Archbishop Desmond Tutu once said, “Do your little bit of good where you are; it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” That’s exactly what the Harvard educated Oromo activist, Tamam Waritu and his team at SeeNuu.com, are doing.
Waritu was born and raised in Hasasa town, Oromia region, in southeastern Ethiopia. At age 16, he immigrated to the United States with his family. Placed in ninth grade, Waritu started with English as a Second Language (ESL) classes, and quickly rose to the top of his class winning several scholarships to attend Portland State University. He credits most of his success to support from his teachers, counselors, and tutors.
“What helped me in high school was the desire to be someone and the willingness to learn from anyone and everyone,” said Waritu, who doesn’t like to talk about his own achievements.
Waritu had the option to pursue medicine, computer science or legal practice, a preferred career path for most children of immigrants. He actually started at PSU’s Computer Science department where he spent his first two years of college. “I realized that I was doing that not because I was passionate about it but rather it was what many immigrants did and I blindly followed it,” said Waritu looking back on the decision he made as a college freshman.
Despite the allure of a modest income post-graduation and loss of scholarship dollars, he eventually switched to a career that aligned closely with his interests. “It was one of the best decisions that I made in my life,” he said. In 2008, when he completed his combined degree in International Studies, Black Studies, Sociology, and Civic Leadership, he was chosen as commencement speaker at graduation.
Waritu said education was always close to his heart. “I was hooked on education for I have always believed in the power and profound impact it has on people’s lives,” he said. Besides excelling in his studies, Waritu was also a McNair Scholar, Student Senator, Recruiter, and a student Ambassador at PSU.
After graduation, he wasted no time to pursue graduate studies. He joined Harvard University where he completed the Master of Education in Prevention Science and Practice program last year.
He’s currently doing a Ph.D in Education at PSU. Since his days at Harvard, where he worked as Admissions Ambassador, Waritu has been looking for ways to help others reach the height of success he’d achieved.
In fact, helping others have been a big part of Waritu’s story. In 2006, he started the Gadab Foundation, a non-profit organization that provides scholarship, books, and other educational materials to students at Hasasa High School. Over three academic years, the foundation helped 28 students to successfully pursue higher education in Ethiopia. The foundation discontinued its scholarship program two years ago due to lack of funding. Waritu is now hoping to revive it.
Tiya Tuffa’s story is no different. Like Waritu, she came to the United States with very little educational background and started in the ninth grade because of her age. She worked hard and established herself as a role model.
Tuffa, 20, who is now studying Business at PSU, has also been striving to help others in her community. In 2006, she founded the Seattle Youth Program and more recently the Scholarships World LLC, both programs aimed at helping minority students succeed.
“There are so many incredible people behind my success, people who encouraged me to try the impossible and to never give up on my dream,” Tuffa wrote on her SeeNuu profile. The oldest of six siblings,Tuffa, felt strongly that she’s to lead by example. “I don’t have the excuse to be average,” she said. “If I fail, I can’t expect my siblings to do better.”
Along with her husband and co-founder, Waritu, they spent the last 10 months working on a start-up called, SeeNuu, an Oromo word for ‘to enter or gain admission’. “We wanted to combine our experiences and create something for everyone, not just students,” she said in a phone interview.
Later they brought, Tamam’s brother and SeeNuu co-founder, Salih Waritu on board. “SeeNuu will be the first college access tool that connects prospective students with current students to help them get into a school of their choice,” said Salih. “We’re putting a positive and educational twist on social networking.”
Salih, 22, is a graduate of University of Oregon’s Charles H. Lundquist College of Business. Although Salih studied Business Administration with a focus on entrepreneurship, innovation is a family tradition for the Waritu’s whose father put through school working as a dishwasher. In college, Salih co-founded the Connect Engage Opportunity (C.E.O) Network, a platform that connects under-represented minority students to the College of Business and acquaint them with the school.
Salih who’s heading up SeeNuu’s marketing and recruiting efforts in North America, wrote in his profile, “it’s not how much you acquire in wealth or knowledge, but how many meaningful relationships you have created in your journey that really make life interesting.” That he said is at the core of his belief.
The Waritu’s along with an army of interns, ambassadors, and supporters are generating a lot of buzz among the Oromo community. SeeNuu’s poster has been plastered around social networking sites like Facebook. Friends’ of the Waritu brothers have changed their profile pictures to the campaign logo.
Tamam has been making the rounds on community radio stations and pal-talk chat rooms giving interviews. His phone rarely sits idle these days. He’s been calling on all his networks, scattered around the states and the world, to draw their attention to the site, SeeNuu.com.
According to the founders, SeeNuu serves a dual purpose. It is a platform that help “students to learn from those who reached where they want to be and a place where those who want to share knowledge with others could do so freely,” Tamam wrote in an email to OPride.
“Facebook is where people talk about who they partied with last weekend and share pictures to prove it. SeeNuu is where people showcase their accomplishments to the world.”
On Nov. 15, few days after the campaign was unofficially launched, Salih wrote in his Facebook status, “help SeeNuu get ‘1000 Likes’…. share, post, tweet, message, email, text, call, Skype, and do whatever else you can think of!” That call has been resoundingly answered. SeeNuu’s official Facebook page now has more than 700 likes.
With the official launch date tentatively scheduled for Jan. 2012, the campaign is already in full effect. For instance, Ciarra Bolden,18, a marketing intern at SeeNuu and Business major at University of Oregon has started a global SeeNuu event on to which nearly 4000 people are invited.
Bolden, who’s a native of Eugene, OR, first learned about SeeNuu through her school. “It started out as a contact, so that I start networking early,” said Bolden. “As I got more and more involved in this project, a love to market the company grew.”
SeeNuu is well received in the community as a whole. Recently, while on another assignment, I overheard a community leader, Obbo Jeylu Damboba of Washington D.C, inquiring about SeeNuu. “It is a great work that they are doing,” said Damboba counting about half dozen students that he plans to call and connect with the founders.
But the buzz is yet to translate into monetary success. “We still have a very long way to go,” said Salih. “Our goal is 18K and we just reached 6K which means that we’ve 2/3 of the way to go.” But his team is counting on the positive reaction and overwhelming support from friends, family, and community members.
Team SeeNuu’s initial plan was to phaseout the campaign first by solicit suggestions/funds from friends and family. But words spread far and wide sooner than they had planed. “People who we didn’t intend to reach were seeing it and asking us about it,” said Salih in an interview via Facebook.
Once the word got out, the team decided to run with it by reaching out to Oromo youth and community leaders. SeeNuu is not exclusive to Oromo students but the founders are focusing on Oromo community in this beta period.
“We’re continuing to reach out to all other contacts, but our biggest hope lies on Oromo people and we believe that they can help us reach our goal,” Salih wrote.
Related Reports and Information about SeeNuu:
Interview with Tujube Hora, Voice of America’s Afaan Oromo Service via Gadaa.com.