Security officer overcomes hardships in Ethiopia

After many years of struggling to leave his past in Ethiopia behind, Degefa Etana, 64, began working at Eastern as a security officer in 2000.

Etana came to America from Ethiopia in December of 1998 to see his son graduate from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis.

“I had a round-trip ticket when I came,” Etana said. He wasn’t planning on staying in the United States, but trouble in Ethiopia prevented him from returning home.

From 1968 to 1973, Etana went to school in the U.S. He spent four years at Hope College in Michigan and one-and-a-half years at Springfield College in Mass. He received a bachelor’s degree in political science and a master’s degree in education.

After receiving a collegiate education in the U.S., Etana went back to Ethiopia and worked at a national evangelical church called Mekane Yesus for three-and-a-half years.

In 1974, the Ethiopian emperor was overthrown by a military regime. Etana worked as an administrator for this regime but, after two years, he and all the other people involved with the liberation struggle were imprisoned. The regime suspected Etana of having political ties that would jeopardize the power of the government.

From 1978 to 1982, Etana was not allowed to see his family because he was in jail. At the time, his son, Felma, was only two years old and his daughter, Debbie, was barely a year old. During those years, Herra and Egan were born and in 1982 Etana was able to go home to a wife and four children.

However, getting out of jail did not mean that Etana’s imprisonment was over. Ethiopia had a communist ideology, so the government labeled him an “anti-revolutionist.” He could not find a job anywhere for awhile. Eventually, some of his friends gave him a government job.
In 1984, Etana planned to come back to the U.S. to attend the University of Maryland to get his Ph.D. However, with his luggage already stowed on the plane, he was told he could not leave because he was an “anti-revolutionist.”

“Officially, there is nothing I did to oppose the government,” Etana said, but they suppressed him anyway.

In 1991, the Ethiopian government changed again.

“I thought it’d be better, but now there’s political persecution, famine, economic decline, and taxation,” Etana said.

Etana was able to come back to the United States for his son’s graduation in 1998. While he was here, friends and family convinced him to stay.

The rest of his family–the two youngest children and his wife–joined him in 2001. Etana has two sisters still living in Ethiopia with whom he keeps in touch and hopes to visit someday.

Since moving here, Etana has learned that a Ph.D., the one he aspired to pursue years before, is required in order to teach as a professor.

His dream was to be a professor, but the Ethiopian government impeded his plans by not allowing him to leave the country to go to school—all because of false accusations.

As for working at Eastern, Etana believes that “it’s a safe environment” and claims to be very happy working here. If he was offered a job at another Christian school, Etana would not take it.

“This is a very peaceful university,” he said. “I’ve had enough trouble. I don’t need any more.”

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