Being Eritrean is more than just an identity. For young Eritreans, it is literally a passion for life. Different might be their walks of life, but what young Eritreans feel for their country, no matter where and when, is similar. It is the unexplainable sensation of being young and Eritrean.
At the age of 13 Joel Tesfamichel fully understood the meaning of identity and dignity. His skin color made him a victim of discrimination while growing up in Koln. At school, black kids wouldn’t get the credit they deserve even with straight As. That was when Joel decided to study in Eritrea. He finally felt respected and loved for who he is. Born and raised in Koln, Germany, in 1988, Joel is now fully committed to give back to the society that gave him so much love. For Joel the fact that he didn’t pay for school all the way through college is a debt he’ll never forget. Meet today, one of the millions of young Eritreans who literally live for the country.
- -Why did you come to Eritrea the first time?
I was 13 and a half when I decided to come and study here. I was heavily influenced by the trips I made with my parents to Eritrea when I was young. But that wasn’t all. I discovered that I don’t belong to Germany early. I had to struggle with racism on the streets and the educational system as well. I wasn’t given the credit I worked for just because I was black. With all this, after coming to Eritrea I felt at home. I felt like I was with family everywhere I went. That is why I decided at a young age to come here and study with my people. My parents were very supportive of my idea. Especially since I come from a mother who was a freedom fighter and a father who was a member of the Eritrean Mass Organization that was raising money abroad to support the freedom fighters. It was hard for them at the beginning as they didn’t know how my transfer could work and the fact that they were working in Germany. But they made it work and I came here to continue my studies.
- -You took the matriculation exam in Sawa…
After concluding my high school in Denden Secondary School, I went to Sawa to do my matriculation exams. Sawa has a special place in my heart, honestly. There I had the opportunity of meeting many Eritreans from all over the country, all kinds of ethnic groups and religions. I had the opportunity to learn more about my culture and tradition. There, I saw many people from different backgrounds and lifestyles living in harmony and love. The spirit the students have in Sawa is priceless. It wasn’t without its challenges, but it was worth it. I can certainly say that Sawa has shaped my life in an unexpected way. It completely changed my point of view in life. It made me realize that we have to make efforts to make a change in life. I saw the responsibility every Eritrean has and it made me more connected to my nation.
- -Why psychology?
When I came back in 2002, I saw many people who were injured during the war; people who were going through change and who were in stress. War is something that is heavy to process. So I had a dream to help people in any way I can. I didn’t know if I wanted to get into medicine or psychology but I had the dream to do something to help loosen the burden. However, by the time I was in the 11th grade, I found out that my preference was to psychology. That is why I went with my first choice, and got my degree from the EIT College and did my master’s degree in applied psychology-organizational behavior from the University of Applied Science Fresenius Germany
- -How does the educational standard of Eritrea compare to the European standards?
Well, I have a lot to say about that. I can’t say that I know many countries that provide free education, which makes it easier for the students to only focus on their studies. But in Germany, for instance, I had to work a full time job to pay for my master’s program and study at the same time which made it harder. Also regarding the contents I would say that the education system is excellent. The Eritrean teachers give their best to their students. I haven’t met any Eritrean teacher who only cares about the topics they have to just cover. They are responsible and work hard to get the information to everyone’s’ head. And I appreciate that more than anything. For me, school was easier for me after I went back [to Germany] from here. So I would say that we have a strong system here.
- -You do volunteer at EIT College whenever you can…
During my time in the college I have seen that teachers were overburden between the classes. I have always wanted to help out. So I did my masters research paper in the EIT college. Also I have volunteered to give lectures and help 4th year students with their research papers for the 3rd time now. I am planning to be a regular lecturer for the next semester and teach one or two courses and supervise council session in college and high school as well.
- -Why do you like to volunteer constantly leaving your job?
No one gives free education. I am forever indebted to my country and people. That is why I try to do my best to give back to my society in whatever way I can with what I have learned in Germany and here. And I hope that I can transfer as much as I can to my students.
- -You are currently working as …
I am working as a counselor. The main areas I am working on are intervention and prevention, violence, sexual abuse, assault and group norms that favor delinquencies in schools or other institutions. I work with individuals who are under 27 which most of them are immigrants and students. I try to help them with post traumas they have faced in their lives. Of course I refer them to other fitting therapeutic settings if their situation is beyond my capacity. Also I give workshops about prevention methods that can help them deal with situations that threaten their wellbeing as in some classes intervention is needed to correct the group Norm and help the students overcome the undesired experiences.
- -At a time when many African immigrants are facing mental challenges, what can you say about that?
The majority of the refugees have faced or seen rape, numerous deaths of comrades, torture and other hardships. It is no wonder they suffer traumatic stress disorder. The problem is that the treatment they get in the destination country is limited. That is why the suicide and depression rates are very high among the refugees. When we look at the numbers, eight immigrants out of ten suffer from traumatic events during their journey. One can only imagine how the large number of troubled individuals, who have experienced a life time trauma, are getting to Europe. Especially the female immigrants face rape and sexual assault which result in pregnancy and various STDs including HIV/AIDS. Of course, we shouldn’t forget that the victims are apart from their families and culture which makes it even harder for them. Most of the victims don’t get treated simply because of the lack of resources in the countries.
- -About the women, do they overcome their trauma somehow after the treatment?
Women are the most likely to be victimized by rape, sexual assault and violence. Some of those who endured those kids of experiences make it to Europe with the child of the rapist or some disease. It is quite hard for them to start over their lives. So usually, it is very difficult for them to overcome those experiences. It is hard to overcome trauma alone. It is possible and many have done it but it is hard. So we do our best to guide them through the process to accept the previous events and help them move on.
- –Do you have any future plans in Eritrea?
Yes. Psychology has been a taboo subject in our country. Currently, my friends who are also from EIT college and I are working on a project to establish a psychology institution in Eritrea where people can come for guidance. The main goal will be the youngsters because we believe that currently young people all around the world are the ones who are exposed to stress, and we need to help them be productive.
- -Anything you want to add at last?
Thank you for inviting me on your page; I am thrilled to be here. Again I want to say to my fellow Eritrean brothers and sisters we shouldn’t stop dreaming and seize whatever open opportunity we can find. Our country is still in its baby shoes; hence, there are a lot of things we can influence. What I want to wish for my fellow Eritreans is to see every window as an opportunity and work for change. Also to those who live abroad, share your expertise. I would like to advise them to come here and share their professions with your brothers and sisters. Be a part of the development, I am sure that they can gain a lot more from our society.