Visit the new AsenaTv Website

Daughter of freedom fighters making life special in America

By BRITTANY PENLAND - McClatchy Newspapers CHARLOTTE, N.C. - As a daughter of freedom fighters from East Africa, Meron Fessehaye understands the importance of independence, she said. Her father, an Eritrean native, volunteered as a medical aide,

By BRITTANY PENLAND – McClatchy Newspapers

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – As a daughter of freedom fighters from East Africa, Meron Fessehaye understands the importance of independence, she said.

Her father, an Eritrean native, volunteered as a medical aide, helping Eritrean wounded during the fight for independence from Ethiopia. Her mother was a refugee in Nairobi, Kenya, after fleeing Eritrea.

The older Meron becomes, the more her parents share with her about the struggles of life as immigrants, she said.
“My father came to America in 1985 with not much money,” said Meron, a senior at Charlotte Latin school. “He came here seeking political asylum.”

Eritrea, located in the Horn of Africa and bordering the Red Sea, is home to about 6 million people. But about 1 million Eritreans are in exile, banished from their homeland, according to the CIA website.

Meron’s parents had an arranged marriage in Africa in 1993 and today live in Charlotte, N.C. Her father works as a taxi driver and her mother stays at home to tend to Meron and her younger sisters.

When Meron considers her daily life and what seems to be a struggle, she admires the strength of her parents, she said.

“Work is work,” Meron said.

As a child, Meron said, her first challenge came in middle school, when she felt she was not reaching her potential. She was often bullied for her culture, she said. Realizing she wanted a new environment, Meron sought out information about Charlotte Latin after hearing about the school from an Eritrean family friend.

“Charlotte Latin was some distant fairy tale in my mind,” she said. “I don’t even think I had been that far down Providence Road before.”

Meron said she understood her family could not afford the school, but she was determined to find scholarship opportunities.

At age 13, all on her own, she sat down at her computer and filled out the enrollment application, occasionally asking her parents questions, such as: “What are your child’s strengths?” Part of the application also required financial aid requests and scholarship essays. She completed these on her own.

Being a self-starter “comes with that immigrant mentality,” she said. “I’ve been independent since Day One, so (financial aid forms) were the least of my worries.”

After an on-site interview, Meron quickly heard back that she was accepted. “It was the happiest day of my life,” she said.

Meron has often felt teachers were among her best friends, because they were willing to listen to her ideas. Now 17, Meron can be found having lunch with teachers in the history department, she said.

“Meron is so excited about the world … and takes every opportunity,” said Jackie Fishman, Meron’s English teacher. “And she has this deep understanding of the essence of life from her family.”

Fishman can relate to the hardships the Fessehaye family has encountered, she said, because she is the daughter of a Holocaust survivor. “We are both children of terror and trauma,” Fishman said. “We’ve always understood each other well.”

Because her parents so value education, Meron said, she rarely leaves home unless it is for a school-related activity. So, she has joined everything she could – cross-country, theater, Odyssey of the Mind, newspaper, choir – and she also was elected student body vice president. She even won homecoming queen.

“I would join everything because I wanted to get out of the house and socialize,” she said. “It also gave me the chance to meet new people.”

One of the more important clubs to her is the Mosaic Club, she said. There, students from a variety of cultures and backgrounds come together to discuss ideas and promote diversity.

“I’m in a very homogeneous community, so people who are different stand out,” Meron said. “So Mosaic Club really became a refuge for me, and it was that place where I felt I could express my emotions.”

Following high school graduation, Meron hopes to attend college at an all-women’s school, then enter the Peace Corps.

“I am the daughter of working-class immigrants. I am who I am because that’s who God made me,” she said. “And if I don’t take pride in who I am, then no one will ever believe me – and that’s how you get far in life.”


Age: 17

Fun fact: To help herself remember material for tests, she says it aloud – in a British accent.

Speaks: English and Tigrinya, the native language of Eritrea.

Role model: “My father … he sacrificed everything for us to come here. … He’s empowered himself by taking any job he can to raise me and my sisters.”

Advice to kids: “Be yourself. Embrace who you are.”

Hopes to major in: Environmental studies. “Being a woman in a third-world country can hinder you, because of societal standards that you have to have babies and not have an education. … That can have an environmental implication.”


Mosaic Club

Its website describes it as “a student-led organization whose mission is to raise awareness of multicultural and multi-ethnic issues on campus and to encourage involvement in school and community activities that afford interaction with varied groups of peers.”

