Meheret Endeshaw

When Meheret Endeshaw ’08 was a young child growing up in Ethiopia, she watched as her 13-year-old cousin was orphaned to AIDS and ostracized from the community.

“No one took her in, though they could have,” Endeshaw said. “I didn’t understand why.”

Now she knows, and now she’s helping orphans like her cousin. With a prestigious $10,000 Projects for Peace grant, Endeshaw will return to her homeland this summer to implement a project titled “Reducing Stigma for Ethiopian Children Orphaned to HIV/AIDS.”

In 2005, there were upwards of 744,000 HIV/AIDS orphans in Ethiopia. Many of them face social marginalization.  

“There are many non-governmental organizations working to combat HIV transmission and to care as a whole, but they’re not addressing the survivors,” Endeshaw said. “It’s an issue you have to address from a lot of angles and disciplines.”

Her own approach is twofold. First, Endeshaw will create a library with Internet access for orphans at the Netsebak Reproductive Health and Social Development Organization in Dessie, Ethiopia. The group helps children and young adults (ages 7 to 20) impacted by HIV/AIDS.

“I would really like the educational component to be successful,” Endeshaw said. “So often people are only focused on bare minimums like food and shelter. I want these children to have greater opportunities within the country and in international schools.”

Endeshaw will also start a recreation center with a competitive soccer league, organizing games and inviting all members of the community to participate. She hopes the collective experience will help erase the social stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.

“Soccer is a really big thing in Ethiopia,” Endeshaw said. “The recreational program will create close bonds and better integrate these youth back into their community.”

The Projects for Peace grant program, now in its second year, is funded by 101-year-old philanthropist Kathryn Wasserman Davis, whose annual $1 million gift supports 100 student projects.

“I was really excited,” Endeshaw said after receiving news of the grant. “I was happy that I get to use the money for something vital, and happy about the experience I’m going to have.”

Endeshaw has raised additional money for the project on her own and will host a fundraising event May 10 in Seattle.

Two summers ago, she volunteered in Ethiopia for EngenderHealth, a large NGO whose focus is women’s reproductive health and family planning. There she developed a liking for public service, though she was at times troubled by the expenditures of the large organization.

“I decided to work with a small community-based organization,” she said. “I think it’s more effective.”

Endeshaw is a psychology major at Whitman. She volunteers for Blue Mountain Heart to Heart, a local nonprofit that supports local HIV/AIDS victims and their loved ones.

In the long term, Endeshaw wants to continue working in public health, possibly in the nonprofit sector. “I’m eager to dedicate this coming summer, and eventually my career, to restoring peace in the lives, communities and nations where HIV/AIDS and other stigmatizing conditions continue to isolate individuals,” she said.

— Katie Combs ’08

Keith Raether
Office of Communications
Whitman College