I wrote those words in Held at a Distance, a memoir I published years ago, to describe how and why I finally decided to return to Ethiopia after having fled – that is, after having been pushed out – 25 years earlier as a refugee following the 1974 revolution.
Now, a decade-plus later, in collaboration with extraordinary colleagues, I’ve launched Ethiopia Education Initiatives (EEI), an organization that will make a major contribution to education in Ethiopia.
How did this come to be? It certainly wasn’t easy to be a refugee, to start completely over in a new country (central Minnesota to be precise). But for me, and for my sister and fellow board member Sossina, education was the key that unlocked every door. We had access to excellent schools and generous scholarship programs ensured that if we worked hard we could take advantage of every opportunity we qualified for.
Fast forward many years, and the connection to EEI is clear – it almost feels inevitable. I’ve returned to Ethiopia often since that first trip back, each time learning more about the country and each time feeling a greater sense of my own good fortune – somewhat paradoxically, given how we left – and a stronger and stronger drive to “give back”, not only in response to crises, but in a sustainable, impactful way.
Which meant education. Ethiopian kids need quality education opportunities, and a quality education is the ultimate long-term investment for maximum long-term return, especially when made available to all students of promise without regard to their ability to pay.
So that is the story of from there to here, or more accurately from there to here to there.
In January 2016, in conversations with my husband Jean, also an immigrant and also a graduate of excellent schools, about new year’s resolutions and new year’s plans, the pieces came together, and the idea for EEI was conceived.
As the story continues to unfold, we hope you’ll be with us for the journey.
- Rebecca Haile, author & philanthropist