Sophomore Muluberhan Bahre is a fixture around campus. Known as “Mulu,” you’ve probably seen him around campus running with the Cross Country team or playing soccer, working as a Resident Assistant (RA) or with the Black Student Union. While a Californian can often seem exotic on this campus, Mulu hails from Eritrea in East Africa. Once I asked Mulu if he was happy here at St. Mary’s. “I am very satisfied,” he said, “I don’t know anything better than this. All I know is something worse. This is everything to me.”
Bahre and his family of nine brothers and sisters grew up in a village in Eritrea until 2005, when political pressure from the dictatorial government forced Bahre, his mother, and a younger sister to migrate to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. For five years, from the ages of 12 to 17, Bahre lived in this camp in the desert. Almost every day was hotter than 90 degrees, their food was rationed, and there was no cold water; survival was the only priority, and even this was not guaranteed.
When I asked Bahre what life in this camp was like, his ever-present optimism shone through. “I shouldn’t really complain because none of my family died,” he said, then after a pause, “but it was horrible. You have no hopes there. You just live and wait for someone to give you something to eat. Everything we had was given to us, we were not working, and when you’re in that position, always dependent on someone else just to survive, it really hurts you.”
In 2010, after extensive interviews and medical examinations, the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) elected Bahre and his family for refuge in the United States. “We got to come to America for a better chance,” he said. “They clearly saw that our situation was related to political issues, we had no opportunity to live peacefully in our country within the system. They saw we deserved a better life.”
For Bahre, leaving the camp and coming to America brought about mixed feelings. “I was excited but I was very scared,” he said, “A new environment where I don’t know anyone, and I was leaving my brothers behind. It was sad to leave, and landing here, I felt fear. But it was fear mixed with excitement.”
Bahre and his family moved in Baltimore, where he started public school as a sophomore. During his senior year, Bahre heard some fellow students discussing St. Mary’s College of Maryland, and on a whim, he decided to apply. After he was accepted, he committed to St. Mary’s before even visiting. Bahre said that something about the community that St. Mary’s fosters really spoke to him.
“I have emotional attachment to the idea of community,” Bahre said. “Back home in Eritrea, the government would come to my village and take advantage of people just to make money, they cared more about themselves than about the community. So now, here, the environment of caring not only for myself but for others, for the community, I like that. I like being involved.”
Bahre is a Biology major, aspiring to a career as a doctor. “The aim is always to help people,” Bahre said. “I want to help people who are in the position I was in. A lot of Eritreans migrate, and some are dying during the journey. Or they are put in prison for nothing, or live in refugee camps. It breaks my heart. I can’t go back to my country until the government changes. But at some point I will be helping people.”