I felt sad hearing about students who have the knowledge, ability, and passion for education but lack the means to do so. It was devastating to know that someone actually went through what most of these students did to only end up on the streets or go back to farming. If it was me, I would have probably given up. So I figured if my one dollar can change someone’s life, so why not. Besides, serving in the board motivates me to do more in school and life. And now, I realize that there are better things in this world I could do than just working on my own personal goals – Lalese Dawano
By Oromsis Adula*
Charity begins at home goes the old saying. The Minnesota based group of young Oromo entrepreneurs seem to have understood that message when they founded the Dodolaa Scholarship Foundation (DSF) in 2007.The DF is a registered 501(c) (3) in the state of Minnesota established with a “focal objective of giving educational opportunities to students who are disadvantaged” primarily hailing from Dodolaa High School.
Dodolaa is located in the West Arsi Zone of Oromia, according to the current administrative portioning, formerly part of Bale. As a hotbed of resistance dating back to the days of the Emperor, this part of the Oromo sub-region – Bale zone, has been at a disadvantage in comparison to the rest of the country. As such, the DSF’s small initiative to empower and uplift their fellow students from misery brought about by illiteracy and lack of opportunities is a truly marvelous idea.
I was invited by a long time friend to the foundation’s annual membership gathering. Knowing that Minnesota is home to the largest Dodolaa residents, perhaps outside of the town of Dodolaa, I went to the meeting anticipating a much larger crowd. However, I was troubled to see such a small turnout, some 30 to 40 people. So I prodded the group’s secretary for an answer. He brushed off my questions saying, what is in numbers?
My question was answered later when the time came for recognition and annual report. To his credit, Mr. Edao Dawano’s statement that, “quantity alone doesn’t do the job” had a silver bullet. A few committed groups of young students have changed a generation already. Since the foundation began its work just over two years ago, fourteen students were awarded scholarships to attend various universities in the country. The fourteen, according to Mr. Mubarek Kassim, the foundation’s President, were chosen from among an overwhelming 56 applicants who met the eligibility criteria and sent their applications on time. That signifies the incredible and dire need for opportunities such as the one offered by Dodolaa Scholarship Foundation. Altogether, with new and renewed scholarships, DSF has awarded 22 students to date.
Responding to a question from the audience, Dawano explained, “…a matter as trivial as lack of transportation to far-off places such as Mekele, Jima, Haromaya and Bahir Dar Universities is preventing Oromo students from successfully completing their studies.” He adds, during the summer months, as the few and relatively advantaged sects of the community, “we seek to give these students the opportunity to come back and serve.” Some of the scholarship recipients summer projects included but not limited to;
- Health Awareness Campaigns For Students In The Health Sciences;
- Advisement to farmers on better agricultural practices– for students studying agriculture or related professions;
- And many work at Dodolaa High School teaching, coaching and mentoring rising seniors in preparation for the national exit exam.
The impassioned group’s report highlighted the heart-wrenching stories narrated in the scholarship applicant’s personal statements. Most of these students are bright but financially challenged they said one after another. Our goal is to “play a small part in supplementing their education by giving these students the much needed financial boost to own another pair of shoe or just be able to board a bus home during school breaks”, said Hashim Adam, the DSF’s Treasurer.
In the report, the foundation’s officer’s sought to diffuse questions about the name and why the scholarship opportunities are limited only to one high school. Dawano stressed that “the scholarship is open to all students regardless of age, gender or locality but limited in scope to that particular high school due to the foundation’s lack of financial resources.”
The organization relies on the generous support of its members. Board members are unpaid volunteers. Members are asked to contribute a total of $100 a year or about $10 per month. Some dedicated members like Jamal T go above and beyond that hundred dollar benchmark. A recipient of DF’s Outstanding Contribution Certificate, Jamal, made an earnest comment stating that “poverty, health and education has no ethnicity…we should always feel compelled to feed the hungry, treat the ill and educate the ignorant.” That is the very essence of humanity, he said. His comments were directed at the fact that one of this year’s recipient’s was a girl who was of “non-Oromo” ethnic background. He congratulated the group for raising the bar and showing a moral character of highest altitude for going past ethnic divides to stretch a hand to someone in need. Mubarak gave a collaborative testimony that “the award has already made a significant difference in the girl’s attitude towards Oromo and ethnicity in general” as evidenced in the recipient’s mid-year letter.
