Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Ethiopian Descent student Beemnet Kebede wins grant to help fellow immigrants

Vital Voices Initiative Beemnet Kebede (center), 17, of Silver Spring talks with documentarian Samar Minallah Khan at the ANNpower Vital Voices Leadership Forum last June

Peer mentors, workshops will help inform high-schoolers

By Lindsay Powers, Staff Writer
At Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring, Beemnet Kebede said she has seen that students who had recently immigrated to the United States needed help finding information about topics such as classes, graduation and extracurricular activities.

While she has helped the students who have approached her in the past, Kebede is now able to help her peers with a grant she won from the ANNpower Vital Voices Initiative for the program she developed called “Changing Minds.”

Kebede, 17, of Silver Spring was selected along with 49 other high school junior and senior girls from around the country to attend a forum as part of the initiative where she learned about leadership skills and met with female leaders from around the world. The initiative is a groundbreaking partnership with ANN INC., parent company of Ann Taylor and LOFT, to empower young women across the country to affect global progress and invest in their communities, according to the program’s website.

At the end of the summer forum, each girl was asked to develop her own social change project for her community.

Kebede, a senior at Blair, created “Changing Minds” to pass on school information to students facing language and other cultural barriers through methods such as peer mentorships and workshops to help them know “how to succeed.”

Blair’s Global Cultural Club and Students for a Sustainable Future — of which Kebede is a member and a founder respectively — are involved in the program.

“My school is very diverse, and I thought it was the kind of place to start this kind of project,” she said.

The grant funds of $1,900 will go toward helping the high school’s students in “those make-or-break situations,” Kebede said, such as when they need money for a college application.

Kebede said that while her school is welcoming to students who have immigrated to the United States, they can feel uncomfortable at times in the unfamiliar surroundings.

“The difference is what every immigrant feels,” said Kebede, who moved from Ethiopia to Oklahoma seven years ago and said she at first felt “a little different.”

“I didn’t feel as comfortable to ask questions,” she said.

Kebede, who has leadership roles in several school clubs, said she also wants to involve parents in the program.

“This is my dream come true,” she said.