Ethiopian heritage achievers honoured with Bikila Awards
October 18, 2018
Uplifted after attending a women’s empowerment conference, Emmanuel Genene called close friend Caleb Jara to share his excitement.
Almost immediately, they thought about starting organizations in their universities to expose young people to business leaders and professionals.
Genene and Jara are enrolled in business schools at Queen’s and York universities respectively. They matriculated in 2016 from St. Edmund Campion Secondary School where Jara was the graduating class valedictorian.
“Instead of going through the red tape at our universities, we figured it might be best to start a non-profit organization,” said Jara who was the recipient of an Academic Excellence Award at the fifth annual Bikila ceremony celebrating Ethiopian heritage achievers in Canada and the rest of the world.
Edge: Diversity in Leadership emerged as a conduit for top firms to network with a diverse group of business students from the top schools across Canada.
Last January, the organization held an event focussed on the promotion of ethnic diversity in leadership.
Some of Canada’s top business executives, including Metrolinx chief planning officer Leslie Woo who advocates for diversity in the workforce and serves as an inspiration for the next generation of leaders, attended the event.
“I would say there is never one thing that shapes your career,” she told the young delegates. “But there are a few things that are really critical. Your sensibilities, how you were raised and the values your families give you stay with you forever. These have been my guidepost. I always talk about not having a compass in my career. So my heart and my head have been my gyroscope. Sometimes, I led with my heart and sometimes I led with my head which meant that my career has not been a straight line and very zigged and zagged. But always at the center, now in hindsight, was that huge drive to have impact and make a difference.”
Jara, who graduated from high school as an Ontario Scholar with a 95 per cent grade average, said youths are inspired by the chief executive officers and others in the corporate world that are brought in to motivate them.
“But more importantly, networks are formed and about 40 young people have been hired so far because of this initiative,” the aspiring lawyer pointed out.
The awards honour the memory of the great Ethiopian runner Abebe Bikila who was the first Black African athlete to capture an Olympic medal in 1960. Running barefoot in Rome, he won the marathon in a record time of 2:15:16.2.
Successfully defending his title four years later in Tokyo, Bikila was denied the hat-trick at the 1968 Mexico City Games when a right knee injury forced him to quit after 17 kilometres. His countryman, Mamo Wolde, won the gold medal.
Bikila died on October 25, 1973 of a brain haemorrhage, a complication from a single vehicle accident four years earlier that left him paralyzed.
Receiving an honour in Bikila’s name is very gratifying for Dalhousie University lecturer Dr. Tessema Astatke who was recognized for professional excellence.
“Back in Ethiopia, Bikila is a household name and he’s deeply revered by most of his country people,” he said. “A man of amazing resilience, he motivated people to strive for excellence. I am so honoured to be bestowed with an award in his name.”
Coming to Canada 28 years ago to pursue a doctorate in statistics at Queen’s University, Astatke has been on the Dalhousie staff since 1994. He regularly hosts international scholars and graduate students, bringing new perspectives on teaching and research to the university’s campus and plays an active role in training programs for Ethiopian scholars.
Five years ago, Astatke was the recipient of Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Agriculture Achievement in Internationalization Award.
Dr. Siegbert Uhlig, professor emeritus of African & Ethiopian Studies at the University of Hamburg in Germany, was also honoured for professional excellence.
He founded the Journal of Ethiopian and Eritrean Studies and co-authored ‘Ethiopia: History, Culture & Challenges’.
“I think it’s important for the younger generation to know about their heritage,” said Uhlig.
Academic Excellence Award winners Ednah Negatu and Zatty Tameru have been friends since high school, having met in Grade Nine at Senator O’Connor College.
“She’s one of my best friends and it’s really cool that we are sharing this special moment,” said Tameru who is a first-year student at York University’s Glendon College.
Negatu, who was also presented with a scholarship, is enrolled in the University of Toronto’s life sciences program. The aspiring medical practitioner lived in Ethiopia for two years while in elementary school.
McMaster University graduate Semir Bulle was also the recipient of a scholarship and Academic Excellence Award.
Professor Getachew Haile, who is considered one of the foremost scholars of the Ge’ez language, was honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award, Australian-born Dr. Catherine Hamlin – who with her husband co-founded the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital which is the world’s only medical care centre dedicated to providing free obstetric fistula repair surgery to poor women suffering from childbirth injuries – was recognized with a Medical & Humanitarian Services Award, entrepreneur Bethlehem Alemu, who founded soleRebels which is Africa’s fastest growing footwear company, was the recipient of the Business Excellence Award and Benyam Belete, who started a home for the elderly and disabled, was the Community Service Excellence Award recipient.
This year’s celebration was tinged with sadness.
Bikila Awards founding secretary Tamrat Gebeyehu – who was a litigation counsel in the Department of Justice Ontario regional office -- passed away last May while Dr. Edemariam Tsega – who with his wife Dr. Frances Lester-Tsega were presented with Professional Excellence Awards last year -- died on January 1 in Hamilton.
Tsega, who was 80, single-handedly introduced a post-graduate program in internal medicine in Ethiopia before coming to Canada in 1995. He was a former clinical professor of medicine at Memorial University in Newfoundland and professor emeritus of medicine at McMaster University.