Gedlu is one of many Ethiopians to seek refuge in the United States. For nearly twenty years, Ethiopia faced its worst famine in a century due to never-ending drought and human rights abuses. Refugees were persecuted for a plethora of reasons: religion, ethnicity, political view, etc.
Basic rights taken for granted in the United States were reason to fear death in regions of Africa. Freedom of speech did not exist and government opposition led to the shooting of young students, including Gedlu himself.
Living conditions were minimal. Bathrooms were pits in the ground, homework was done by streetlight, and journalists wrote only what was dictated down the barrel of a machine gun. Survival was a daily fight and in Gedlu’s case, lack of food was the least of his country’s worries.
At the age of 27 Gedlu came through the refugee admission program from the Sudan, one among the 1s t 200 batch of Africans from Ethiopia during the height of the Cold war.
The year was 1980, and in America it was the time of new wave and pop. Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” was on repeat, but for Gedlu it was a year of loneliness, constant struggle and cultural misunderstandings. These seemed to be common themes in his early years on the streets of New York. He learned that “hotdog” was not a literal translation and that thirty-two dollars doesn’t get you far in New York City.
After a short bout in Washington, he finally set roots down in St. Louis, Missouri. It was here in St. Louis that he found his purpose. In April of 1983, he opened the doors to the African Mutual Aid Association, an agency to aid new refugees in adjusting to life in the United States.
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton wrote, “It takes a village to raise a child.” Gedlu believes this to be his mission. He strives to serve as his community’s extended family and truly hopes that he can raise tomorrow’s leaders in a place where political strife is a distant memory.
These days, Gedlu splits his time between his wife, raising two children and dedicating himself to the International Institute where he works in the immigration counseling sector. He showcases his collection of religious texts with ease. On a table he proudly displays the Bible, Koran, and Torah; freedoms he was once denied in his home country of Ethiopia.
Gedlu is a man whose mere existence and story is an example of true heroism and what dedication and persistence can accomplish when faced with unlimited obstacles. He is an inspiration to those escaping similar injustices and a model of selflessness.