Another equally passionate honorary member, Amrula, an accomplished Oromo Artist, recounted his experience visiting Ethiopia and witnessing poverty at its peak. Amrula took the opportunity to renew his pledge and donated a digital art to the group, concluding his remarks by declaring “poverty has become a burden not tolerable in my life.”
Asked about how recipients were selected, Edao acknowledged, “…it took the board members twelve hours of closed-door deliberation to determine who and how many students should be awarded…a thorough, tiring and tear-jerking process.” He added, “…all these students meet the eligibility criteria in terms of earning a qualifying GPA for higher education, persistent year to year academic excellence despite dazzling odds to overcome along the way and a demonstrated financial need.” But the organization’s financial muscle is such that not all applicants can be awarded. Hence, determining who will receive the scholarship from among “above qualified pool of candidates” becomes a truly daunting task. Nonetheless, somebody has to win. Somebody always does. The decision becomes even harder when you are looking at a non-Oromo applicant who is equally deserving and qualified. But we have come to recognize, “in a place like Ethiopia, poverty has no ethnicity”, said Dawano.
A portion of a personal statement read by Hussein Ejero, also a member of DSF board, written by one of the applicant’s who was not awarded testifies to Edao’s remarks that “reading through those letters sends one in the state of despair and depression.” From what I was able to scribble down on my note, Finqila Ganamo was his name. He lost his father at a very young age. He comes from a remote area in the district where education is paucity. Without a father to support him and the rest of his family at home, he forged ahead, often sleeping on the streets and walking home a whole day journey on foot. He worked in the market carrying goods on his shoulder for merchants to earn a living and be able to continue his studies… on & on. These stories are not singular rather a common theme for many of the applicants whose statements I was able to peek through.
Another member of the group, from the fourteen members recognized for their contribution, Kinini, echoed a view similar to expressed by others who spoke before him. He related his own experience walking long distance while a student in the area for not having two birr – roughly about a dime in the U.S. He affirmed that the recognition motivates him to do more in the years to come and “education is the key to uplifting the Oromo mass.” Negassa Ayana, the President of Oromia Youth Association, on his part, praised the work of Dodola foundation and challenged Oromos from all walks of life to use the organization as a model and setup similar initiatives in their own localities.
Lalese Dawano is the foundation’s Vice President. In a follow up interview, I asked her why she joined the board. She replied;
I felt sad seeing students who have the knowledge, ability, and passion for education but lack the means to do so. It was devastating to know that someone actually went through what most of these students did to only end up on the streets or go back to farming. If it was me, I would have probably given up. So I figured if my one dollar can change someone’s life, so why not. Besides, serving in the board motivates me to do more in school and life. And now, I realize that there are better things in this world I could do than just working on my own personal goals.
Other comments and suggestions rose at the meeting included; reaching out to non-Oromo audience and using successful endeavors like the Books for Africa project, effectively communicating the principles of the foundation to alleviate some discomfort about the issue of name vis-à-vis motive of the organization and aggressively pursuing alternative funding sources to sustain the organization over the long term.
For More Information;
Dodolaa Foundation E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
P.O. Box 581265 Info@dodolaafoundation.org
Minneapolis, MN 55458-1265 www.dodolaafoundation.org
*Note: Opinions expressed in this article are solely that of Oromsis Adula unless quoted and doesn’t reflect the view of DSF or its members. To protect the identity of people quoted, only first names were used. Oromsis Adula is the Editor -In-Chief of Opride.com, a multimedia weblog that aggregates Oromo, Ethiopian and Horn of African news. Oromsis writes regular news commentaries and Op-Eds on current issues that affect the Oromo people in Ethiopia.