A shining example we all should be proud of! By Tibebe Samuel Ferenji
In 2007, when I was in Ethiopia, one of the things that we tried was to create educational opportunities for about 1000 children, who never attended any school, by the Ethiopian Millennium. We asked Ethiopians in Diaspora to contribute $1.00 a day, and Ethiopians in Ethiopia about 8 Birr per day (which was the equivalent of $1.00 then). We did not want to establish another NGO, and we did not want to get involved in accepting and distributing funds. We wanted the money to go directly to five NGO’s we selected. These NGO’s were already on the ground doing what we wanted to be done.
Before selecting these five NGOs, we were given list of about 2,000 NGOs so we can select what we needed. We visited about 25 NGOs to select five. Among the five, one of the NGOs we was Abebech Gobena Orphanage & School. Fortunately, we were guest honors when the hospital was inaugurated in 2007. During our visits of about 25 NGOs, we learned that most NGO’s “wasted” funds through administrative expenses, and they were established to be source of income for the founders instead of to do the work that they claim to do. In the average, 85% of the NGOs incomes were spent in the administrative expenses. We believed most of the money should go directly for those in need and chose to select five NGOs with very law administrative expenses; and entered into agreements with the five NGOs. Part of our agreement was at least 80% of the funds that they receive to go directly for the children we sponsor. Unfortunately, our effort could not materialize due to lack of support from the general public in Diaspora and Ethiopia; may be, we did not make enough efforts to convey our messages. It was very disappointing. That was then.
To my surprise, on October 17, 2015, I learned that there is an organization that existed for the last 15 years doing what we wanted to do. The organization existed seven years before we made any initiative. This organization is not only doing what we wanted to do, but it has been doing much more right under our noses. This is an organization called “Wegene Ethiopian Foundation (WEF).” I am not sure how many of the people who are reading this piece know about WEF. This organization is unlike any organization I have ever seen or heard. The founders put their soul and heart in this organization; their sole interest is to make a difference in people’s lives. What is incredible is that its activities are “a family affair.” Husbands, wives and children are involved in promoting the cause, raising funds, involving in volunteer activities, and changing lives in Ethiopia. Children as young as five are involved to raise funds by selling baked goods in front of grocery stores like Giant; the parents are nurturing their children not only to know about Ethiopia, but also to assist their fellow human beings. Some of their children spent their summer in Ethiopia not relaxing, but visiting and assisting that the family WEF assists.
It was a year ago, that I heard about WEF; a very close family member told me about the fund raising event in 2014 after the event concluded. I pleaded with her to let me know when the next event takes place. A year passed, and I got the call. About two weeks before the event, I was told that WEF was going to celebrate its 15th anniversary. A week earlier before the WEF event, I had the opportunity to be part of the 15th year anniversary celebration of one of the greatest Ethiopian institutions in North America, Tayetu Cultural and Educational Center, founded by the great Alemtsehay Wedajo. WEF’s event however was beyond my expectations. I have been involved in several activities in Washington DC area for the last 30 years; this was the first time I have experienced when an Ethiopian event was sold out about a week before the event took place. I was thankful that I reserved my ticket earlier.
I learned a great deal about WEF on October 17, 2015, because I attended its 15th year celebration. The host, the founder and president of WEF, Nini Legesse, was extremely humble and gracious. I learned that for fourteen years WEF did not spend any money to pay anyone’s salary; everything was done by volunteers. Since 2014, WEF is required to have an office in Ethiopia and hire an administrator. For that reason, it is incurring meaningful administrative expenses for the last one year. WEF has been assisting children in Ethiopia to go to school. Some of them have been assisted by WEF since they were in sixth grade; today, they have earned their college degrees. Some have become nurses, engineers, teachers, and accountants. It was such a pleasure to learn that WFE assisted not only children but also troubled families. It helped families by renovating homes, building houses, providing financial support for parents so they can look after their children. This was a dream for me; a dream that came true. Listening to the testimonies of the youngsters how WEF helped them from being street children to university graduates was not only heartwarming, it gave me an amazing feeling that I have never felt before. It was difficult to observe any dry eyes in that Hall when the testimonies were heard.
What was the most incredible was to here young Meron Teklu, the daughter of Nini Legesse, when she shared her experience of the last 15 years. She was only five when she got involved with WEF; now she is 20 year old and a university student. Nini and her friends wanted to pass their work to their children. The children, all of whom born in America, had the opportunity to go to Ethiopia and see firsthand the lives of underprivileged and poor Ethiopian children. WEF established Wegene Youth Club (WYC). Meron is now a member of the advisory board of WYC, nurturing youngsters to take her place in WYC. What is incredible is that this organization is functioning with a “shoes string” budget; it has accomplished so much with so little. The average revenue of WEF for the last three years has been about $50,000.00. I felt ashamed when I learned about their revenue. This is not their fault; it is ours; it reflects in our inability to assist organizations like WEF to do what they do best by providing them the human and capital resource they need. It took me fifteen years to learn that likeminded people have been doing amazing things and changing lives for the last fifteen years; this was what I wanted to do eight years ago. I am certain that there are millions of Ethiopians who would like to contribute for the betterment of our fellow citizens but don’t know how. If you have not heard anything about WEF before, now you have.
It is Unfortunate that WEF is not getting the necessary attention that it deserves in our community. For WEF’s 15th year anniversary event, to their credit, Embilta Radio gave a platform for WEF days before its event; and Tadias magazine featured WEF in its “Events column.” Even after its incredible 15th year’s anniversary event, I did not see any news about WEF. Shame on our Media outlets. On WEF website you read this incredible statement “A BIG shout out to our Wegene Youth Club! Members of WYC have been busy with a community service project in Washington DC. WYC partnered with The Ritz-Carlton and the Renaissance Hotels to benefit disadvantaged youth and families supported by The Washington Boys Town (WBT). They spent the day beautifying the front of the Boys Town Site, as well as planting trees, and herb garden or vegetables to benefit the sponsored youth and families of WBT. Way to go!” This is a pride of our community, and yet our media outlets did not cover it.
According to WEF’s Facebook page this past month, some of the Wegene Youth Club members, and their parents, volunteered to prepare care packages to US Service members and Veterans through America’s Adopt a Soldier organization. These children are not only the pride of their parents but also the pride of the entire community. They have learned the true meaning of life, and they are practicing it well. WEF is a shining example that should make all of us proud. I have no words to express my sincere appreciation and gratitude for the work that WFE has done and continue to do. You have changed the lives of many Ethiopians; you have raised your children in a way that most parents wish; I believe, you have prepared your children for greatness. I am so proud for everything you have done; but ashamed that I have learned about you only few weeks ago. With all the hectic life in America, for WFE board members to raise their children in such exemplary manner, and to make time to be a helping hand to the most needy and vulnerable citizens in Ethiopia regardless of their ethnicity and religious believes, it is something to be excited and proud of. May God bless you and your families. I hope the rest of us will wake up and support WEF and the likes of charitable organizations to make a difference in the lives of our fellow citizens. Thank you WEF for everything you are doing! I can assure you, you have my full support!