I was born and raised in Abi Adi, a small village in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia. My dad fought Mussolini’s Fascist invasion in 1935 and continued occupation. In 1974, the Communist Derg revolution erupted in civil war. The Communists misused generous foreign aid intended for "starvation" to purchase weapons for use against our own citizens. My dad, a top judge and many key national leaders were assassinated and burned. The Derg destroyed my brother’s eardrums. Without ambulances, my sister died in childbirth walking to a large city.

In 1975, prior to my dad's death, I was among those fighting the Derg. My dad told me to immediately hide and leave Ethiopia. At age 13, I began my three month jungle walk, only at night, to Sudan. My shoes where worn out and I had to wrap my feet in leaves to continue. I finally arrived in Sudan where I worked for expenses to travel to Germany. I received my passport and was allowed to come to America in 1981 and became a U.S. citizen in 1985.

In 2000, I returned to Tembien, Ethiopia. War devastation, poverty, hunger, polluted water, minimal health support, and seeing school children learning outside in the dirt was a raw shock! I built a mud school and promised to return.

       

First temporary mud school                                                                                                    First class of students

In 2001, I created the nonprofit U.S. 501(c)(3) HANDS ACROSS the PLANET to POOR YOUTH. Years of fund-raising produced little fruit. In 2004, my heart was still breaking. With support of my family, we sold our Southern California dream home and business. We moved and currently maintain our family in a rented two-bedroom apartment in Orange, CA. The money we received from our home and business was used in Ethiopia to build and furnish an orphan school with 2500 students in Tembien, drill two deep pure water wells, ship an ambulance with supplies to the Mekele Veterans Hospital, deliver $100,000 worth of medical supplies to the Addis Ababa Blackline Hospital, build two homes for poor families and sponsor 11 volunteer U.S. doctors in Ethiopia.

At the start of Operation Desert Storm, the Army was seeking recruits and I volunteered but was over their age limit. After the World Trade Center towers were destroyed, the Red Cross was seeking funds and I donated my BMW to assist their programs.

For my generosity, I received Chapman University's 2007 Albert Schweitzer Award of Excellence. In 2009, I received the International Global Award from the Chapman University Educational Department and the Hero of Development Gold Medal from Tembien, Ethiopia. In 2011, I received the Hero of Development Trophy from the Governor of Mekele, Ethiopia.

Imagine what H.A.P.P.Y. can do if people will open their hearts and support our goals.

First classrooom of students

His heart sunk that day, to a depth he could not begin to fathom. He recalls, "It was a burden so heavy to carry, to see my fellow countrymen crouched under a tree so they could learn." In this despair, Michael fervently vowed to lift his country up and eradicate illiteracy so that the presence of education would never bring war to his people again. It was this very idea that birthed the humanitarian that was always within him.

After a few years of trying to raise money, Michael took matters into his own hands by selling his house in Southern California in 2004. With the new funds, and collaboration with friends, Michael was able to build a furnished school, complete with faculty, staff, and 24-hour security. Children from low-income families are encouraged to start their education here. No child is turned away. Futher, the children now have a proper playground. School supplies and food are funded through donations. Since then, over 1,000 students have graduated from the school.

                                Concrete school under construction                                                                                     New concrete school











 

 
     Albert Schweitzer Award of Excellence

     Albert Schweitzer Institute for Humanitarianism, August 2007















     Changing the World Award

     Chapman University College of Educational Studies, May 2009










     Hero of Development Gold Medal

     Town of Abi-Adi in Tembien, Ethiopia, June 2009




     Hero of Development Trophy

     from the Governor of Mekele, Ethiopia, 2011




     Chapman University Presidential Medal for Distinguished Contributions to Humanity

     from Jim Doti, Chapman University President, December, 2015