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WellSpan nurse starts non-profit for Ethiopian town she grew up in

September 04, 2020

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Wegayhu Ketema, RN, wears a traditional Ethiopian dress.

Wegayhu Ketema, RN, wears a traditional Ethiopian dress.

Growing up in poverty in Ethiopia, registered nurse Wegayhu Ketema dreamt of what it would be like to help the people of her community.

She lived in a single room home with no running water. She would go to the river and carry water on her head as she watched neighborhood nurses drive through the town. That’s when she realized that she too wanted to be a nurse and help her people.

“Helping others is my calling,” Wegayhu explains. “It could be in WellSpan, it could be in the grocery store, or out in the mission field in Ethiopia. Taking care of people helps me to know myself better. I live each day to serve others.”

Wegayhu was lucky enough to be sent to England for two years to learn English, and then traveled to India to complete nursing school. After practicing in a few different places such as Djibouti and Kenya, Wegayhu and her husband had to flee to the United States in 1989 as refugees.

She worked her way up the health care system in a new country first as a certified nursing assistant for 6 years and then licensed practical nurse for 15 years before eventually becoming a registered nurse. Wegayhu now is a practicing RN at WellSpan Surgery and Rehabilitation Hospital (WSRH) in York.

“I love working at WellSpan,” she explains. “The first day I went to WellSpan someone stopped me and asked if I needed help, and it ended up being Carol Smith (VP, WSRH). When I told her I was looking for a job, she took me for a tour of the facility. Her kindness and hospitality made me go home and apply for the job.”

Wegayhu’s journey as a nurse has come full circle and she is now able to give back to her people, just like she dreamed as a young woman.

In 2018, she started a free clinic for poor and homeless people in Ethiopia. Her non-profit organization is called Siloam Ethiopia, and they have five pilot clinics in five schools, visit about 200 elderly people regularly in a shelter, dig wells for drinking water, and are raising five orphaned girls. Currently, they are also bringing awareness to COVID-19 safety measures such as proper hand washing, while also suppling a hand washing station and masks.

“I was born in Ethiopia,” Wegayhu says. “If you dream, sooner or later your dream will become a reality. Do not let circumstances discourage you… you can be who you want to be.”

For more information on Siloam Ethiopia, please visit Siloamethio.org

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