Chancellor's Friday Letters

From Africa — a gem

From Africa — a gem

October 7, 2011

Dear Friends,

If I learned anything from participating in a television show about UCR last May, it was that so many of our students, staff and faculty face – and overcome – stunningly complex and difficult issues in their lives.

I ask you to consider the riveting story of one of our current students, Serkadis Krohm.

I know that you will be inspired and saddened.

I suspect you will be angered and horrified.

I hope that you are also in a position to help.

This is a story of loss, abandonment and abuse.  It’s a story of separation, injury and death.  But it’s also a story of excellence and of giving to those even less fortunate.

This is a story of the power of one.

Serkadis Krohm is a person of impact and aspiration, of determination and persistence, of giving beyond self despite burdens and obstacles that are more than anyone should have to endure … particularly at age 22.

Serkadis is a graduating senior in psychology at UCR.

Serkadis’ single mother worked long hours to put food on the table, so her older sister Selam was the one who raised her.

When Serkadis was nine and her younger sister, Samrawit, was five, her mother died leaving her five daughters behind.  Despite her mother’s dying request that her children stay together, the three oldest were turned out onto the streets, and Serkadis and her youngest sister were placed in an orphanage in her birth-country, Ethiopia.

They were both delighted when an American family adopted them 2.5 years later.

Their delight was short-lived.

Her adopted mother and her daughter abused them, neglected them, and refused to put them in school. They made racist comments and forced them to sit in the house in one position for hours at a time. Sometimes they were left alone for long periods without food.

Child Protective Services intervened and placed both youngsters into foster care, and as is often the case they moved around frequently and were separated.  To make matters worse, Serkadis didn’t have any contact with her sisters in Ethiopia.

Despite all the instabilities and difficulties, Serkadis managed to get excellent grades in school. When she graduated from Vista Del Lago High School in Moreno Valley, the gifted runner was named both student of the year and athlete of the year.

She came to UCR through Guardian Scholars, an inspiring program that assists and supports youth emancipated from the foster care system to obtain access to UCR.  In addition to her studies and running track her freshman year, Serkadis found her calling through UCR’s Child Leader Project, a student-run leadership organization that, among other things, works in Riverside and the slums of India to promote enterprise, education and hope.

In 2007, she found the sisters who had remained in Ethiopia and discovered that her eldest sister had passed away.

And just in August of this year, Serkadis saw a picture of Selam, the sister who raised her, on Facebook. She was lying unconscious in a hospital bed… Selam was involved in a terrible car accident and was in critical condition.

Immediately, Serkadis went to Turkey to care for Selam, and re-united with her sister Mimi whom she hadn’t seen in 11 years.

The sisters stayed by Selam’s side day in and day out for a month … sleeping in the hospital.  When Selam stabilized, Serkadis contacted a support network, including her UCR professor, high school principal, mentor, and friends in the US.

Selam is likely to die or suffer interminably as a paralyzed female in Ethiopia.  The physicians who have examined Selam agree that she requires treatment outside of Ethiopia. In addition, in Ethiopian culture people with injuries are perceived as cursed and are shunned.  So the outlook for her sister is grim.

As I write this letter, many folks are trying to arrange for Selam to join Serkadis and her youngest sister in the United States because she urgently needs surgery and prolonged therapy to restore bowel and bladder control. These procedures are otherwise unavailable to her.

UCR’s Citizen University Committee honored Serkadis last week for her outstanding service to the community. Serkadis was moved to tears and shared the sense of hope and helplessness that she and her sister feel: “We have been hurdling obstacles our entire lives and just when we thought we were getting a break, this happened. I understand life is not always fair but it seems it has been especially unfair to us.”


Please let me know if you can help and I’ll connect you to Serkadis.  Or I invite you to connect directly to a fundraising and informational blog: http://www.selamfund.blogspot.com.



Tim White, Chancellor

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Boost for the School of Medicine
A word of thanks to our friends at Desert Healthcare District in the Coachella Valley. The investment of a $5-million grant over five years to the UCR School of Medicine will help expand access to primary care and help the school build its medical education platform in the Coachella Valley.

Travel by spaceship if you like
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President honors UCR seismologist
Elizabeth Cochran turned hundreds of laptops into round-the-clock earthquake monitors. Now, she has received the nation’s highest honor for scientists and engineers in the early stages of their independent research careers—the Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. She is one of 94 people nationwide to receive the honor.

What else is happening on campus?  View: http://www.ucr.edu/happenings/

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