When five-year-old Selam transferred to an elite Catholic school in the middle of her first-grade year, she found herself on the outside looking in.  Her new classmates had attended school together since pre-school.  They already had forged friendships and friend groups, and Selam didn’t fit in with them.
Selam studied the friend groups.  She found one with funny and smart girls, but try as she might, she couldn’t get them to notice her.  Weeks went by, and her loneliness grew.  Finally, one day, she went to her older sister at lunch and asked her what to do.
“My sister was in third grade, and she went right up to the girls and told them to be my friend—and they did.  Third graders had a lot of power back then!” Selam said, laughing wistfully.
Dr. Tsion Firew was one of the first graders in that group.  She, Selam, and one other friend earned the top three honors in every grade for the next ten years, rotating each year who finished number one in the very competitive school.  They also oscillated from being teachers’ pets to troublemakers, depending on the day and the teacher.
Nothing could come between these friends, not even the ocean that separated them after Tsion’s family moved to the United States in high school.  They didn’t see each other for eight years, but then Selam came to New York for an internship. 
“It felt like we were finishing a conversation from the night before,” Tsion said.  “We stayed up all night talking and exploring the city.”
Selam credits Tsion for keeping their friendship together.  “She puts as much effort into her friendships as she does into her work.”

To give you a sense of what that means, Tsion’s work includes being an associate professor at Columbia Medical School, a practicing ER doctor at their university AND an advisor for the Ministry of Health in Ethiopia, requiring frequent trips to her native country.  Despite this schedule, Tsion generously agreed to also serve on our Board of Trustees when Selam reached out to her on our behalf three years ago.
About Selam, Tsion says, “Selam was made to be a leader.  She’s always been super-smart and a friend you can look up to.  She had this confidence her mom built in her for being a woman and a leader.”

Dr. Tsion Firew and director Selam Terefe

Next week, I will be with Selam in Africa, where we have been given a unique opportunity to expand, in part because of Selam’s leadership.  This past week, she was in New York City, attending the annual conference for the United Nations’ Commission on the Status of Women and spending time with Tsion, the friend her sister made for her 30 years ago.

May we all put as much effort into our friendships as we do our work!

Two are better than one:  They get a good wage for their toil.  If the one falls, the other will help the fallen one.  But woe to the solitary person!  If that one should fall, there is no other to help.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-10

Mike Tenbusch, IntSam President

Mike joined IntSam in 2018 after two decades of leading social change in his hometown of Detroit, Michigan. He’s a University of Michigan Law grad and author of The Jonathan Effect: Helping Kids and Schools Win the Battle Against Poverty. He and his wife, Maritza, have three children who keep them young.

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