When she was just 18-years-old, Feven Teklebrhan fled to America from her war-torn home country of Eritrea in east Africa. Feven had to escape after her uncle joined the war tearing apart the country, fighting for freedom. Feven had to flee, or be tracked down and killed for her uncle’s brave decision.
Over twelve years later, it’s a sunny day in May and Feven is at Madison County Catholic Charities in Alton, Illinois, talking with therapist, Rose Schulte. Feven is smiling, energetic and has a certain shine in her eyes.
At only 30, Feven has witnessed so much adversity, hardships and life-threatening situations that many people in their lifetime will never experience, but one would never know it looking at her. Feven is full of life and optimism.
“I’ve learned to let go of the anger and everything. It’s not worth holding on to,” Feven says. “I’m looking towards the future now.”
Not only did Feven grow up in a warring country, but when she was an infant, the left side of her face became paralyzed. No treatments or medicines have successfully repaired it. Also, Feven didn’t escape all violence when she left Eritrea. She’s been held up not once, but twice at gun point in one year while working in a gas station.
Even though these problems are enough to warrant counseling on their own, Feven’s sessions with Rose don’t stem from these trying experiences.
“I have issues saying no to people. I feel like I have to help my family like they’ve helped me all these years,” Feven says. “Before I was at a breaking point and I was putting myself in a lot of situations I shouldn’t have been in.”
Since her arrival in the United States, Feven hasn’t been very far from family. She moved in with her mother’s sister in Colorado when she first came to America, and from there she’s stayed with other extended family members in Italy, then in California and lastly St. Louis. Feven felt that she owed a lot of gratitude to her family members who have helped her along the way by providing a place to sleep and sometimes even employment.
“I promised myself when I got money, I’d help them like they helped me. But it got to a point where I had no money for me and I wasn’t taking care of myself. I wasn’t able to afford my own bills,” Feven said.
In the midst of all her traveling, Feven and her mother began to develop a strained relationship, which also began to weigh on her mind.
“I bottled all these feelings up inside me because where I’m from, we don’t talk about problems. I started talking to myself and I panicked.”
Feven knew she needed to talk to someone about her problems so she looked into counseling, but was shocked at what she found.
“Therapy can be so expensive at other places. Some charge $50 or $100 a session. I couldn’t afford that,” Feven said. “I had heard of Catholic Charities, so I Googled it and found one near me in Alton. So I called and got an appointment with Rose.”
Since her sessions with Rose, Feven has learned “when to step back,” in her own words, and focus on her needs. She now has her own apartment, is finishing up her college degree that she started at the University of Northern Colorado, and she quit her job at the gas station where her safety was at stake. Feven is now holding down a full time job at an assisted living facility, Cedar Hurst, in Collinsville where she also lives.
“I love it there, it’s what I’ve been studying for,” Feven says. “They told me if I earn my Masters’ degree, I can run the facility.”
Feven has come a long way from her days in Eritrea and is overcoming her impossible feeling of obligation to family. Nearing completion of her counseling treatments at Catholic Charities, Feven is quick to acknowledge Rose as the reason behind her success and for the new, healthier expectations of herself.
“After what I went through, Rose was a mother figure to me, not a therapist. I’m very comfortable with her,” Feven said. “It didn’t go in one ear and out the other, like how other people can treat you. She has provided so much information and help.”
Looking excitedly into the future, only Feven knows what it holds.
“My dream job would be a doctor for ‘Doctors Without Borders’ or work for the Red Cross or Peace Corps,” Feven said. “I’d like to go back to Eritrea one of these days and help all those people who need it.”