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Sintayehu, Elsabeth and Kasanesh Dohrmann

Making the journey from Ethiopia's capital city, Addis Ababa, to Motlow College in Lynchburg, Tennessee is quite extraordinary; as are the young women who experienced the trip. A little over six years ago, Clark and Rachel Dohrmann of Tullahoma adopted four little girls from Ethiopia. Three of the sisters, Sintayehu, Elsabeth and Kasanesh are now students at Motlow College and the fourth, Yeshie, attends another Tennessee college.

The Dorhmann Sisters

The girls, who were all near the age of 13, at the time of the adoption, lived together in a group home in Ethiopia. Each had been sent there when their mothers passed away. There were spaces for 12 children in the group home and as they were adopted, others filled their spot. Over the years they watched their 'brothers and sisters' get adopted and move to America and even though that was their dream, they knew they were nearing the age deadline for being adopted by U.S. adoption laws.

When the Dohrmanns adopted the girls and brought them to their home in Albuquerque, New Mexico, America looked just as the girls had imagined with lots of concrete and big buildings. The language barrier was a huge challenge for the new family. The teenage girls were unfamiliar with English and their new parents and siblings had had no exposure to their native language, Amharic.

In less than a year the Dohrmann family moved to Tullahoma to be closer to other family members. The greenery of Middle Tennessee reminded the girls of their homeland; which they describe as being tropical with an abundance of fruit. The four sisters were enrolled in West Middle School to complete the eighth grade.

For the next four years at Tullahoma High School, the girls embraced their new lives as Americans. Elsa, the most outgoing of the siblings, was chosen by her classmates as a Homecoming attendant, elected senior class president and named Miss Tullahoma High School. She and sister Yeshie were members of the school's track team.

After high school, Elsa and sisters Sintayehu and Kasanesh decided to attend Motlow College. Their reasons for doing so are similar to those given by many Motlow students. Sintayehu says she knew she would still need one-on-one help and felt she could get it at a smaller college. Elsa and Kasanesh felt it was a great opportunity to have a college so close to home to complete their first two years of studies.

The Dohrmann sisters have chosen very different career paths and each one is working toward her individual goal. They attend Motlow with only the Tennessee Lottery HOPE scholarship for financial assistance, as do many incoming freshmen. All of the girls also have jobs to help with expenses.

Kasanesh plans to be a dental assistant. She is completing her core classes at Motlow for an associate's degree and has already completed the dental assisting program at Tennessee Technology Center at Shelbyville. She is currently observing and working in a local dental office.

Sintayehu enjoys working with the adult mentally challenged and is considering a nursing career. She plans to complete four years of college. Along with her sister Elsa, she has been working at Skills Development Center in Tullahoma and said it is more like helping family members than a job.

After graduating from Motlow, Elsa plans to transfer to a university to either complete a degree in education or social work. She said, "For the immediate future I want to participate in the International Study program at Motlow to have the opportunity to learn different cultures and travel."

Elsa shared an analogy of their experiences prior to attending Motlow College, "Before I started and I think of college, I think of a really heavy rock. I used to say to myself, I don't know if I can do that." She explained, "When we lived in Ethiopia where we used to make a joke about the big university [Addis Ababa University, with over 50,000 students]. We used to say we can never go there, if we threw a rock, it wouldn't even land there."

She concluded, "That's changed! After completing Motlow, we believe we could go to that university if wanted to. We have total confidence now."

Her sisters joined her in saying, "Anybody who speaks the English language can attend college and earn a degree. You are doing it to better yourself, not for anyone else. Remain positive, don't stress and don't let anybody hold you down."