Tesfaye Yadete, who’s finishing his second year at the UNLV School of Medicine, calls himself “the luckiest person you’ll ever meet.”
It’s difficult to argue with his assessment.
Yet his start in life was anything but auspicious -- his early years with his family on the African continent could be described, at best, as a hard, hand-to-mouth existence.
But because an Ethiopian friend entered his name in a visa lottery and several complete American strangers gave him a helping hand, helping him help himself, he’s now on the precipice of entering one of America’s most valued professions.
“I don’t know why I’m so lucky,” the 40-year-old Yadete says. “I do know I’m very thankful to many wonderful people...Their gestures of love have inspired me to do the same for others in need.”
He grew up in a tiny two bedroom home in Ziway, Ethiopia, the youngest of nine children of a farmer who struggled to care for his family with a few cows, goats and sheep -- and money he made from going into the forest to cut down trees that could be used for construction.
“My father would wake up early in the morning and go to the forest with a cart pulled by ‘Mola,’ our donkey, and only come back after sunset with the wood he collected,” Yadete recalls. “Besides cooking for the entire family and doing the entire housework, my mother would sell ‘Tela,’ a traditional homemade soft drink to help my father make ends meet.”
As a youngster, Yadete tended the sheep on the farm, and he talked his father into letting him attend elementary school. Because his siblings worked the farm and Yadette’s contributions to the farm were limited by his age and size, his dad enrolled him in school.
“I loved school...It did not matter to me that I wore ‘truck-tire’ sandals fabricated by my father or homemade clothes handed down from older brothers. Walking a few miles to school was the least of my concerns. Getting good grades became my way of honoring my family’s sacrifices.”
Yadete says his father also served as a traditional medicine man in their village. “Whenever someone needed medicine he went to the forest and brought back special plants for specific illnesses. A tenet of his practice was the use of holy water. He said his medicine would not work without it...My father, who named me Tesfaye (my hope) ...called me doctor because I had done well in school and...because he would have liked me to become a doctor.”
As a teen, Yadete dreamed of getting a higher education overseas, but he says he knew such a dream was improbable. What he didn’t know, however, was that he had a chance of becoming one of the beneficiaries of the American Diversity Immigrant Visa program, which was designed to diversify the immigrant population in the United States. Also known as the green card lottery, those who are selected are able to receive a U.S. permanent resident (green) card.