In Eritrea, Tahaguas Abraha was the oldest of four children. After her father escaped to another county, her mother would be taken for questioning for hours and sometimes days or weeks at a time, leaving Abraha responsible for her three younger siblings.
She knew she wanted more and better for herself, but the only way to do that, she said, was to escape.
Abraha ended up at the Mai-Aini refugee camp in Ethiopia when she was 12. She lived in a section with several other girls who arrived unaccompanied and underage. She lived there for six years, sharing a tent with eight other girls, before she got the chance to resettle in the United States along with her uncle, aunt and three cousins, who were at the same camp.
About three years ago, the family of six arrived in Austin as refugees bringing very little with them. Today, they live in a small apartment near the Mueller neighborhood. Abraha, 20, is now a University of Texas freshman studying nursing.
The Abraha family is part of the Statesman’s Season for Caring program, which helps hundreds of families each year through local nonprofit agencies. The Abraha family was nominated by Interfaith Action of Central Texas, which brings the faith community together to help refugees.
The Abrahas have received some items from their Amazon wish list, but many of their biggest needs still remain.
Read more:Tahaguas Abraha: UT nursing student left home in Africa for better education
While she was able to come to the United States, Abraha’s younger brother Sergealem, who is now 17, remains in the camp.
Just months before Abraha left the Mai-Aini refugee camp, her brother found his way to the camp after escaping Eritrea. She said she tried to get him included in the family’s resettlement, but the process was too far along for him to be added.
They had to leave without him, and she has been working since to get him resettled with their family in Austin, but she has been unsuccessful.
Now, she is looking for help through an immigration attorney or refugee resettlement group to bring her brother here. Her uncle and aunt are also trying to help, but they cannot afford the cost of an attorney.
“I feel responsible for my brother,” Abraha said. “He is only 17 and living there all alone, and I know that life. I remember that life. And I can’t call him or communicate with him. It’s been hard, and I hope someone can help us.”
Abraha has always felt a responsibility to her family and other refugees, especially minors, who are looking for a better life.
Ways to help:P. Terry’s to donate all profits on Saturday to Season for Caring
When she was young and taking care of her siblings, she would make meals, give them baths and keep an eye on them, making it hard to focus on herself and her education.
“I could go to school, but I couldn’t really focus because I had a lot responsibility at home,” Abraha said. “I would just keep thinking about them instead of my schoolwork. I was just so young.”
In the refugee camp, Abraha was a member of a camp parliament, where she advocated better opportunities, including resettlement and education for underage children crossing the border.
Until 2013, Abraha said, there were no advocates for children younger than 18 years old or anyone pushing for resettlement or educational opportunities for them. So, she said, the parliament — a group of about 20 — centered their focus on those opportunities so that all the children have a path forward to a better life. In the sixth grade, she served as secretary, and after a year she was elected chairwoman.
At first, the program would require the child to have parents to go with them to resettle in other countries, such as the U.S. and Canada. But, Abraha said, as a parliament they fought that rule, and soon after the program started offering resettlement to underage children without parents.
Season for Caring:Austin without a car a struggle for families in search of better jobs, places to live
“Most of those that were underage were without their parents,” Abraha said. “And the goal is to get them resettled, even if it is alone, because we don’t just deserve a better life but also a bright future.”
The Abraha family also needs a seven-person vehicle; a car seat; help with tuition or housing for Abraha; programs to get a certified nursing assistant credential and a commercial driver’s license for her aunt and uncle; bedding; pots and pans; and gift cards to H-E-B.
To find out more about the Abraha family or to give an item on their wish list, contact Interfaith Action of Central Texas, 512-386-9145, interfaithtexas.org.
Give now:How your Season for Caring donations can help this year
Donate to Statesman Season for Caring
Now through Christmas, the Sheth family is matching up to $500,000 in donations. On Saturday, all P. Terry’s and Taco Ranch locations will donate that day’s profits to the program.
Find out more about Season for Caring, read the stories of the featured families and make a donation at statesman.com/seasonforcaring. You also can find a coupon to mail in a donation on Page 2B.