On February 12, 2002, Professor Terfu Asfaw received an official letter from the Tigray Regional Government expressing its gratitude for his generous donation towards the establishment of a new elementary school in Tigray, Ethiopia, his homeland.  That letter came only a week before his death from a long illness with Leukemia. As a longtime advocate for universal education, Terfu’s desire to create a living legacy, in the spirit and life’s work of his maternal grandfather, Haleka Tewolde-Medhin Gebru, was to be realized with his own life-savings of $100,000 US (close to a million Birr) for a modern, well equipped school that would be available to all children in the area.

        The school was inaugurated just two weeks ago and named: Haleka Tewolde Medhin Gebru School. Terfu’s wife, Mrs. Shakeh Salmon Asfaw, and his daughter, Fannah Asfaw, were present in Adua for the occasion, which was well publicized in Ethiopian radio and TV.

       Terfu was born in the small historic town of Adua, Ethiopia, located in the northern province of Tigray.  With the passing of his father, Blatta Asfaw Negussie while still an infant, his upbringing was the joy of his mother, Teberih Tewolde Medhin and his grandfather, Haleka Tewolde-Medhin Grbru.  After attending Negaste Saba Elementary School (where his mother taught math) and Debre Ziet High School, he entered Haile Selassie University and studied math for two years.  In 1968, he accepted a position at Ethiopian Airlines, which gave him the opportunity to visit the United States.  By 1970, Terfu decided to relocate to Los Angeles, California.  During the next seven years he completed a Bachelors and a Masters degrees in mathematics at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.

      Upon graduation, Terfu was engaged in a number of secondary school teaching positions (Sun Valley Middle School, Bell Gardens High School) and university teaching assignments (Cal Poly, Cal State LA, Northridge State, Cal State Dominguez Hills, Mission college, Los Angeles City College).  All these experiences eventually led him to the math department at Southwest Community College where he taught for over fifteen years, and was ultimately appointed as the Math Department Chair.  In 1997, Terfu received the prestigious Outstanding Teacher Award, conferred on him by the Associated Student Body of Southwest College.

       As a lifelong fighter for social justice and global peace, Terfu dedicated much of his time to raising funds and supporting various humanitarian projects.  Chief among these efforts were those aimed at the dissolution of apartheid in South Africa and the eradication of poverty and illiteracy in Africa and Latin America.  Through the years, his activism led him to participate and serve in several important organizations, among which were: Committee Against Famine for Ethiopia (CAFFE) as a founding member, and (TDA) Tigray Development Association, also as a founding member, where he played a key role in the collection of funds and books towards the construction of eleven libraries all over Tigray.  In these and many other organizations, Terfu facilitated the collection of tens of thousands in funds and textbooks for other schools in Ethiopia and Southern Africa. 

        His passionate concern for racial and economic justice led him to support calls for equality, childcare and education opportunities for woman in the United States and overseas.  His travels throughout the world gave him a global worldview and a personal connection to the aspirations of people from many cultures, nationalities and religions. Throughout his life, the values he fought for in public community forums were underscored by the high standards he held in his personal and professional life. Terfu was known to be involved in, to found and establish many organizations and projects, but he never aspired to hold an office, nor propel his own ego to positions of authority. Rather, he was a unique individual person who accomplished all his goals through discussions and gentle persuasions.

        His wife Shakeh Salmon-Asfasw of 27 years and their nineteen-year-old daughter, Fanah can attest to the boundless love, care and devotion he exhibited toward his family. As a man of impeccable integrity, personal charm and selflessness, he remains for many young people like his daughter, Fannah and her friends, a model of hard work, intense personal courage and a lifelong commitment to peace and goodwill toward all. Furthermore, this school will stand as a shining example of selfless sacrifice to the cause of education, which is sorely needed everywhere in Ethiopia, and we hope many more Ethiopians will follow that example.

   See Photo Gallery of the inaugural celebration      Read related poem: BRAVE SOULS

The views reflected in the above article  are solely of the authors and are not necessarily shared by Meskot.