By Richmond Free Press
As his native Ethiopia faces both the pandemic and a civil war with the ruling faction in the northern region of Tigray that has spawned a refugee crisis, Dr. Teklu is leading RECS in doing what it can to aid and enhance the lives of Ethiopians on two separate continents. Founded in October 2019, the goal of RECS is to create an integrated and sustainable Ethiopian community in Richmond that will positively contribute.
“I love to help my community and want to see Ethiopians succeed and become valuable contributors to the larger community of citizens in our area,” Dr. Teklu says.
Dr. Teklu is one of five members of the executive team guiding RECS, a nonprofit focused on bettering the lives of all Ethiopian residents in the Richmond region. Ethiopians living in the area are welcome to join. There are no fees.
During the pandemic, the organization has taken a socially distanced approach by using Zoom meetings to connect with one another and to collaborate with others to best use or share resources.
This work is key to Dr. Teklu’s goals for his two-year term as chairman, as he aims to build “a sustainable network of Ethiopians who will educate the next generation to love volunteering and serving their community and the community at large.”
RECS used Zoom meetings to collect donations to help the effort in Ethiopia to deal with COVID-19. It also is helping people and families affected by the country’s internal strife “without taking sides,” Dr. Teklu says. “We are a non-political, non-religious and non-ethnic organization.”
As with other groups and businesses, RECS has hit a few roadblocks to carry out its work because of COVID-19. The organization couldn’t call a general assembly of members and has had difficulty identifying people in need. Plans for collaborations with others also have slowed, while community events, such as a health fair, have been postponed because of the pandemic.
Given that RECS is a very young organization, these connections will be a critical part of their work moving forward. So far, the group has gained info on partnering with other community organizations through Chesterfield County’s community engagement program, and has connected with local businesses owned by Ethiopians to raise funds for those in need.
RECS is still in the midst of an adjustment and learning period when it comes to furthering its goals during these unusual times. But Dr. Teklu describes Ethiopian people as “resilient, hospitable, hard-working and friendly,” which will allow RECS to have a prosperous future, regardless of what challenges the Ethiopian community faces here or elsewhere.
Meet Ethiopian community advocate and this week’s Personality, Dr. Abraham Teklu:
No. 1 volunteer position: Chairman, Richmond Ethiopian Community Services, or RECS.
Date of birth: March 28.
Current residence: Midlothian.
Education: Elementary and secondary schools in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; 1987 medical school graduate from Addis Ababa University Medical Faculty, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Internal medicine residency, Marshall University School of Medicine, Huntington, W.Va., 1998 to 2001; Geriatrics fellow- ship, Virginia Commonwealth University, 2001 to 2002.
Family: Widower since May 2018. Two daughters, Dellina Aida Abraham, 20, a junior at Virginia Tech, and Helina Sophia Abraham, 17, a senior at the Governor’s Health Sciences Specialty Center at Cosby High School.
Richmond Ethiopian Community Services is: A non- profit, 501 (c) (3) organization established to enhance the lives of all Ethiopians in the Greater Richmond area. We are free of political, religious or ethnic influences.
When RECS was founded: October 2019. A five-member executive team was chosen of which I am the chairman. Other members of executive team: Helina Fasil, secretary; Mestawet Techane, treasurer; Belay Mengiste, auditor; and Tigist Tenkir, member.
Mission of RECS: Enhancing the quality of life of Ethiopians and to see an integrated and sustainable Ethiopian community that will have a positive contribution to society.
Profile of membership: All Ethiopians living in Richmond and surrounding areas are considered members. We don’t have paid membership.
Brief introduction to Ethiopia: A beautiful country on the Horn of Africa with 13 months of sunshine. A population of more than 109 million. Many ancient cultures and archeological findings including, Lucy, the 3.2 million-year-old skeleton. Ethiopians are hard-working and known for their hospitality. Our food is spicy and delicious. We have our own alphabet called Amharic. Never been colonized by any foreigners. Ethiopia is the origin of coffee. One of the founding members of the United Nations.
Ethiopian pride means: Freedom, community, hospitality and mutual existence.
What Richmonders need to know about Ethiopia today: Ethiopia is an African country and that her people are going through the same human issues that any country goes through currently. Her people are resilient, hospitable, hard-working and friendly.
Why I accepted position as RECS chairman: I love to help my community and want to see Ethiopians succeed and become valuable contributors to the larger community of citizens in our area.
Length of term: Two years.
No. 1 goal or project as chairman of RECS: To create a sustainable network of Ethiopians who will educate the next generation to love volunteering and serving their community and the community at large.
Strategy for achieving goals: Zoom meetings with community, collaboration with other communities and exchanging ideas as well as best practices. Forming alliances with local governments in order to utilize or share resources.
How COVID19 is affecting mission of RECS: We could not call the general assembly for a meeting. Difficulty identifying people in need. We had to resort to Zoom meetings like the rest of the country in order to do business. Our efforts to collaborate with other communities and local governments were slowed due to the pandemic.
Lessons learned by RECS during this pandemic: Better use of Zoom meetings as we recently collected donations to help the Ethiopian government’s effort to fight COVID-19. We’re learning that we need to do our part in the effort to combat the pandemic by following public health experts’ recommendations. We’ re learning that we’ll get through this together.
Black Lives Matter and RECS: As black people, Ethiopians assert that Black Lives Matter.
How RECS is responding to unrest in Ethiopia: We strive to help people or families affected by the unrest without taking sides as we are a non-political, non-religious and non-ethnic organization.
RECS partners with: As a young organization, we are just attempting to collaborate with local governments and other communities. We have started talking to the Chesterfield County community engagement program and received some information on partnering with other community organizations. We partner with local businesses owned by Ethiopians in order to raise funds to help people in need. We aspire to partner with other organizations as we go forward.
Upcoming events: Health fair at a date and place to be determined. Events have to be deferred due to COVID-19.
Ways to be involved with RECS: Volunteering, financial donations, referrals of people in need or people who can help, as well as what they can help us with.
How I start the day: Pray for my daughters, my family and my country when I wake up. Get ready to go to work. Think positive. Decide to be intentional in my interactions with other people.
Three words that best describe me: Humble, dedicated and low-key.
Best late-night snack: Apple.
How I unwind: Play golf or play a musical instrument.
Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: Drink a veggie smoothie every morning.
Quote that I am most inspired by: “We may encounter many defeats but we must not be defeated.” — Maya Angelou
At the top of my “to-do” list: Be alive to see my daughters’ success in life.
Best thing my parents ever taught me: Respect and hard work.
Person who influenced me the most: My father.
Book that influenced me the most: “The Checklist Mani- festo” by Atul Gawande.
What I’m reading now: “Born a Crime” by Trevor Noah.
Next goal: Be good at golf and saxophone playing.