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The Sixteen Years Old Girl Behind the RETAW Project

It is always a choice- a choice to see the challenges of the less fortunate and develop an empathy to their struggles in life. Tsion Yohannes Syoum, 16, chose to put herself in the shoes of the children who were begging for a sip of water to drink from the Smart Water bottle she was holding during one of her visits to her mother’s birthplace in the Summer of 2014. She gave them the bottle and continued on her way but that incident was imprinted in her mind and followed her all the way to New York. 


“I can’t take that picture out of my mind.  Seeing children carrying buckets to fetch water and begging us for water when our car stopped for a break made me realize the shortage of water distribution in Eritrea.” Tsion said. She recalls that prior to that summer she never had understood the extent in which water, a basic human necessity, could be scarce and precious in other areas. “That picture was such a contrast to the way I use water in my everyday life and the amount of water that I use and waste not only for necessities but also the luxury of swimming in it.”


Tsion Yohannes Syoum is a sixteen-years-old New Yorker who has been on the spotlight on the Eritrean Media Outlets and the social media networks and also recently a phone interview with the Voice of America’s Tigrinya program for the water project she opened in a district called Geza Gobo in Eritrea. She is an 11th-grader at the Chapin School in New York City.  She is the president of the Coding Club at the Chapin School, she writes for the school newspaper and is a member of the dancing and Chinese clubs.  


At the inauguration ceremony for her project that took a year for Tsion to se up, Mr. Misgina Ghebreslase, Director of Development and Water supply in the Ministry of Land, Water and Environment in Eritrea explained that the 32 meters wide water well was dug at a total cost of around 414,000 Nakfa- the local currency- and he commended Tsion for her part in making this a success. 

The hero within Tsion didn’t let her dawdle or procrastinate the idea that was conceived during her visit to Eritrea and as soon as she got back from her journey, she started to do her research on water projects. Juggling school work and the work load in making her water project a success was never easy for Tsion but she was determined to make it happen. It meant she has to work extra harder and longer to balance her studies and the preparation of the project. “This water project is a full-time job on top of her full-time school work, and we were very concerned for her.” Said Dr. Yohannes Syoum, Tsion’s father speaking about his daughter’s dedication and involvement in making her vision of the water project a successful reality.  After hearing what Tsion wants to do in Eritrea, he proudly stepped back and let her steer the management of the project on her own. He believed she can do it for he can see her potential better than anyone. “Tsion is very passionate.  If she has something on her mind, she will accomplish it. So we believed that she could do it.”


For a year, between the inception and the inauguration of the water project, Tsion was playing two important roles in her life. The student she is and the founder of the water project she was managing. It demanded every ounce of fiber and concentration in her; she was multitasking fund-raising, designing and managing her water project website- Retaw Project; communicating and networking with the personnel in charge of the construction of the water pump in Eritrea; keeping abreast of her homework and studies and also being a dutiful daughter and sister. 


“Tsion is a hard-worker.” Said Miriam Yohannes Syoum, 9, looking at her elder sister dotingly, “I was happy and proud of her during the inauguration.” Miriam and the whole family flew to Eritrea for the inauguration ceremony of the water pump to show their support for Tsion. Miriam, also has come back to New York with a dream of her own. She wants to help the students of the nearby villages where the water-pump is set up with school facilities and materials. 


Comment posts on Love Eritrea Facebook page featuring a story on Tsion and her water project show praises for the young Eritrean and her determination to make a difference in the lives of others and her empathy at such young age for challenges and struggles faced in third-world countries like Eritrea. 

“The Ministry of Land, Water and Environment in Eritrea through their contact person and the personnel in charge of development and water supply in Eritrea proposed that I build the water project in the district of Geza-Gobo in Mendefera subzone and the place happened to be near a school and I thought this is a perfect place to set up my project and agreed to the recommendation.” Said Tsion 

Tsion is modest about the attention and praises she is being showered with the completion of her project, “I owe it all to my parents. They support me and push me to be the best version of me.” Tsion said humbly, “Yeah, it was my idea and plan but I couldn’t have done it at all if it wasn’t for the people around me who stretched their helping hands. For instance, my grandmother and grandfather in Eritrea who have to go to the site of the project often to oversee the process and follow up the progress.”


Tsion is grateful to everyone who took part in making her project a success and contributions to raise the money for her project the list ranging from family, friends, loved ones to other contributors who admired her vision and stance. “Many people were involved and I am thankful.” 

It seems that for Tsion the water project isn’t just a one-time project but a commitment she wants to pursue for a very long time now. In the inauguration speech, Tsion said that she intends to build a fence and install solar power water pumps for the school in the near future.



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© 2016 by Tsion Yohannes Syoum. 

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