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Girl fleeing war-torn country wins essay contest

Breaking Barriers honors 11-year-old at All-Star Game
MLB.com

WASHINGTON -- About six years ago, Selihom Kidane escaped her home country, Eritrea, with her brother to meet their mother in Washington. Eritrea, located atop the horn of Africa, was in the middle of a war with neighboring Ethiopia at the time, and Kidane's brother would have had to serve in the military if he remained in the country. So the siblings embarked on an 11-month journey.

Kidane was living with her father in Eritrea, but her mother had moved to Washington, about three years before Kidane arrived. Kidane, who was 5 years old when she came to the U.S., didn't remember her mom from when she was a child, so she adjusted to living with her and attending school while learning English in her new home country.

WASHINGTON -- About six years ago, Selihom Kidane escaped her home country, Eritrea, with her brother to meet their mother in Washington. Eritrea, located atop the horn of Africa, was in the middle of a war with neighboring Ethiopia at the time, and Kidane's brother would have had to serve in the military if he remained in the country. So the siblings embarked on an 11-month journey.

Kidane was living with her father in Eritrea, but her mother had moved to Washington, about three years before Kidane arrived. Kidane, who was 5 years old when she came to the U.S., didn't remember her mom from when she was a child, so she adjusted to living with her and attending school while learning English in her new home country.

Kidane, now 11, won the 2018 Breaking Barriers essay contest by writing about her journey to the U.S., earning a trip to the T-Mobile Home Run Derby and MLB All-Star Game presented by Mastercard at Nationals Park with her brother and mother. Kidane was honored on the field before the Home Run Derby on Monday night.

The Breaking Barriers essay contest consists of students, grades four through nine, to submit an essay about obstacles they've faced, and how they used the values exemplified by Jackie Robinson to deal with them: courage, teamwork, determination, persistence, integrity, citizenship, justice, commitment and excellence. Sharon Robinson, daughter of Jackie Robinson, developed and consults on the program.

Breaking Barriers has reached more than 34 million youth and 4.6 million educators in the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico. The program provides children strategies to deal with challenges in their lives.

Kidane received a new laptop computer for herself and her teachers, courtesy of Microsoft, and additional prizes for her classes, including Breaking Barriers T-shirts and books written by Sharon Robinson.

"One of the reasons I like that I did this is it gives other students or people out there outlets to speak up and share their stories with others," Kidane said.

Kidane was bullied at her school in Washington, because she couldn't speak English. One teacher, who also was in attendance at the Home Run Derby, helped Kidane learn English in about three months.

After about four months living in Washington, Kidane and her family moved to Charlotte, where they now reside.

Tom Brasuell, MLB's vice president of community affairs, said the program began by receiving about 9,000 essays per year, but since the movie "42," which depicts Jackie Robinson's battle to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball, came out in 2013, the program now gets about 13,000 essays per year.

"Them being able to write about it, it helps with their writing skills ... but a lot of times it takes a lot off their shoulders," Brasuell said. "They've been holding it in. It helps them to grow as individuals and kids. Whatever they write about, it's something that's so close and personal to them. We love recognizing them."

Kyle Melnick is a reporter for MLB.com based in Washington.