Etenesh Wondmagegnehu was born in Hagereselam town in Southern Region Regional State. After completing 10th grade in the same town of her birth and inspired by nurses, she decided to attend nursing school in Addis Ababa after passing the entrance exam. Etenesh however later changed her mind and continued her high school education and joined the Addis Ababa University in 1973 G.C. This was the time when the regime in power sent university and high school students to the rural parts of Ethiopia for national “Ediget Behibret Yewuketina Yesira Zemecha” campaign. The students’ were engaged to introduce the new land proclamation; raise awareness on harmful traditional practices and also on the literacy campaign. During the same year Etenesh joined the campaign but it was short lived as in the meantime she was nominated and left for Tanzania for a 6-month leadership training. Upon completion of the training program, she was assigned to work in one of the government offices. After serving for a short time she continued her education and was admitted back at Addis Ababa University in the Department of Business Administration. Unfortunately, she had to drop out because of a family tragedy wherein her elder brother became a victim of the Derg’s atrocity. A year later, Etenesh continued her education in the School of Social Work and graduated in August 1980 G.C obtaining a Bachelor of Arts degree in Social Work.
“ I am passionate about socializing and understanding other people’s perspectives ”
As a new graduate, Etenesh contributed a great deal to change the lives of children with disabilities. She was one of the team members who initiated Community Based Rehabilitation in the rural parts of Ethiopia with technical and financial support from international organizations like UNICEF, ILO and WHO in the early 1980s G.C while working in the government office. Over the years, Etenesh has served in different organizations as a social worker. Her main responsibilities as a social worker were to ensure the welfare of children, mainly by creating access to education, counseling, training, creating employment opportunities and addressing other major issues that affected their lives. This is a process aimed to facilitate a smooth transition of children to adulthood. Etenesh’s deep rooted interest to serve the community compelled her to resign from employment with SOS to establish her own NGO named Handicap National, currently known by the name Berhan Lehetsanat, with like minded friends and colleagues in December 1997 with the major objective of working on the inclusion of children with disabilities and their parents/guardians in their respective communities. She now serves as Berhan Lehetsanat’s Executive Director.
Under her leadership, Berehan Lehetsanat works in 7 project sites: i.e. Lideta and Arada sub cities, Debre Zeit Town, Adaa Woreda in Oromiya Regional State, Chilga Woreda in North Gonder Zone, and 8 sub cities in Hawassa town in SNNPR, and Dessie. Berehan Lehetsanat mainstreams children’s issues in general and children with disabilities in particular in all its target areas.
Currently through these projects Berhan Lehtsanat has managed to reach 13,668 children and youth in total, with the following focus areas:
- 4,535 Orphan and Vulnerable Children (OVCs)
- 1,685 children in Alternative Basic Education (ABE) programs
- 2357 Children with disabilities (CwDs)
- 2,176 in Income Generation Activity (IGA) program
- 300 youth with disability in vocational rehabilitation program
- Tutorial support to 2,615 children
All these program activities are creating a favorable living environment for these groups of children and their families in difficult situations. Another milestone and contribution of her organization, in collaboration with others, led to the formulation of a policy articulating the requirement to ensure accessibility to people with disabilities. This culminated in the building construction code of the Ministry of Housing and Construction.
“ I wish to see a world where human beings live in peace and happiness. ”
The other significant contribution that can be considered as a model at national level under her leadership is the effort made and accepted by Hawassa College of Teachers education to give sign language and brail reading and writing for all trainee teachers. Her efforts to mainstream issues of disability as one of the health extension packages in target areas is the other dimension of her contribution to create an enabling and friendly environment for persons with disabilities in general and children with disabilities in particular. Etenesh is also known to contribute to the opening of a special needs education department in Kotebe College of Education. Moreover she has a significant role in producing inclusive education manual for use by primary schools to support children with disabilities.
Etenesh is very much well known for her commitment and dedication. She is never satisfied with what she is doing and always strives to deliver more to the community. This includes continuously updating herself in the area of children, gender and disability issues. Towards this, she has completed a postgraduate study in Special Needs Education and earned a Master’s Degree. Her results oriented character makes her work harder till she recognizes the change in others. Supporting individuals in her organization and community, she works hard in boosting their self-esteem and building their self-confidence so as to move forward on their own.
She is also known to be highly committed to support women and young girls. She works with different stakeholders: the government, national and international civil society organizations, different individual community development actors and others to bring about changes in the economic empowerment of women and encourages male involvement in the development of women. Supporting young girls and their parents to enhance their access to quality education is one of the major tasks she and her co-workers have been involved in. Etenesh believes that when girls and their families are supported and educated, it has a huge impact on poverty reduction. To date, she together with her team reached 2160 women in IGA and 2615 young girls in tutorial programs.
Etenesh is an initiator of ADIHNO Integrated Rural Development and currently serves on its board. She is also a volunteer and general assembly member of Fikir Lehitsanat providing school support to children and empowering women on sustainable development. Etenesh is a member of the Addis Ababa Rotary Club; a board member of the Community Based Rehabilitation (CBR), a network of 26 organizations, all working on the betterment of the lives of children; board member of Consortium of Christian Relief and Development (CCRD), Ethiopian Center for Disability and Development (ECDD) and others. She also actively participates in neighborhood/community activities to enhance quality social life by encouraging the neighborhood to engage in community development work, advocating the value of Iddir and other mutual aid associations for the good of community residents.
What do they think/say about Etenesh?
“ An appreciative inquiry approach is very important to build on what already exists. ”
Etenesh’s colleagues describe her highly energetic, good listener, tolerant, hardworking, supportive, emotionally calm and someone that never take rest before finishing what has been started and encourages others to speak their mind. She is also described as generous individual that goes to the extent of using her own money and property for the accomplishment of the mission of the organization.
In recognition of the services she has provided for the care, protection and development of children and their parents/guardians under her leadership, Etenesh was given an award from the “Love Harvest National Coordination Committee”.