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Home > From Ethiopia to Higher Education: Emily Sanders

From Ethiopia to Higher Education: Emily Sanders

October 4th, 2013

By Christine Reid

Originally appeared in the Herald, 8/23

CONTACT:  David Halbrook
Patrick Henry College
(540) 441-8722

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Emily Sanders on PHC's soccer team

The pursuit of education has carried Fasika Emily Sanders across oceans and continents. It has placed her in three different families. Her education goals guide her choices and fill her head with career dreams of educating teens.
Sanders was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and is the second youngest of six half-siblings and two full siblings.

In Ethiopia, she attended both public and private schools where, ironically, public school education is superior to that of private schools.

When she was eight years old, Sanders’ mother passed away, so her father decided to put her and her little sister, Ruth, up for adoption in a Christian orphanage a year later.

Sanders said that her father was the driving motivation behind her passion for learning. Sanders’ father thought adoption was the best option for education. “He really wanted us to have the best education possible,” she said.
As her tenth birthday passed in the orphanage, Sanders recalls confusion over her situation: “I was too young to really know exactly what was going on.”

Six months after she was put up for adoption, she and her sister were adopted with one other Ethiopian girl into a lesbian family from Vermont. It became clear quickly that the adoption would not work out when Sanders expressed her Christian faith. “We wanted to go church, and they weren’t comfortable with that,” Sanders said. “But they didn’t want to force us to believe what they believe either.”


Emily Sanders (r) with classmate Lea Wright

After four months with the lesbian couple the Sanders, family of six, adopted Emily and Ruth in Lyndon, Vt. This is where Sanders was renamed. Until this point she had been called Fasika. Emily is her new middle name, but she uses it as her first name. “It’s easier for people to pronounce,” she says.

In the United States, Sanders reset her sights on her education goals once again. Living with the Sanders family she attended a private school, which she describes as having “smaller classes. I had to work harder to get good grades at that private school.”

Sanders had to work twice as hard to learn U.S. history, English grammar, and mathematics because English is not her first language. Sander spoke only Amharic until she was ten years old. Sanders explains, “When I had a hard time with classes, [or] didn’t know English, driving me on was that I could hand my diploma to my dad.” Unknown to Sanders at the time, her father passed away in Ethiopia several months before.

Sanders carries on her father’s dream here at PHC. She is a typical American girl who loves chocolate. One of her favorite books is Crazy Love by Francis Chan. She loves to play soccer and is making a splash on PHC’s Lady Sentinel’s soccer team.

Though apprehensive about sharing her story Sanders said, “When I came here, at first I was like, this is my fresh start, nobody has to know that I’m adopted. I can’t change that anything that has happened to me but I can use it to encourage people and I should.”

A passion for historical fiction in high school piqued Sanders interest in politics. She describes herself as the only politically-minded person in her family. Sanders is attracted to PHC for its classical liberal arts education and plans on pursuing a Classical Liberal Arts major. “I love the idea of the core curriculum. We are all studying the same thing and it’s building up from the base. All of the students here want to learn and have a strong faith. All of us are in it together,” Sanders said.

Though she cannot hand her diploma to her dad, his influence in her life inspires Sanders’ career goals. She says, “I want to do what my dad did for me, inspire students to learn and seek a higher education. I want to teach or work with teens in education.”