Escaping Ethiopia's Poverty at the School of Pharmacy

By Nicole Freeling

Getahun Weldeselassie celebrates obtaining his PharmD degree at UCSF School of Pharmacy with mother-in-law Asqual Mamo, son Nahom Biru and wife Tsehay Tesfay. Photo courtesy of Getahun Weldeselassie

In the state of Tikray in northern Ethiopia, where poverty and unemployment are rampant, very few have the fortune to go to college. But Getahun Weldeselassie nevertheless banked on education as his best shot at a better life.

He scarcely could have imagined just how far his ambition and luck would take him.

Last month, Weldeselassie completed the doctor of pharmacy at UC San Francisco's School of Pharmacy. Now a U.S. resident who lives in San Francisco with his wife and young son, he looks forward to a career that offers personal satisfaction while providing a stable livelihood for himself and his family.

“I firmly believed in education as something that could change my life, as well as my family’s,” he said.

It was a belief he maintained in face of startlingly long odds. “I came from a very poor state in Ethiopia, and even there, I was from a poor family,” said Weldeselassie. “Opportunities were very, very narrow. Only the top students could go to college, and the chances were very slim."

Yet from the time he entered first grade, he “was always very determined, always a high achiever,” Weldeselassie said. His mother encouraged him, convinced the youngest of her five children had the right stuff to make it on to higher education and out of the hardscrabble existence he was born into.

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