Ancestry. Possibility. Purpose.

A presentation delivered at the National Council of Eritrean American Conference.  See the accompanying visuals (powerpoint) here.

Most of you know me as Salina one of the EriAm Sisters – I have been singing with my sisters for over 10 years but today I want to speak to you as a young Eritrean woman who has been trying to reconcile a powerful history with a burning desire to shape a new future.

I want to share some of the work I am currently doing but also the key pieces that have helped shape my philosophy towards living a purpose driven life.


Let me start with the beginning – my ancestry – my father –  like any Eritrean in 1977 grew up in meda (the field). He joined the Eritrean Liberation Front (ELF) when he was 13 years old and graduated from MeriH at age 17, before the end of ELF in 1981 he was a musician and a teacher before entering Sudan as a refugee. Fast forward to today, he’s a Boeing engineer in the United States. My mother hates to be in pictures but I snuck in one anyway – she was one of the many Eritreans living in Ethiopia during the war living through the Derg and Red Terror – another vital piece of our history.

As you know, our parents if they are able and willing to talk about their stories and when we are patient enough to listen – are filled with incredibly, powerful stories of pain, purpose, and resilience. Just as our parents’ stories are in every fibre of their being, these stories also run through my blood.

And though I mention my parents, I often think about how it goes way beyond our parents – we have an ancestral legacy, hundreds and thousands of years of our peoples, our family, working in community, facing adversity, whether it was colonialism by the Italian, British, or Ethiopia – I don’t want to forget that legacy.


We are the first generation in a thousand year chain, to cross the Atlantic ocean and settle in this country – the land of possibility and opportunity – and when you live at the pinnacle of possibility and freedom , it can be difficult to filter through all the choices you have, all the ways you can live your life, and be able to focus clearly on what impact you want to have. To ask yourself, What will be my legacy? How do I want to show up for my community? These are the key questions that are on my brain as I seek to find my…


I tried many things as I stumbled around:

  • I spent 10+ years of my life singing in a group which gave me the incredible opportunity to travel back home, connect with young Eritreans and experience the transformative power of music.
  • I went to the University of Washington and double-majored in Economics and Environmental Science.
  • My interest in the international sphere led me to join an international students association, a global non-profit run by students. This experience awakened me to the reality that being young doesn’t always mean sitting back, learning and waiting for your turn – it means being proactive and taking action now.
  • And so, I travelled the world and after years of working with the organisation I mustered the courage to run for President of IFSA to put my strategic leadership skills and vision for inclusivity to use.


Yet all of these activities left me with questions…there remained a clear disconnect between my desire to support my country and the work I was doing. The unanswered question “how can I be of help?” I knew that it was time to combine my experience and expertise with my identity. This led to the birth of my research project in Eritrea, an explorative case study of whether mining, a historically exploitative industry, could lead to positive sustainable development objectives in Eritrea. And the start of what will be a life-long journey.

It is this research and preliminary outcomes that I present in this video and will share in future blog posts.

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