16 September 2013

SOS Children's Village Students Found NGO

The passion, and determination of three young men with an SOS Children’s Village background to be the change they want to see in the world, has laid the foundation for an internationally acclaimed student driven NGO: Aynah.

Aynah, formerly known as I Impact Now, was born when Kiflu Tesfaye and William Montoya were students at Luther College in Iowa in the United States, while Ezra Nigussie was heading the Hermann Gmeiner International School in Hawassa, Ethiopia at the time.

Both, Mr. Tesfaye and Mr. Nigussie lived in the SOS Children’s Village in Hawassa and Addis Ababa respectively before attending the SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International College in Ghana. Mr. Montoya spent a part of his childhood in SOS Children’s Village Ibague in Colombia after which he graduated from the SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International College in Costa Rica.

The NGO originated with the project “Collaborating on Irrigation to Fight Hunger” after the young students started sharing ideas on environmentally sustainable economic development through cooperative development.

Representing I Impact Now at the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference in San Diego. The three gentleman in the picture are, from left, Kiflu Tesfaye, William Montoya and Ezra Nigussie. Photo: IIN

Doing something – even before being part of the working world
“We firmly believed that we did not want to wait until we were in the working world before doing things we are passionate about,” explained Mr Montoya. The irrigation project with its aim to reduce dependence on seasonal rainfall in Datu Wereda, Ethiopia, soon got off the ground with the help of a Davis Peace Project Grant.

The project was a big success. I Impact Now, a student organisation focusing on planning, raising awareness and funds, and implementing projects in Ethiopia “naturally developed” from there, said Mr Nigussie.

Being persistent, seeking help
“Determination and integrity were central to our success,” he said “The task required (from) us to pull in long shifts, be persistent, seek help and gain support. The challenges were deep-rooted. We worked in an area where poverty is deep-rooted. We had to jealously guard the trust of our donors to complete the project. We had to be very serious about it.”

A second irrigation project, of which the implementation phase was overseen by Mr Nigussie in Ethiopia, was completed under the banner of I Impact Now. However, in January 2012 the student leaders saw the need to create a formal non-profit organisation. I Impact Now was renamed and registered as Aynah.

Presenting the project at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum
It was soon apparent that I Impact Now/Aynah was not just another student organisation. Mr Montoya was part of a group that represented the project at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum and the Clinton Global Initiative University Conference in San Diego. They also received an award from the Hawkinson Foundation in Minneapolis.

“Pretty much all of this has been a journey of leadership,” Mr Montoya said.” And to me leadership is constant personal growth as we serve other people and the greater good wherever we are.”. He added that growing up in an SOS Children’s Village allowed him to have a childhood that enabled him to dream big and to pursue and achieve those dreams. During his years at Luther College he was president of the Student Senate for one semester and was awarded a medal for his service to students and the college community.

Role models: SOS Mother and village director
Both Mr Montoya and Mr. Nigussie said their common SOS Children’s Villages background was a major contributor to their successful relationship. Although they have graduated and moved on from Luther College, they remain in touch.

Role models in the young men’s lives have been plentiful, but to Nigussie two stand out: his SOS Children’s Village mother, Simegnish Mengistue, and former director of the SOS-Hermann Gmeiner International College in Ghana as well as former vice-president of SOS Children’s Villages International Margaret Nkrumah. The latter encouraged him to use his knowledge in the service of Africa.

Mr Montoya sums their success up as follow: “Looking back I think there were four important things that kept us together: really knowing what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go, shared values, trust and critical thinking minds.”

New generation taking over
The work of Aynah (www.aynah.org) is being continued by a new generation of students. Mr. Nigussie will be returning to Ethiopia and Africa shortly to put to practice his MBA by starting a management and business consulting practice, while Mr. Montoya is pursuing a masters degree in Responsible Management and Sustainable Economic Development in Costa Rica. Mr. Tesfaye has just taken up a position as Assistant Finance Director with Marriot Hotels and Resorts in San Diego.