An altruistic gesture worthy of accolade
Gezahegn Wordofa left his humble beginnings in Dukem early. He left for his graduate level education more than two decades ago, completing a PhD in Moscow and proceeded to become an award winning advocate and humanitarian in Canada. Last week, he returned to his hometown to a hero's welcome to inaugurate a self-funded public library inside Oda Needy School. He seemed at home.
"Growing up, I did not have the means or availability of a library. I had to walk hard and long to attend a school from my village and the first time I saw a library ever was when I went to Russia," he told a gathering of hundreds of students and government officials, as he was given endless standing ovations.
"I do not want young people to be deprived of such an opportunity that is provided elsewhere but can enjoy the joy of studying, a library from their own community and not compromise safety and bring hardship to their lives by traveling elsewhere rather than within the proximity of their village, he further stated as he also presented laptops and a screen television for the library.
In Canada, he has been honored by Canada's Governor General with the Caring Award and was picked as one of a top 25 Immigrants by Canada's top daily newspaper, the Toronto Star's, Canadian Immigrant Magazine for his volunteerism and Bekila Award, an Ethiopian Canadian group that selects about a dozen people a year to highlight contributions within the Ethiopian Canadian and wider diaspora Ethiopian community.
In 2015, Canada’s then Minister of Immigration, Chris Alexander, celebrated him as a role model and a new citizen of Canada who was making his positive mark in his adopted nation.
"Recognitions are wonderful and reminders of the efforts one is making is valued and has some important but I do it because I like it. I enjoy it and it gives me the greatest satisfaction and it's my passion," he said then.
The married father of one, who is multilingual in Amharic, Oromiffa, English and Russian and who is the founder and head of a multicultural group based an hour long drive from Toronto, in Stratford became an active member of his community as soon as he arrived in Canada, lured to the North American nation after he married a former Canadian diplomat who had been stationed in Moscow.
For him, he said he is proud of his Ethiopian heritage and wants to be its ambassador where ever he goes.
He says, he has fond memories of home, and is thankful to what his country of birth afforded him when he was young and the values that have afforded me great opportunities wherever he went after he left.
"Despite its shortcomings, home remains where the heart is," he said as he hugged parents and students who came to the inauguration of the library.
His childhood friends remembered a young man who was determined to change the narrative of his life through education and that of his community.
One of his friends who is now a manager of a local bank told the gathering how he was not surprised that Gezahegn returned to his village after accumulating much connection, networks and education.
"We have many friends who departed young and never hear from them. But he calls, he remembers us as we mark our milestones, weddings and birthdays and he is a special person. We are better because we know him and we hope our diasporas follow in his footsteps," he told The Reporter.
To the students who had assembled in the grounds of their high school, he also promised them that he would build them a clinic and a water well.
For Almaz Beshadu, this will be a big relieve and something that would bring value to a community with little means but potential that Gezahegn is certain will be realized.
"In our community, life can be hard. We walk often times a long distance to bring water to our homes. Safety is secondary, overtaken by the issue of survival. Our children compromise their studies in order to help and such a contribution by Gezahegn goes a long way," Almaz told The Reporter.
Her friend, Bertukan Weldegiorgis, echoes the words of Almaz.
"I am 59 years old and I have lived all my life in this village. I do not remember such a beautiful and giving occasion like this. We are overwhelmed by his generosity and we will forever hold on to this legacy and hope our children will use him as a role model to aspire to be," she said.
The library, the first such place in the community will serve students in shifts and it cost 850,000 to build. There is a plan to expand it and add additional rooms and import more materials, books and computers from abroad and within Ethiopia.
"Some of the books I saw in there, I have never seen in my life and I can’t wait to hold them and read them and learn from them. And I time, I aspire to be the first in my family to go into university and follow in the footsteps of Dr Gezahegn," a 13-year-old said, as she took part in an appreciation dance from the students.
Gezahegn wants to be back in a month and plan the next chapter of his charitable gesture.
As he observed his surrounding, with empty an utilized land, little infrastructures and so much needs with little resources that cannot be put on the shoulder of a single individual, he wants Ethiopia's diaspora to also be engaged and get involved.
He wants Ethiopia to realize its potential far from a charitable destination but a society that can not only manage to barely be self-sufficient but be bold enough to give its young the best opportunity within and not have all young people to dream to go elsewhere for opportunities that should be afforded at home and have them contribute to the development of the nation.
"That is my greatest wish and dream and something I want to see happen in my lifetime. I want to raise my hand and be counted whenever my people, my village and country need me and I am content whenever I am here," he concluded.