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September 20, 2014

As I sit here, in the office of Fregenet School in Addis Abeba, I can hear the laughter of children in the schoolyard just before lunch.  It is the sound of health and vitality.  The cook has made Berbere Stew and the scent of Allspice, Ginger, Chili, Cloves and Coriander make the air smell sweet and spicy. It is the smell of promise.

In May of 2003, my daughter Fregenet graduated from Metropolitan State University in Minneapolis and had begun to make plans to fulfill her lifelong dream.  Motivated by love, she was full of compassion and ideas to help the poorest children in our homeland.  I could not have been more proud.

Then came the phone call that every parent fears but no parent actually thinks will happen to them.  Fregenet had been in an accident.

For months, my wife Elizabeth Asrat and I were mired in grief.  Memories of Fregenet flooded our hearts.  We remembered her joy for life, her drive to achieve, her kindness for those around her and her ability to find goodness in every situation.  Most of all, we remembered our last few conversations with her – her vision to bring food, hope and education to the children of Ethiopia.

As we remembered her, a purpose for us was born.  We would honor her life by doing the work she left behind.

It’s been ten years since we began this journey to deliver Fregenet’s vision to the children of Ethiopia.  Our Fregenet School had one small building, caring for 31 malnourished kids between 4 and 6.  They were slow, skinny and sleepy because of their empty bellies.

Our resources barely covered the first year’s expenses. Every month, we wondered how we would cover the next month’s needs, but we knew we could not give up.  It was not an option.  Fregenet would never have given up on these children.

Since then, every year we have been amazed by the success the School has enjoyed.  Today, Fregenet School and Fregenet Foundation support 316 children between the ages of 4 and 16.  They are healthy, eager to learn, and full of life.  As I write these words, some are eating heartily, while others are kicking around an old soccer ball and still others are spreading love via hugs to friends, staff, teachers and visitors to the school.

These achievements are only possible because of our incredible and loyal supporters.  Our deepest appreciation to all of our amazing donors, board members, in-kind contributors, and faithful LA marathon runners.

We are entering an expansion phase with our sight set on building a state-of-the-art model school in the coming two years.  We are envisioning new classrooms, with one for each grade from pre-K to fourth. Our plans include a cafeteria, a library, a computer lab and a clinic that will serve both our students and communities surrounding the school.  We believe this will help the communities to have a sense of ownership, a sense of belonging and engender vested interest in their children’s future through education.  Ultimately, we want to transition the operation of the school into the hands of the community, perhaps to the graduates from our school.

Our investment for success at Fregenet extends beyond Addis Abeba.  We believe that we are piloting a model that can be replicated in other impoverished regions.  Our goal is to test out this premise with 10 other model schools by 2024.  We hope to not only reach more children in Ethiopia but also those in its neighboring countries and beyond.  I sincerely believe this is doable.

The school bell has rung for the afternoon classes.  Smiling faces parade before me as they march back to the classroom.  I see Fregenet in their eyes.  And she is alive in them.  It’s as if her life is a seed that falls to the ground.  It dies so it can become a life-giving tree, producing countless fruit.

Tafesse Woubshet
Founder and President