Semhar’s story (or, how to turn water in to work)


Abraha Semhar

Growing up in Eritrea, Semhar Abraha and her family relied on monthly tankers to fill her community’s water reservoirs.

“Everyone in our community would light up when they heard the tankers blow their horns,” said Ms. Abraha.

There was no tap water in her home and water was limited. Her family used the water from washing dishes to flush the toilets. None of it went to waste.

“I watched my mother manage our drinking water and the water for our small vegetable garden,” said Ms. Abraha. “My father is an economist and always has a way of making things more efficient.”

Ms. Abraha attributes her desire to have a career in water management to her parents.

Ms. Abraha chose to pursue an education in engineering in Eritrea where she worked on government water projects such as designing water harvesting and irrigation structures, diversion structures and water canals.

In her research she learned that Eritrea, bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast of the Horn of Africa, is not actually a water scarce country. But the lack of technology available made water scarce to those who live there.

“Eighty percent of the population are farmers but they aren’t using water efficiently,” said Ms. Abraha.

In Eritrea, Ms. Abraha was working as a junior engineer to help build one of the country’s biggest dams when she decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering and came to Seattle to attend the University of Washington.

After completing her degree, Ms. Abraha became the first trainee in the new Stormwater Services Engineering Internship Program. This pilot program is part of the King County Water and Land Resources Division’s equity and social justice work that is designed to train future engineers from under-represented populations in the field of engineering.

“People here are so collaborative. Everyone is willing to help you and teach you things,” said Ms. Abraha.

During her internships Ms. Abraha trained on survey, CAD and asset management projects and has accepted a 3-year position as an Engineer I in the Wastewater Treatment Division.

Ms. Abraha believes that there may come a time when she returns to Eritrea, perhaps to help build a wastewater treatment plant there, but right now she is busy here realizing her dream.