Elshadai Getenet is an Ethiopian refugee born in Kenya. Although his family settled in Calgary, Alberta, he moved from Canada to Melbourne Australia as an international student. There he set off to study dental surgery at one of the best schools in the world, The University of Melbourne. While Getenet didn’t have the money to fund his schooling, he decided to take a chance on himself and travel to Australia anyway.
Once he got there, he noticed that Australians loved coffee. Conveniently, Getenet’s uncle has a coffee farm in Ethiopia so he knew he could get quality coffee from the highlands of Ethiopia. He then teamed up with his business partner Reece, and the duo started traveling Melbourne, distributing coffee around the city. Though now they hold greater aims recently buying a storefront in Melbourne they plan to turn into a coffee and dessert cafe in late 2023-2024.
Why did you take this huge chance to study at the University of Melbourne when you didn’t have the money to support yourself? What pulled you there?
Getenet:My biggest fear is living my life without a purpose. After going to Ethiopia with my dentist and volunteering, I made a promise to myself that being a dentist was my purpose in life. It would be my instrument to make a change and help others during my lifetime. Once I have a dream, or idea in my mind, I’m determined to make it happen. Despite the odds stacked against me, I certainly wouldn’t let finances stop me.
The bank refused to cover my entire tuition at the University of Melbourne. In fact, I remember the loan officer saying “Why do you even want to be a dentist? I just don’t see it happening for you.” It hurt because I was intellectually capable, but I was financially incapable to achieve my goal. With my trust in God and support of my family, I took what little money the bank gave me with faith I would find a way to make this happen. I just needed to get there and start. Like I mentioned before, I came from a refugee camp so struggle is nothing new and I could persevere like we did in the past.
The Hustle Turned A Dream Into A Reality
With Getenet’s cleverness, he is now able to support himself better as he tackles dental school. “Praise to the Most High! The business we created has allowed me to support my living and educational costs,” says Getenet. “When I first moved to Australia I used to serve and clean tables at a lounge to pay my bills. I even had to ration food at one point so I had enough to pay for my phone, rent, electricity, etc.,” he continues.
“I never once complained or felt sorry for myself, the way I saw it my parents left their home and family when they were my age looking for a better life and opportunity. They struggled beyond belief and persevered for a better tomorrow. To me, it was just my turn to do the same and I was doing it in much better circumstances than them. I remember finishing at 1 A.M. after a long shift knowing I would have to be up in five hours to make it to my first class. None of my classmates had to do that, but these were the cards life dealt me and I would play my hand. I would just smile because I knew there was a higher power watching over me and all this would be a great part of my story one day. You can’t expect to be successful without enduring hard times.”
Never Forget Where You Come From
Although this is a lot to carry out, Getenet constantly reminds himself where he and his family came from. “The Canadian Government had a certain quota of immigrants they had to bring to Canada. They came to our refugee camp one day along with a number of other nations and their representatives and randomly selected my mother from a draw. Our family was given an interview. They reviewed our case and the Canadian government sponsored us to come to Canada, which changed our lives forever. I’ll be forever grateful for that opportunity because our lives could have been so different. There are still people in that same refugee camp from our time there in the early 90s who are hoping to get a chance to be sponsored. To be given the same opportunity we were given. I never take it for granted.”
For Getenet, his parents ran away from Ethiopia when they were only teenagers. Then, they escaped by hiding in the back of a cow truck. Next, his mother sold her jewelry to buy tea leaves. While his Father sold a shirt off his back to buy a kettle, flower and a little clay pot to sell pastries and coffee off the side of the road. Ultimately, one can see that Getenet’s power to persevere was bestowed to him by his parents. Now, the legacy of selling coffee and pastries was pushed onto him.
“Both my parents are very proud of me. In Ethiopian tradition, you take your father’s first name to be your last name. There is cultural significance to always be hyper-aware of your actions good or bad because it reflects on your family. I never wanted people to look at me and say I was embarrassing my father’s name or I was bringing shame to my family. Especially after seeing my parents work so hard to give me an opportunity they never had. I always wanted to represent them and our family in the best way possible.”
“My parents are the greatest parents in the world. They supported all my goals and ambitions. I think that support system combined with the freedom to explore my interests made me feel like nothing was impossible. They’re really happy with how far I’ve come.”
“In Ethiopian culture receiving your parents’ blessing is worth more than gold. We all dream about supporting our parents to give them a comfortable, happy life where they don’t have to work. I feel like I’m close to reaching that point where I can spoil my parents. Let them take a break. They’ve been working hard their entire life so I want them to know their sacrifices paid off through their children. I feel like that day is just on the horizon and is coming soon.”
It’s hard to close the gap of opportunity between those who have and those who don’t.
Getenet shouldn’t have to open multiple streams of income to study at a school he got into by his own merit. Unfortunately, that’s the reality of this world. Getnet teaches us that this world’s restraints aren’t enough to keep a person down. “Even though you started somewhere, it shouldn’t be where you end up or you finish,” he advises. His parents taught him “May the end be beautiful,” and he believes it will be beautiful for all of us.