Oglethorpe University senior Awet Woldegebriel understands the power of education.
Though the 21-year-old has spent more than half of his life in the United States, he remembers vividly challenges faced as an Eritrean refugee driven out of his homeland by war.
“Being a refugee meant you were always living on hope, always hoping for stability and normalcy,” said Mr. Woldegebriel. “My life is everything I could have asked for because I was able to see a life where the simplest of things like running water, electricity and a high school education were all that people wished they had. This is the reason I have a deep longing to make sure I always look back and give back.”
The three-year class president and international relations major is doing so through his nonprofit, Knowledge Aid, which has sent nearly 5,000 books to Africa and is raising funds for scholarships in developing countries.
As a child, Mr. Woldegebriel and his siblings were among the many Ethiopians of Eritrean descent displaced during the Eritrean-Ethiopian War. He first came to the United States 13 years ago as a refugee and has done his best to make the most of the opportunity the country provided. The experience has influenced his views on humanitarian work.
“I grew up with a father who always taught my siblings and me the value of pride in a man’s worth. I think the current aid model of handouts takes that pride away. I wanted to start a non-profit that held true to the saying, ‘Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day; teach him how to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime,’ and books teach people how to fish,” Mr. Woldegebriel told Global Atlanta.
This year, Knowledge Aid plans to send books to Mogadishu, Somalia. The organization has also distributed books to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya and northern Argentina. His goal is to fully furnish 300 libraries across the developing world by 2018.
Knowledge Aid also established the Hand Up for Higher Education Scholarship. The scholarship will help fund the education of first-generation refugee college students. Five recipients will receive $1,000 each toward furthering their education at a post-secondary institution of their choice.
Applicants must fill out an application on the Knowledge Aid website and turn in a recommendation letter and a two-page essay about “What the World Needs More of…” The essay will be published on the website for public view.
“What I hope this scholarship does is begin a dialogue in refugee households about higher education and serve as an incentive to pursue it,” said Mr. Woldegebriel.