Mignotae Kebede, founder of the non-profit Lasting Impact for Ethiopia (LIFE), poses with children in the village of Nazerate.
While many of her peers spend most of their time pondering what classes to take or how to pass their midterms, 20-year-old George Washington University student Mignotae Kebede has something else on her mind: the plight of a nation.
For the last five years she been juggling school, life and homework while being a relative superhero to hundreds of Ethiopian children through her non-profit Lasting Impact for Ethiopia (LIFE) .
Born with an innate penchant for helping others, Kebede is finally realizing her dream as LIFE is currently in the process of constructing a school for 150 children in the mountaintop village of Nazerate. For Kebede it is just the beginning of what she hopes will become a sustainable project for the future of Ethiopians.
Admittedly, Kebede grew up worlds away from a poverty-stricken village. Born in Orange Country, Calif., to Ethiopian immigrants, Kebede is the first to admit that on occasion it became easy to forget about the outside world, but she credits her parents for their continued guidance.
“Growing up, my parents stressed the significance of true appreciation for what we have, and the power of love and faith,” she said.
Kebede is proof that making such an impact, especially at an early age, is not an unattainable goal. She highlighted some of the lessons she learned along the way.
As students we are often in a rush to follow through on plans as soon as possible. We tend to put on blinders when we see what we want, keeping on the path we consider to be the best route. However, in most cases, adaptability is an important skill. Kebede remembered how her view for LIFE changed after she got started.
“I originally founded LIFE in hopes of constructing a school for orphans in Nazerate. However, after having seen that the issue at hand was not lack of parents but lack of education and resources, LIFE informatively changed its mission to accommodate the people and culture, while addressing the deficiency in education.”
Create power by sharing power
One of the core tenets of LIFE is not just to simply help people and provide aid but also to cultivate power. It may seem like a simple concept but despite all of our country’s philanthropic work, it is often overlooked. It’s reminiscent of the old parable: Give a man a fish and he can eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he can eat for a lifetime.
“We truly believe that the only way to have a lasting impact is through empowerment — working with the culture and needs of the people, and giving them the ability to grow and impact future generations.”
Stay humble and recognize our similarities
On her trip to Ethiopia in December 2011, Kebede was greeted with chants of her last name. Flustered and a bit bemused, she asked her grandfather why they screamed her last name so fervently. She soon found out that her grandfather was originally from the same village. Then it dawned on her: She was no different from these kids mired in poverty.
“I realized that there was nothing that differentiated me from the children that live in this village. Both of my grandparents were born and raised in the same village, yet through some series of circumstances, I wound up in Orange County, Calif., and had the opportunity to attend a university in the United States’ capital,” she said. “But why? I still haven’t been able to answer that question, but it was the most humbling experience of my life.”
While LIFE continues to thrive, Kebede has continued her quest for personal development. She is currently studying abroad in Rwanda working on a Post-Genocide Restoration and Peacebuilding program through the School for International Training. She described it so far as one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences in her life.
“Don’t ever think that one person cannot make a difference. I think that is one of the most detrimental perceptions in today’s society.”
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