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MARILYN HAGERTY: Selam from Ethiopia awaits snow - whatever that is

She has never seen snow. Selam Haile Gullicks knows very little about ice. But it didn't take long for the 16-year-old from Ethiopia to figure out what hockey was all about when her new Grand Forks family took her to a UND men's hockey game at th...

Selam Haile Gullicks
A year ago, Selam Haile Gullicks was living in an orphanage in Ethiopia. Jean and Harvey Gullicks were living in a comfortable home in Grand Forks.

She has never seen snow.

Selam Haile Gullicks knows very little about ice.

But it didn't take long for the 16-year-old from Ethiopia to figure out what hockey was all about when her new Grand Forks family took her to a UND men's hockey game at the Ralph Engelstad Arena.

A year ago, Selam was living in an orphanage in Ethiopia. Jean and Harvey Gullicks were living in a comfortable home in Grand Forks. They had raised two sons but always wanted a daughter. And they had a strong interest and longing to help people of Ethiopia.

Now, Selam Haile is their daughter, and she lives with them. She is officially Selam Haile Gullicks and she attends Red River High School. All of the people who have supported her were invited to her Sweet 16 birthday party Sept. 19.

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The process of adopting Selam was long, and complicated. Details of her early life are sketchy.

Selam lost her mother when she was young and her grandmother wasn't able to support her. She has a younger half-sister who lives with an aunt. Her father was a soldier in the Ethiopian Army. Until she was adopted, she was living in an orphanage called Human Being Association of Brotherhood.

Her adoption was handled through International Adoption Guides. Selam had a picture of Harvey and Jean Gullicks as well as their sons who would become her brothers. Don, is a fourth-year medical student who lives with his family, including two children, in Bismarck. Grant is a recent graduate of UND.

Harvey Gullicks wasn't able to get away in July to go to Ethiopia. So, Grant went along with Jean. They were in Addis Ababa for two weeks dealing with the Ethiopian Embassy and getting proper passports so they could fly to meet Selam in Mekelle, north of Addis Ababa.

They had been in contact with Selam and she had pictures they had exchanged. When they approached the orphanage, Selam was waiting outside. She knew them, and she raced into Jean's arms saying, "Mom! Mom! Mom!"

Though she is short and dark and he is tall and light, she immediately took to Grant as a brother. "He is my brother and my best friend," she says now. "When I feel sad, he understands."

There are times when Selam is lonely. So her parents encourage her to call her grandmother and others in Ethiopia. And her grandmother has told her not to be sad -- because she is living her dream of coming to America. Selam speaks English well, but she likes to listen to music in Amharic, the national language of Ethiopia. Her new parents tutored her at home for a while. Jean is a nurse practitioner and a child development specialist who is starting work at Riverview Center in Grand Forks. And she helped Selam with English. Harvey, who is a professor of engineering at UND, tutored her in math.

Selam is now at Red River and working toward learning the language and moving along. She is happy to be living here, though at times she longs for the land she knows so far away. She does not like to talk about the extreme poverty in Ethiopia, where there are 4.5 million orphans. But she knows there has been a strong movement in Grand Forks to help provide books for children of Ethiopia. Spearheaded by Ann Porter, the Ethiopia Reads project has enlisted help from local school children to send books to children who have none. Another strong supporter of Ethiopian children is Judi Loer of East Grand Forks. She and her husband, David, are grandparents of children born in Ethiopia and adopted to live in Minnesota.

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The future stretches ahead for Selam. She loves to hold coffee ceremonies in traditional Ethiopian style. She likes to cook very spicy Egyptian food including dorowat and injera. As time moves along, she probably will have a chance for a college education. She may some day return to Ethiopia. She knows in her heart that she and her American parents want to help orphans.

Right now, she is cheering for the Sioux. She is waiting for it to snow. And she is making new friends in Grand Forks.

Reach Hagerty at mhagerty@gra.midco.net or by telephone at (701) 772-1055.

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