Homeland unit secretary Ghidai Woldai: A telling story of survival and friendship

Ghidai Woldai

Ghidai Woldai, Homeland Center CNA and Personal Care unit secretary

Ghidai Woldai has a story to tell. It starts in Eritrea, the East African nation where her father was a governor. Family life was typical – going to church, going to school.

But in the turmoil of a violent government takeover, her father was killed and her mother imprisoned. She and her sister were smuggled through the Sahara Desert by night to reach Italy. There they stayed, stuck for a year while scattered and missing documents were collected.

She was 12 years old.

“My dad always wanted us to get an education,” she says now. “We had a good life, but it all went down the drain at that time.”

From Italy, Ghidai’s path took her to the United States and almost directly to Homeland, where she has built a career in health care, provided support for residents and staff, and found a supportive family. Today, she is a Homeland medication technician and personal care unit secretary.

“I have family here,” she says. “I’m very blessed.”

It’s a journey that dates to 1980. Ghidai and her sister were resettled to the U.S. by the United Nations. They were sponsored by a professor at Messiah College, the Brethren in Christ-associated institution in Grantham, PA. Her sponsor’s sister happened to be director of nursing at Homeland – a stroke of serendipity because Ghidai had always wanted to be a nurse. At home in Africa, her uncle had been a doctor, and she liked working alongside him.

“I just liked Band-aids, I guess,” she says with a laugh. “I don’t know what happened, but that’s what I wanted to be.”

She was 13 years old when she first came to Homeland with her sponsor’s sister. The administrator at the time was the indomitable Isabelle Smith, whose energy and drive laid the groundwork for the reputation of excellence and stability that Homeland carries to this day.

“She raised me like a daughter,” Ghidai says. “She was strong. She’s outspoken. She gave me good advice. I never had any problems here.”

Ghidai became a certified nurses’ assistant and was in charge of the evening shift for 10 years. A back injury waylaid her ability to provide direct care, but she has worked with “wonderful, wonderful nurses” over the years.

Her love for Homeland continues to this day. After Eritrea’s war ended in 1991, Ghidai and her siblings would travel to Africa to visit their mother. Before her mother died in 1998, Ghidai was given three weeks off to travel back to Africa to see her one last time. Once again this summer, Ghidai and family members – including a niece and her children now living in London – will travel to Africa.

She is eager to tell her story to introduce Americans to the struggles and triumphs of Africa.

“God created all of us, but Africa is different,” she says. “People will come and kill you, and nobody will say anything.” Her family didn’t even learn the truth of her father’s fate for two years, while they were led to believe he was in prison.

“All of a sudden, they gave out a list of the people they killed,” she says. Her father was on that list. There were times the family hid in the jungle, at risk of being eaten by wild animals or bitten by “so many snakes.” When they fled, it was by camel – “not very pleasant, but I thank God for what He’s done for us.”

Outside of work, she fills her time with family and friends. Her sister and a brother remain in the area, and they exchange hosting duties every week for dinner after church. Her boyfriend, who owns a business in Maryland, is also from Eritrea, with a tragic story to tell of the father he idolized, who died from a stroke in his early 50s after the government confiscated his extensive holdings.

“So many untold stories,” Ghidai says. “Now, we’re free, and God bless America. We’re happy to be here, and I think the U.S. is an excellent country.”