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Adventist college library director honored for building school in native Ethiopia

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Adventist college library director honored for building school in native Ethiopia

Adu Worku shown here while visiting Ethiopia last month. The library director at Adventist-run Pacific Union College raised money to build a high school in his home country. [photo courtesy Pacific Union College]

Worku grew up as shepherd where high schools didn’t exist; now school bears his name

January 13, 2015 | Angwin, California, United States | Herbert Ford/PUC/ANN

Adu Worku received a hero’s welcome last month from thousands of people in rural northwestern Ethiopia, where he began life more than half a century ago as a shepherd boy before moving to the United States as an adult.

Worku, director of Pacific Union College’s Nelson Memorial Library, visited his native land and was honored at a two-day festival attended by some 6,000 people for providing funds and direction for the construction of a large, multi-building school campus. He said the facility is a key institution in allowing qualified students to move from a high school education to college and university. The school campus sits on 15 acres of land.

While there are many elementary schools in rural Ethiopia, Worku said the area in which he grew up didn’t have a school that provided high school education.

“Completion of high school is a requirement for acceptance to a college or university education. That's the reason this new high school is important,” Worku said in an interview at the library on the Seventh-day Adventist campus, located in the town of Angwin in the U.S. state of California.

The honor Worku received while in Ethiopia was also a tribute to the years of struggle he went through to educate himself, at a time and in a place where even an elementary education was generally not available.

"The pattern of a man's life where I lived, was that you shepherded sheep and goats from about age seven until you were 12," Worku said. "At about 12, you 'graduated' to work on the family farm. And that was it for the rest of your life; you became a farmer and died as a farmer."

Worku worked as a shepherd in the rolling green Ethiopian hills, not far from the headwaters of the Blue Nile river with seemingly no chance at an education. He now holds three master's degrees and a university-conferred honorary doctoral degree.

But his road to education began, literally, by accident.

While walking with some friends through brush one night, he was struck in the eye by a tree branch that had been pulled aside to allow passage of a friend ahead of him. The blow led to blindness in that eye and a trip to a distant hospital.

At the hospital there was also a school. “I saw what 'learning' was for the students there, and that it was available to anyone simply through using one's mind, I fell in love with education," Worku said.

Without returning to his family home, he began seeking entry into one elementary school after another, most of which required a tuition fee he didn't have. He begged for board and room in return for work among families near the schools he wanted to attend. He found firewood-gathering and grass-cutting jobs to meet tuition and school book expenses. He said he “devoured” his school books and successfully tested out of several school grade levels, which moved him along rapidly. At age 20, with a sixth-grade education, he was hired as a school teacher.

During the course of Worku's drive toward educating himself, a Seventh-day Adventist missionary couple at an Ethiopian Adventist mission hospital met him and saw the promise of his bettering his life through education.

"That physician and his wife told me that if I really wanted an education, they would sponsor me for just as far as I wanted to go. They have kept their word, and I was able to keep on educating myself," Worku said. "Our coming in contact with each other as we did, and their decision to invest in my life, was a miracle to me."

He now holds master’s degrees in history and education from Andrews University, located in Michigan, and a master’s degree in library science from the University of Southern California. He was also conferred an honorary doctorate from Southwestern Adventist University, located in Texas.

Through successful appeals to friends in California’s Napa Valley—where Pacific Union College is located—and two grant-making foundations over the past five years, Worku raised some $600,000 for the Ethiopian school, which now bears the name Worku Memorial Academy. The school's first graduation of students will take place later this year.

Now, because of the blindness of three of his Ethiopian friends, and that of many others in the area where he lived, Worku is starting to recruit eye doctors in the United States to visit his old village and perform cataract surgery in a nearby clinic.

"My hope is that we will be able to interest eye specialists to take short term, unpaid periods of service there," Worku said. "In addition to providing great clinical experience, it will give those who serve a great sense of having helped others."

Worku will deliver a video report of his recent visit to Ethiopia at 10 a.m. on Saturday, January 24 in the Paulin Choir Room of the Pacific Union College Seventh-day Adventist Church.

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