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WIU Professor Fetene Gebrewold spent his sabbatical in Ethiopia a few years ago and learned about an impoverished grade school in need of basic educational supplies.
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Sabbatical by WIU Professor Turns into Humanitarian Effort With Local Rotary Club

February 14, 2018

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MACOMB, IL – A sabbatical by a Western Illinois University health sciences and social work professor in his home country of Ethiopia is resulting in exchange opportunities for University faculty and students and a fundraising campaign to improve conditions at an impoverished grade school in the country.

WIU Professor Fetene Gebrewold traveled to Ethiopia several years ago to spend a semester teaching at Haramaya University in Dire Dawa. Then, in 2017, Gebrewold helped establish a memorandum of understanding between WIU and Haramaya University that will result in the exchange of students and faculty and research collaborations, beginning in academic areas such as health sciences and nursing.

While he was traveling the country checking on the progress of student internships, Gebrewold happened upon the rural Harewa/Lele Elementary School and was startled by the health and safety conditions he encountered during a tour. The crumbling school lacks necessary classrooms and supplies, as well as electricity or running water for the nearly 1,500 students. During the rainy seasons, the desk-less classrooms flood.

"The situation was so outrageous that I thought, 'Maybe I need to concentrate on this'," he said.

Before Gebrewold left for Ethiopia, he received a Rotary International grant to conduct public health seminars and presentations on key health issues affecting emerging nations at Haramaya University and in community health clinics. When he returned WIU, Gebrewold became a member of the Bushnell Rotary Club and made a presentation about his sabbatical experience during a meeting.

With Rotary International's service mission, and Gebrewold's desire to help the Ethiopian school, a partnership to raise money to modernize the school was developed. The result is a $300,000 fundraising campaign that was kicked off by a $5,000 donation by WIU alumni Brian and Kathleen Aden, of Mundelein, IL, both 1986 graduates.

Gebrewold said the initial campaign is to raise funds for basic classroom necessities, such as desks. The plan to drill a well and bring running water has hit several snags, including the location of the school, but is still part of the plan.

"We are currently prioritizing the needs at the site," said Gebrewold. "We hope to add three classrooms and desks to the school first. I'm trying my best to involve people and raise awareness for the needs of the school."

Because of the fundraiser, the Bushnell Rotary Club has formed a 501c3 corporation so donations to the project are tax deductible.

"Fetene has shared photos with our club of the educational conditions in Ethiopia," said Bushnell Rotary Club President Judge Patricia Walton. "Our club members cannot even fathom sending one's children to school in a place without a safe structure, no desks and no educational supplies. If we can raise enough money to provide a school, desks and educational materials, then the children can concentrate on learning and bettering themselves; and as a result, bettering their families."

For more information, or to make a donation to the effort, visit

Posted By: Jodi Pospeschil (
Office of University Relations