We all remember these moments: missing a home we once took for granted, navigating life in a new land as an immigrant, struggling to fit in while trying to hold on to our heritage, the stresses that come with living a life of sedet. These tribulations seem like distant memories for some of us who have assimilated successfully and found success after going through past tribulations, but for those who have recently arrived, these hardships are an everyday reality.

This is where Matheos Mesfin steps in; he too remembers clearly the anxieties of being a first generation immigrant. After he arrived in America in 2007, in the span of 12 years, Matheos not only fit in, he excelled and paid back his parent’s sacrifices by finding prosperity. Except Matheos’s prosperity is not so much material wealth as it is the riches that come with helping other people.

As the founder and executive director of the Institute of East African Councils on Higher Education (IEAC), a non-profit that works with high school students from the Horn of Africa who are immigrants or children of immigrants, he has made it his purpose to give back and be a bridge builder for the generation behind him. Instead of chasing fame and money, Matheos found his calling by being a mentor, a teacher and an inspiration to teenagers who have to negotiate between honoring their culture and adapting to new norms.   

The IEAC helps countless number of Ethiopian, Eritrean, Sudanese, Djibouti, Kenyan and Somali children throughout gain entry into excellent colleges and prestigious universities.

We face two options when we go through moments of adversity, some refuse to look back and swear to never endure those experiences again and others make the bold decision to go back and help others who are facing the same misfortunes that they overcame. Matheos decided on the latter; after going through his share of difficulties in DC trying to make sense of a culture shock that included metal detectors in high school, the clutches of acclimating doubled when he decided to attend college in Iowa. From being among familiar faces, he felt even more disconnected from home being a pilgrim in a land of scant minorities.  

Yet, instead of seeing the setbacks, Matheos found blessings. Grinnell College pushed him intellectually and taught him the value of thinking audaciously. His travels to Iowa also gave him a broader perspective of what it feels like to be alone as an immigrant; far from the comforts of family and the amenities of being close to the Ethiopian community, he saw first-hand what it must feel like for people who come to America on their own and do not have the soft-landing that comes with having close ones to lean on.

Matheos drew on these experiences to start the IEAC, with a few thousand dollars that he had, he planted a seed and had faith that his vision of helping young kids integrate will in time become a reality. From a seed, IEAC grew into a non-profit foundation that guides high school students through the college application process, links them with vital resources and provides a support system they can reach back to during their times of uncertainty. Driven largely by volunteers, IEAC is a vital hub not only for soon to be college students but for East Africans who want to give back to their community by connecting immigrants who found success with students who need a roadmap towards their future.

This weekend, Matheos was a panelist at Empower the Community, an event organized by Helen Mesfin. During the panel discussion, Matheos noted that the best way to affect change and to help our community is by giving hope to the younger generation.

“There is no need to protest, the best way we can make a difference is by investing in the younger generation”, said Matheos, “the greatest gift God gives humanity is children, instead of fighting things over things we don’t control, it is better to dedicate our effort in kids.”

Matheos gained a valuable insight during childhood in DC and as a college student in Iowa, a wisdom that was embedded in him by his parents that manifested in his heart when he faced hardships. The best way to prosper in life is to give back to others who are struggling.

Wealth, fame and popularity, these things fleeting—here one minute and gone the next—but what we do to help other people overcome their fears and actualize their potential, these are legacies that live eternally. Click To Tweet

“Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom.” ~ Theodore Isaac Rubin