By Tseday Alehegn
Published: Monday, March 26, 2012
New York (TADIAS)- Nini Legesse was one of the fourteen community leaders from the East African Diaspora that were honored at the White House as “Champions of Change” last month. Her organization Wegene Ethiopian Foundation provided, among other services, financial support to build an elementary school in Abelti-Jimma, Ethiopia. The White House said: “These leaders are helping to build stronger neighborhoods in communities across the country, and are working to mobilize networks across borders to address global challenges.”
Below is our Q & A with Nini Legesse.
TADIAS: Please tell us about Wegene Ethiopian Foundation. What inspired it?
Nini Legesse: I founded Wegene in 2000 with similarly inspired friends who like me had left their home country in their teenage years. We felt morally obligated to give back. Even though my friends and I feel grateful for the security, opportunity, education and better life that we enjoy in our adoptive country, the United States, we wanted to assist those who have less opportunities in Ethiopia. The goal of Wegene is to enable hardworking, poor families to meet their daily needs and send their children to school in a sustainable way.
We also have Wegene Kids Club. The club raises funds through bake sales, movie nights, crafting, and other various activities in order to create awareness and reach out to Ethiopian American youth. In addition to our projects in Ethiopia, the Wogene Kids Club also volunteers by feeding and distributing clothing to the homeless in the Washington, D.C. area. One of Wegene’s unique features is that it is 100% volunteer based. As a result, our overhead cost is near to nothing, because everyone involved is donating their time, money, and other in-kind donations.
TADIAS: What do you most enjoy about your work?
NL: My work for Wegene is more of a mission and it’s something that I’m very passionate about. It is meaningful and intensely rewarding. Also, I’m grateful that Wegene has created an opportunity to cultivate social ties to my home country and to make a difference in someone’s life at a personal level. This work offers me fulfillment and civic satisfaction beyond imagination. I think we each have to realize our human potential for compassion and love. I see our world as a generous place where we reach out to others as we move through life. It doesn’t matter if our contribution is large or small; doing what we can to positively affect the life of a single person provides immense gratification. I also work full time as a patent examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. I have been working at this job since 2001.
TADIAS: In a celebrating Women’s History Month, who are your female role models?
NL: I have numerous. One of my role models is Dr. Catherine Hamlin. I admire her lifetime devotion and mission to treating childbirth-related injures of disadvantaged women in Ethiopia. I’m amazed at how humble and loving she is. Her book, The Hospital by the River, is one of my favorite books. My other role model is Mrs. Marta Gebre-Tsadick, the founder of Project Merci. Marta is a remarkable woman. It is incredible what she and her husband have created. They built a school and hospital and established agricultural development programs. To me, she is a woman who has become a force of nature. Lastly, but equally as important, my mother and each of my six sisters have been my role models especially because I am the youngest child in my family.
TADIAS: Please tell us more about yourself (where you were born, grew up, school and how you developed your passion for your work).
NL: I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. My parents are Mrs. Kebrework Senke and Dejazmach Legesse Bezou. I have five sisters and two brothers. Now I lost one of my sisters to Lou Gehrig’s disease. I came to the United States at the age of 17. The school that I attended in Ethiopia was Nazareth School, of which I have many good memories. I received my undergraduate degree from Berea College in Kentucky and my Master’s Degree in Industrial Technology from Ball State University in Indiana. I am happily married to Eskinder Teklu for over 17 years and I have three wonderful children ages 16, 15, and 11. I have many relatives and friends I love and adore. In addition to a lot of new friends I have made each year, I am lucky that I also still have my kindergarten friends actively involved in my life. In my spare time, I love to read, listen to music, write poems, watch movies, decorate, help my kids with their school projects, garden, and do craftwork.
TADIAS: What are some practical tips you can give for young Ethiopian women who want to follow in your footsteps?
NL: It’s okay to fail, as long as you learn from your mistakes and avoid making the same mistakes again. There is no single problem that can’t be solved through determination. Understand that hard work will pay off. The main thing is to find your purpose in life. Find something that gives your life meaning.
TADIAS: Is there anything else you would like to share with Tadias readers that we haven’t asked you?
NL: I just want to thank all of your readers for taking their valuable time to read about me and the Wegene Ethiopian Foundation. My heartfelt thank you to Tadias magazine for the opportunity given to me to share about my passion.
For more information about Wegene, visit their website at www.wegene.org. Stay tuned for more highlights celebrating Ethiopian women role models and change agents.
Video: Photo slide show of Wegene’s School Project in Abelti, Jimma – Ethiopia
Related Women’s History Month Stories:
Interview with Birtukan Midekssa
Interview with Artist Julie Mehretu
Interview With Model Maya Gate Haile
Interview with Sahra Mellesse
Interview with Lydia Gobena
Interview with Author Maaza Mengiste
Interview with Grammy-nominated singer Wayna
Interview with Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
Interview with Journalist Fanna Haile-Selassie
Interview with Dr. Mehret Mandefro
New Book Highlights Stories of 70 Accomplished Ethiopian Women (TADIAS)
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