UCR Senior Seeks Help in Bringing Sister from Ethiopia to U.S. for Medical Treatment

Aiding paralyzed older sister in getting surgery and rehabilitation is the latest challenge for Ethiopian-native who has overcome multiple hurdles

Serkadis Krohm

UCR senior Serkadis Krohm.

RIVERSIDE, Calif (www.ucr.edu) – Senior psychology major Serkadis Krohm’s life is similar to many of her peers here at UC Riverside. Set to graduate in the spring of 2012, she is carrying 12 units, working a part-time job, and volunteering in the community with the Child Leader Project.

That’s where the similarities end, however. She also is working to get her injured older sister Selam from their native Ethiopia to the United States for treatment of injuries suffered in a bus accident in Turkey in August. Serkadis found out about the accident while she was in India with the Child Leader Project and flew to Lebanon to pick up her sister, Mimi. The two then flew to Turkey, where they cared for their sister for a month before she was discharged and sent back to Ethiopia.

Selam, who served as a mother figure to her four sisters, is paralyzed and needs surgery to restore bladder and bowel control as well as physical therapy. Middle sister Mimi is currently serving as caregiver for Selam, who faces a challenging life in Ethiopia, where paralysis is seen as a curse from the devil. Ethiopian officials have approved a medical visa for Selam, but Serkadis must prove she can support her sister.

“We are seeking any kind of assistance to bring my sister to the U.S. for treatment,” she said.

By mobilizing her network of contacts – including UCR Psychology Professor and Guardian Scholars founder Tuppett Yates, Child Leader Program director Samantha Wilson, and Vista Del Lago High School (Moreno Valley) Principal Gil Oceguera, and by telling her story to a variety of audiences, Serkadis has raised over $8,000 for the “Selam Fund.”

Sharing the story has been challenging for Serkadis, who calls herself a very private person. “This is my first time ever going out and talking like this,” she said. “I am doing it for my sister.”

She seeks donations and free or inexpensive medical, rehabilitation and legal services as well as wheelchair accessible housing. Even the logistics of the 16-hour flight for Selam and Mimi from Ethiopia to the U.S. are daunting.

“I wish I could be there, but I am a better resource here,” Serkadis said. “Selam is thinking of the possibilities of coming here. She has her hopes up. I don’t want her to be crushed if it doesn’t happen.”

This challenge is just the latest in a life-long series of events that Krohm has overcome. One of five sisters, she was orphaned at the age of 9. Serkadis and youngest sister Samrawit were adopted by an Inland Empire family when Serkadis was 11. The adoptive family was abusive, leading to the sisters’ removal into the foster care system. Undaunted by these challenges, or the fact that she spoke no English upon arriving in the U.S., Serkadis excelled both academically and athletically at Vista Del Lago H.S., earning Student of the Year and Athlete of the Year honors as a senior.

Serkadis came to UC Riverside and became a part of the Guardian Scholars Program, which provides financial aid and resources to young people who have been emancipated from the foster care system. Interested in a career in social work, she became involved with the Child Leadership Project at UCR. When funds were needed to help take eight students from Norte Vista H.S. to India, Serkadis pulled together a 5K fundraiser in just over a month, raising a total of $4,000. For her efforts, she was honored in late September by the Citizens’ University Committee, where many in the crowd were moved to tears by the story of her and her family’s hardships.

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