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Waterloo sisters part of Obama administration

By Pat Kinney

Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier

Published: Sunday, March 18 2012 3:30 p.m. MDT

ADVANCE FOR SUNDAY MARCH 18 - In this Jan. 18, 2005 file photo, The Abebe sisters, Yeshi, left, Tsehay, center and Saba are seen in Waterloo, Iowa. The Abebe sisters are darned near inseparable — whether in Waterloo or Washington, D.C. All three, Yeshimibet, Tsehaynesh and Saba, now have jobs in the Obama administration.

Waterloo Courier, Brandon Pollock, File, Associated Press

Enlarge photo»

WATERLOO, Iowa — The Abebe sisters are darned near inseparable — whether in Waterloo or Washington, D.C.

All three, Yeshimibet, Tsehaynesh and Saba, now have jobs in the Obama administration.

In fact Yeshimebet, or Yeshi, was recently profiled by the White House in an online feature, "African-American women of the Obama administration." She's an assistant to U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for special projects.

Tsehaynesh, or Tsehay (pronounced "se-HIGH"), works in the State Department. Saba works for the U.S. Department of Energy.

Each has plenty to do, but the trio does find time to get together.

"People think Washington, D.C., is a big city, but it really isn't," Yeshi said.

All three worked on Obama's election campaign. They all were interested in working in the administration. But the process was hardly a slam dunk. An extensive application requires applicants to enumerate educational background as well experience internationally and in the public and private sectors, politics, management and education.

Yeshi earned her law degree from the University of Miami, Tsehay holds a master's degree from the University of Sussex in England, and Saba is a graduate of the University of Michigan.

Yeshi practiced law in Waterloo and made a respectable but unsuccessful run for mayor of Waterloo in 2003 before moving to Atlanta to practice law in 2005, and then becoming involved in the Obama campaign.

She recalls a trip to Washington while a student at Columbus High School in Waterloo, but never thought she, let alone her sisters, would work there. "It really has come full circle," she said.

"I'm having a great time serving the American people," she said. "I feel very privileged to work in the administration of President Obama. Plus working in the USDA under Secretary Vilsack" former Iowa governor, "has been an incredible opportunity."

Among other projects, Yeshi has been involved in the USDA's StrikeForce Initiative, designed to help relieve persistent poverty in high poverty counties by accelerating USDA assistance while working closely with Community Based Organizations.

"I'm humble about the recognition. It's more about working for the American people," she said.

The sisters come by their political and government involvement naturally. They are the granddaughters of longtime Waterloo community activist Anna Mae Weems, who brought Martin Luther King Jr. to Waterloo to speak in 1959.

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Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, http://wcfcourier.com

Information from: Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, http://www.wcfcourier.com

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