Fredda & Genet: Beyond a family reunion

  • Article by: GAIL ROSENBLUM , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 25, 2012 - 9:08 AM

Fredda Scobey, executive director of the Riverside Plaza Tenants' Association, helped Genet Habtemicael reunite with family in Eritrea -- and found a friend.

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Fredda Schobey worked for years to help get Genet Habtemicael’s two daughters out of Eritrea. The girls arrived on Christmas Day in 2009 and the two mothers have bonded like sisters.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Editor's note: This Duets was originally published in December 2010. Genet Habtemicael died on July 27, 2012.

Fredda Scobey has a degree in communications, which has come in surprisingly handy as executive director of the Riverside Plaza Tenants' Association.

Three years ago, Genet Habtemicael, who moved to Minneapolis from Eritrea, came to Fredda in tears.

Genet's two young adult daughters were being detained in a "horrible" refugee camp in Ethiopia, unable to join their mother because of a visa snafu.

Born in Ethiopia of an Ethiopian father, now deceased, the two had been living in Eritrea with their grandmother.

Because Eritrea does not typically allow immigration, they escaped, ending up in the Ethiopian camp alone and unable to contact their mother. "They were not safe," Fredda said of Soliana, 22, and Evan, 23.

"They were of prime 'prey' age and they were sleeping on the ground." Genet, a math teacher who moved to Minnesota in 2005, grew more and more frantic.

So Fredda, 61, put her communications skills to work, writing pleading letters to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, the U.S. Visa Center and Sen. Amy Klobuchar's office.

"These governments are so slow in acting," Fredda says. "They were probably overloaded but, to us, this was a huge emergency."

Finally, Fredda's campaign succeeded. The girls arrived in Minneapolis on Christmas Day last year.

"She's my friend," Genet, 50, says of Fredda. "When I am worried, I say, 'Fredda, I am worried today. What can I do?' She helps me with everything I say."

Genet has hosted Fredda at her small, tidy Riverside apartment, serving her a robust Ethiopian blend coffee and black-cumin bread. Fredda gave the girls money to buy winter coats, which they model with glee.

"I don't normally do that with tenants," Fredda says, "but this isn't a tenant issue. This is two moms. We never give up."

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