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#InspirationStory: Volunteering Locally to Fight Polio Globally

November 07, 2013

The Bill & Melinda Gates Visitor Center has partnered with StoryCorps to share audio stories each month from inspiring folks in the community on the topic of “Who Inspires You to Make a Difference?” This week, we’re launching our third featured story on our Facebook page.

The story profiles Ezra, who is interviewed by his daughter Selome about giving back to his native Ethiopia through his work to end polio with the Rotary Club in Seattle.

We spoke with Ezra and Selome to learn more about what inspires them to give back and their experience chatting with StoryCorps. Learn more in the short interview below.

Ezra, you've become a leader in Rotary's effort to end polio. What can the average person do to give back and contribute to the polio eradication effort? 

Ezra: The fight to end polio needs as much support as possible. Please visit and find out how to spread the message of polio eradication. Some simple actions everyone can take are outlined like signing a petition, using social media to let all of your friends know about the fight against polio, and calling your elected representatives and news media to bring light to this issue.

Who or what has inspired you to give back? 

Ezra: Primarily, I was inspired by all of the people who reached out to me when I was a young, struggling student who was in a new country. I landed in Seattle with no family here and very little support, but over the years, I was fortunate to have many mentors, neighbors, teachers, and bosses who saw my potential and hard work and assisted me in reaching my goals. I never forget how simple acts can impact someone and help them for a lifetime.

In addition, my parents were my first role models. They gave their time to help out their family and community and always modeled how to love others and do the right thing. My siblings and I honor their memories by contributing donations each month and then choosing a worthy cause to give the proceeds. Recently, we supported purchasing braille writing tools for kids in Ethiopia.

How have you tried to teach your children how to give back? Were there certain things that you showed them or told them that seemed to resonate?

Ezra: I have always included my four children in activities, Rotary events, and volunteer opportunities —even when they were little. They have participated in polio vaccination trips and were able to witness how important it is to be involved in community service that changes lives. They know the value of hard work and dedication as well as how to share and have compassion for others. I also taught them that we have to be respectful to others, especially if we have been fortunate and blessed with a decent life. All of my children have completed a university education and continue to be involved with their community through volunteer work and giving back.

Selome, you mentioned that your dad’s work has inspired you to give back – was there a particular instance that inspired you?

Selome: Overall, I am so impressed by the sheer energy and optimism my dad has for the world. He is always ready for the next challenge and sets his goals extremely high. Because of his passion, he is able to engage others to help with his various projects around the world and here in our community. Witnessing the growth and impact of the Rotary trips to vaccinate children for polio and bring clean water to small villages in Ethiopia was particularly inspiring for me. It really drives home that one person or group can truly impact others.  

How are you active in your community today? Has your father influenced the type of work you’ve engaged in?

Selome: I have remained very active in community service over the years with several projects and organizations – such as mentoring and belonging to a community-service oriented sorority. I also volunteer my time to the Ethiopian Community in Seattle. I really believe in spending time to help kids and in particular, young women, to develop and focus on their education.

My dad influenced me to really think about living a life with meaning. At the end of the day, it is important to consider others and make sure I am doing my small part in improving our community. Also, much like my dad, I strive to be a leader within our family and community and serve as a resource and mentor.  

What was the best or more surprising part of your experience recording your story?

Selome: I was really inspired to hear my dad’s stories of his early life in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and how it shaped his work ethic to this day. He never complains about any challenges or obstacles he faced over the years. He always talks about how his experience influenced him to work hard and give back to his parents, siblings, children, and everyone in his community. I also love hearing how he met my mom!

Ezra: This was a fun experience to share with my daughter. It also gave me a chance to reflect on my life and my roots and how my life turned out. It was very special. 

Click here to listen to Selome talk with her father about his involvement with the local community.

Get Involved with the Visitor Center

  • Celebrate the season of giving at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center on November 30 and during the month of December! Join us as we kick off “The Give Effect” with Caspar Babypants and songs to celebrate the joy of sharing. Stop by the Visitor Center to select a wish from our “Giving Tree” that will help a young person or family in need.  You can help us fulfill hundreds of wishes by Family Day.
  • Come to our Family Day: The Give Effect on December 28 to celebrate giving.  Participate in a full day of hands-on activities, live performances and speakers that celebrate all the ways we can give back to our communities.
  • Join us at the Visitor Center to explore our full library of stories about making a difference. Stay tuned throughout the year as we publish new stories on our Facebook page each month.
  • Follow the Visitor Center on Facebook and Twitter and inspire your community by sharing your own story of making of difference using the #InspirationStory hashtag.
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