The club focuses on age, disability, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion and gender.

For more information, visit

Review overview
  • hahu22 March 2, 2012

    Selam Meron, I think we know each other from asmarino chat room. Do you mind contacting me?

    • weldu March 2, 2012

      Sorry she is not the one you are looking fara hahu hawey.

  • Semhar March 2, 2012

    Dear Meron,
    Thanks God that you are in America the land of the free the home of the brave.
    Thank you for sharing your history, your hopes and your dreams. I believe that you can turn your dreams into reality.
    Meron, be ware of our #1 enemy the tyrant dictator in Eritrea and his followers the PFDJ. We should help those Eritreans that risked their life, going through the desert seeking freedom. The dictator has destroyed our land, our culture and our people.
    He dissolved our National Liberation Fronts, the ELF in 1982, and the EPLF 1993. He turned our people against one another, and against all our neighbor countries. (Ethiopia, Sudan, Djibouti, Somalia, Yemen and Kenya).
    He killed our heroes, during the revolution; he forced our freedom fighters to flee to Sudan that’s why many of us end up in Europe, USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. After the independence of Eritrea he killed our disabled veterans, jailed the veterans and religious leaders.
    This tyrant dictator must go! This is the moment we must come together to save our land and our people. 

    Let’s learn from USA to liberate our land and our people. 

    Let freedom ring in Eritrea! Just like in the USA.
    Good luck Meron.
    God bless you, Eritrea and USA.

    • Hasab Rebi March 2, 2012

      What a cheap and lousy comments is that? From your comments, I have understood that:
      – You know nothing about the history of the people and land of Eritrea,
      – You are filled with hatered and are illusioned,
      -you are not Eritrean

      Mind you, you can not liberate your country from and by sitting behind a computer.

      • Abnet Tesfai March 2, 2012

        Hasab Rebi
        are you sitting in front of a computer.

      • weldu March 2, 2012

        fesawi emberey terati dea nay sebiay endiyu! fesawi!

        • Abnet Tesfai March 2, 2012

          THANK YOU

  • Piasa March 2, 2012

    what a positive article, assenna please post more article like that in the futuer…it is always great to some positivity to our situation…

    • ahmed saleh March 2, 2012

      Isn’t it nice refreshing article to read ? Typical Eritrean girl with humble and positive
      attitude . God bless her.

  • Andebrhan March 2, 2012

    Good job Meron , I’m really proud of you ,be a leader not tail for others to follow your foot steep .

  • FACT-is-FACT March 3, 2012

    At 17, you are on the very right and correct track, may the Lord continue to guide you as it has all along. Credit also go to your parents for providing all the things that they can: the stable home itself is priceless. That stable home is a Rare commodity that our African people are deprived of and please do not fall to the -fools’ pool that many Eritrean youngsters & even the adults (who acts young & irresponsible) have fallen & swallowed in- . You are doing great thus far!

    Excellent individual efforts on your part. As an addis ababan from Eritrean parents, my advice:
    (a) Never forget who you are and where you came from.
    (b) Speaking & writing Tigrina is part of part (a) that you should proudly exercise.
    Many of us have never had the TiGrina schooling but fluently speaks & write TiGrina. Reason? Our parents proudly shaped, molded us and taught us the beautiful culture…

    It is Tragic when we discovered here in America that Many Asmara breeds cannot even write one page of meaningful and beautiful TiGrNa . ሓዲግ መዲግ ኣይ ካብ እንግሊሽ ጥልያን ትግርኛ! – so be carry on sister! ኮታ ቡቛል እቲ ሓቀኛ ታሪኽን ክውንነትን ዝውንን ግን ንግዚኡ ብእከያት ዝቕጥቀጥ ዘሎ ህዝቢ ኢኪ’ኮ !

  • Selam N March 3, 2012

    You are lucky Meron. Wish you success in your efforts.

  • Mohamed March 3, 2012


    The future of Eritrea and its young depends on how fast we can get rid of the dictator and his brutal regime.
    Where there is no freedom life and its hardships are unbearable, that is why hundreds of our young are risking their life to look for a better future somewhere else.
    Listen to people like Semhar and understand well what is happening in our country.
    Good luck.

  • Daniel February 24, 2013

    Thanks for your story I used your pic for my scolars event, we are trying to bring eritreans together and collab the mission is love.

  • Daniel February 24, 2013

    Out respect I decided not to use your picture as permissio was not given from you…