Sebentu Aynu Kidane with her husband, Melake Gebreselase, eating a meal of injera

For more than a century The New York Times has spotlighted New York’s “Neediest Cases” and for more than a decade I’ve had the honor to meet some of these brave folks and the dedicated case managers that help them. So let’s pull back the curtain today and learn the story behind the story of the bravest couple I met this year.

It seemed as if Sebentu Kidane, 38, and her husband, Melake, 40, somehow synchronized their movements when I visited them in the Bronx apartment they shared with a fellow Eritrean in late October. They flipped injera, filling the living room with scents of cumin, oil, and garlic, then tossed this pancake-like sour bread on plates and served it up to their visitors, Catholic Charities Case Manager, Elizabeth Sanford, New York Times Neediest Cases Reporter John Otis and me. Watching them, Malake in a dark turtleneck and Sebentu in a flowing blue floral dress, was like watching a dance, one limited, however, by the baby growing inside Sebentu’s bulging belly.

Mandatory military service, the repressive Eritrean government and escapes to refugee camps where they almost starved; had separated this couple for most of two decades. Now, as the couple finally celebrated their life together and awaited the baby for whom they had so long prayed, I had to blink to figure out whether I was actually seeing sparks of happiness beaming from them. 

They prepared the feast to thank Catholic Charities for helping Sebentu finally legally immigrate as a refugee to the United States and reunite with her husband. And they prepared it to thank us for valuing their story enough to share it with New York Times readers. 

I felt self-conscious eating food from a couple who I knew, from prior interviews, had so little. At the same time, I felt warmed by their joy.

Check out Sebentu and Malake’s story in The New York Times.