving with a full heart, she says. “I ask them, ‘How was your night, did you sleep good? How are you feeling?’ They tell me thank you for asking them. And suddenly we talk, they share with me their life and I share with them mine. They are so grateful that I am just doing my job. And that really makes it a pleasure to be part of their life, and I’m blessed to be a part of theirs.”

Fellow staff have been especially supportive, which has gone a long way toward Tadese’s success, she says. “All staff are very good and kind to me. And with the language barrier, they understand me and are very understanding. They make it very easy for me to fit in.”

What’s Changed

When asked what has changed about her since she fled Eritrea, Tadese doesn’t miss a beat to give an answer. “My view of life,” she says. “I’ve gone through so much, and life is very important to me. I feel different. In every minute there is an opportunity, and I don’t take it for granted.

“Working with older people has helped me to strengthen myself and gain wisdom to know that life is short and live the best of it every moment,” she says.

Seeing life in a different way is based on many things, she says. One of which has to do with facing challenges differently.

“I have to be patient with whatever is around me or comes my way,” she says. “Life is not perfect but it helps to be strong in one’s mind and thinking, to not to give up and not to complain. You make it worse
when you complain in life.”

And for when life brings challenges front and center, dealing with them takes not only patience and a strong mind, but a refocusing on what is really important, she says.

“I am a spiritual person. I distract myself to not focus on the bad and not put my mind on the bad. I deal with what’s in front of me and refocus to start working toward the good,” she says.

A Special Lesson

Tadese has several favorite memories during her year at Manchester Manor, but one stands out in her mind. Two male residents are friends who frequent the common areas of the center together. One day one resident wanted to sit in his preferred chair but didn’t see it behind him. So when his fellow resident sat in the chair he wanted, he noticed it and said, “Don’t touch it, it’s mine.”

“I said, ‘It’s OK, I’ll take care of it,’” says Tadese. “But the resident was insistent about sitting in his preferred chair.”

Soon after, the other resident asked Tadese to help him walk over to the first resident. “And he said, ‘We are buddies. I apologize. We are not going to argue over the chair. We are better than that.’

“And that stayed in my heart,” Tadese says. “The love that they have for each other. He took the time to go there to not hold anything in his heart. It taught me that forgiveness is medicine and healing.” 

Operated by the same family for two generations, Manchester Manor is nationally recognized for its first-rate reputation in delivering outstanding post-hospital rehabilitation and long term nursing care. Manchester Manor is the recipient of the prestigious American Health Care Association/National Center for Assisted Living National Quality Award—Gold and has been recognized as one of the country’s Best Nursing Homes by U.S. News & World Report.

These reflect Manchester Manor’s dedication to quality and a nurturing environment for staff, residents, and their families. Manchester Manor and Arbors of Hop Brook make up Connecticut’s only family-owned Life Plan Retirement Community.