Lemlem Yohannes was born in Massawa, Eritrea along with her two brothers and one sister. She was born in 1968, and until she was able to flee to America she grew up in a hostile atmosphere of civil, religious, and political wars. With the constant chaos of warfare and the threat of low-income rates, it can often be extremely difficult for a young child in Eritrea to complete their education.
Therefore, at the age of fourteen years old, Lemlem was forced to drop out of school and begin working as a teacher. She focused on teaching the children Tigrinya, one of the native languages of Eritrea. Lemlem also developed a love for mathematics, and helped teach that to children as well. Before she left school and began her teaching career, Lemlem met her husband, an Ethiopian man named Teferi. They now have two children together, a son and a daughter.
Soon after marrying her husband, Lemlem was forced to flee her home country of Eritrea for Ethiopia.
She recalls, “there is no peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia. It is not good that my husband is Ethiopian and I’m Eritrean.”
Marriages between Eritreans and Ethiopians are often frowned upon because of the violent tension between the two countries. As Lemlem crossed into Ethiopia with her two children in order to be with her husband, she risked her life because of the strict border patrols between the neighboring countries.
Once she had safely arrived in Ethiopia, Lemlem and her husband were placed in a refugee camp. They were told that they would soon be brought to America. Lemlem remembers, “there was no work and no freedom because the governmental relationship between Ethiopia and Eritrea is not good.” Inside the camp, people were no longer able to do all of the daily routines or traditions that they were once accustomed to, such as working and going to school. Having been a kindergarten teacher for over twenty years prior to moving to Ethiopia, it was quite a difficult transition for Lemlem to the very limited job availability inside the camp. Luckily, she was able to help teach the young children who were also refugees.
Finally, after four years of waiting and not knowing, Lemlem, her husband, and her two children were resettled to the United States in October 2012. She remembers the final step before being allowed to enter the country was a very intense interview by the Central Intelligence Agency. Since only arriving four months ago, Lemlem is still learning her way around Rhode Island and about American culture. She came directly to Rhode Island because she heard about Dorcas International Institute of Rhode Island. She is very thankful for Dorcas International because they have provided her with a house, clothes, and English as a Second Language classes.
Her goals in America are to, “study English and teach kindergarten because it is my field.”
Although Lemlem is still adjusting to life in Rhode Island, she is very happy here. She is content in knowing that her children are receiving a good education and learning step-by-step. Also, going to the local church makes her happy. She has been to downtown Providence once and thinks it is very different than the life she once knew. Lemlem hopes that she will one day be able to explore more of this wonderful state.
Her husband Terefi, who is from Ethiopia, works at Falvey Linen Supply and can speak English and Arabic. Lemlem is happy to work anywhere and is thankful for her husband’s help during this transitional time. Overall, she says that the United States and the city of Providence make her happy because there is freedom, unlike the places she has experienced for most of her life.
Written and compiled by Katie Baker, Liz Mcqueeny, and Brannon Walker-Hodges