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Bekele Gonfa - Ethiopia

Born to a farming family on October 15, 1953, Bekele Gonfa was raised just like any other child of an Ethiopian farmer. He started school when he was ten years old, and completed elementary school in three years, during which he was a very good student. He served as a Boy Scout and a student discipline controller. After earning very high marks on the Ethiopian School Living Examination, he went on to the Harar Military Academy. He graduated in three years, with honors in academics and military science.

After graduation, Gonfa was assigned to the Holeta Genet Officers Training Center as a training officer. He was at this post for three months before the Ethio-Somali war broke out along Ethiopia’s eastern border. Gonfa was reassigned as an operations officer to an Army battalion.

After participating in several missions on the war’s front lines, the area being defended by Gonfa’s battalion was shelled heavily by enemy artillery. Gonfa was struck by an explosive weapon, which resulted in him losing his left leg above the knee.

Bekele was taken in a helicopter to the nearest hospital in Hara, where he underwent surgery. He regained consciousness in a hospital room thirteen hours later, where his first question was, “Where is my leg?” He began having flashbacks to activities he used to participate in–horseback riding, boxing, running, basketball—and thought that he would never be able to do those things again.

Gonfa was inspired by his former, and favorite, teacher from school, who had also lost a leg and used a crutch while teaching. He made this teacher his role model and decided that losing a leg would not be the end of life as he knew it. While in the hospital for eleven months (and through five surgeries), Bekele met many other amputee patients, many often with injuries more serious than his own.

Gonfa registered as a student at Addis Ababa University, but his time at the university was very difficult. The classrooms and dormitories were not handicap accessible and had no elevators. Some classes were taught in buildings that were as far as 2 kilometers away, forcing him to walk the long distance in his prosthesis. Despite the difficulties, Gonfa graduated from the University in 1983.

After graduating, Gonfa worked for various government and private organizations in a number of different positions. While he had the required qualifications and work experience for many jobs he applied for, he was often discriminated against because of his physical disability. This was very frustrating, but Gonfa was determined to get a job, and began establishing strong contacts with other people facing similar discrimination. He also started actively participating in civic society organizations and served on the boards of many associations. After serving a volunteer and staff member for many non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in Ethiopia, he was hired by LSN to be the Ethiopia Network Director.

Currently Bekele is married with three children. He has been the director of LSN-Ethiopia since April 2003, where he enjoys the opportunity to work with other people with disabilities.

View the next profile: Daniel Tesfahoun

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