Thank you for this interview Dr. Dawd. Could you please, tell us a
little about yourself and anything you would like to share with our
I was born and grown up in Adua. As such my elementary school was in Q.
Sheba elementary and my secondary school up to 10th grade was at Queen
Sheba Secondary School. When I passed from 10th to 11th, my father
moved to Mekele and all our family moved so I finished my high school in
Atse Yohannes secondary school Mekele. Regardless, the foundation I got
at Q. Sheba was the basis of my success and I appreciate all what I got
from those schools. After finishing my high school, I went to Jimma
Health Sciences institute and graduated with a medical degree. After
serving for three and half years in Axum Hospital, I moved to USA for
higher education. Since then I have been in USA. Now I am an associate
professor in Medicine and Infectious Diseases at East Carolina
University in North Carolina. I practice medicine as well as teach
medical students in that capacity.
I am a proud father of two boys who are 4 and 2 years old. I am hoping
to teach them as much as they can take it about Ethiopia. My dream is
for them to know where they came from and what a proud history and
culture we have back home. My wife, who is a nurse working with me in
the same hospital agrees with me on this.
When we think back to events in the past sometimes all we have left is a
memory of what was & what do you remember most about your time at
Queen of Sheba?
As you see, I passed most of my childhood and part of my teenager life
in Adua. I have been also fortunate to have three brothers and two
sisters who grow with me in adua. To add to this, through most of this
time, my father was the director of the Secondary school and because of
all this I have many memories that I cherish. All my brothers and
sisters who at one time or another have been to those schools all feel
the same way. Looking back, I think we got an excellent education in
this school. As we were living in the compound of the secondary school,
most of the day after school and in the weekends we used to play in the
field and visit the typing classes with teacher Gidey Gebru or visit the
book store with teacher Gebremedhin. In Adua, where book stores were
not known and books were scarce, the Book store used to be my favorite
place and knowing this teacher Gebremedhin always gives me and my
brothers the key to go in and read whatever book we got interested in. I
can say this is where my life time hobby of reading started. The other
big time event that I remember vividly is the different type of sport
competitions that were going on in the compound of the secondary school.
This includes foot ball, volleyball, and basketball. Though I was small
to play in most games, I love to watch and socialize there. The rivalry
between “Debrichi” and “Mimema” teams in soccer was one of the things
that make our life there happy and memorable. This was one of the good
times we had growing up in Adua.
I know you just come back from Adi & have you had a chance to visit
Queen of Sheba, what was your experience like as a former student?
Few months back, after over 12 years of stay here in USA I traveled to
Ethiopia and had a chance to visit Adua and also the schools. The first
thing that you notice is how smaller the city got! I know it is my
perception coming after a long time but that was kind of a shock to me.
Soloda Mountain, which I thought was something far away, is now just at
the back of the high school. Visiting the elementary and secondary
school flooded me with childhood memories and going to school.
Everywhere I turn, there is something I remember.
Getting in to the schools it is very sad to realize how old the
buildings are. Those are just the same building which many years back
many of us went to school. I did not see any new building or major
renovation. If you remember, when we were students, writing your name
and the date in the wall and the roof of one’s class room used to be a
big thing. Going now there, it was amazing to see names written in
1970’s EC. This tells you those classes have not been renovated or even
painted since then! I felt sad and also ashamed. Those are classes who
thought some of the most successful, bright and fortunate individuals.
Literally, in every field you mention, you will have many who have gone
to school in these classes and yet, abandoned and forgotten by those who
got everything that the schools can offer. It seems as if the school is
left to witness history. Knowing the financial and political power of
the Diaspora those classes have touched, it is difficult to comprehend
why it did not look much better than what it actually looked. This is
what is driving me now. To participate, communicate with many and do
something to the school which has given us so much.
Why are you involved with the Queen of Sheba Alumni? Why do you feel it is important to be involved?
During my visit of the schools, I have decided that somehow I have to be
involved in the alumni and may be even help it sail the right course.
Immediately after a came back, I contacted Mr. Iasu Gorfu and you
Yitbarek with whom I had prior communication. Little do I know that a
temporary committee has been created to organize all existing alumni in
USA. After this communication, I was offered to be a member of this
committee which I happily accepted.
As I have told you earlier, I feel that there are many alumni who want
to help but could not find the right organization to do so. There are
also many more who knows little about those schools current condition. I
feel that, by reorganizing our alumni, reaching out to existing and new
members and communicating with everyone what we are doing and what is
being planned, we have a better shot at changing the existing
unacceptable condition of those two schools. This I believe is the best
gift that we can give the future students: to give them a fair chance in life.
Do you think Queen of Sheba alumni is strong and visible as the other Alumni in Tigray?
To date, there is no single, unified Queen Sheba alumnus in USA. I know
that there are alumni organizations in different part of the country
like in DC area, Seattle and Atlanta. Those organizations have limited
reach to members, and clearly redundancy of activity as they all have
their own executive committee and bylaws. Uniting them and creating one
single organization with a very clear objective and plan has been the
aim of this new temporary committee that we are working on. I am not
sure why this has not been done before. Looking at organizations like
Agazi, Atse Yohannes and the others, it is un acceptable for Queen Sheba
to have a fragmented organization with no central leadership. This
single organization with its branches will give us a chance to recruit
more members and together do what individual branches cannot do.
Queen of Sheba have produced many educated elites, influential leaders
who plays a big role but less in giving to the school where they laid
the very first foundation to their academic success and what’s your
take on this?
To be blunt about this, this is a big problem of most Ethiopians in
general. Giving to different organizations is something that is not part
of our culture. Many good intentioned organizations falter because
members do not contribute time and money to realize their dream. This is
not something particular about Queensheba. We should be able to break
this culture of individualism. As you have mentioned, if all of us who
are alumni of Queensheba are serious about the state of the school and
actually plan to contribute and work to change this, we can make a major
change. We can learn a lot from the country that we are in now. People
do give on a regular basis to a cause that they believe in. we have been
talking the talk for a long time. Now it is time to do the walk. I do
not want to generalize on issues as big as this but this is a major
problem for all of us. My dream is to break this cycle and actually see
people working towards our mutual objective.
We have learned
that the Alumni is in the process of reorganizing itself to change the
current structure form a chapter base to one Queen Sheba Alumni that
faction under one leadership and umbrella, can you share with us about
the pros and cons of this restructure?
This is one of the biggest things happening to QS school. At last alumni
are coming together to help this ailing school. We are in the process
of creating single alumni which will have many branches in different
cities and states. This I believe will unite our members to do the
things we dream to do. Working together towards the same goal with the
same objective is much more productive. Individuals with different
talent, capacity and connection are going to work together for the same
goal. You cannot do this when your organization is limited by a state
boundary or city limit. The pool of individuals who will help us to
organize, drive membership, set goal and objectives is going to be big. I
have to look hard to find any downside of creating this single alumnus
which will be an umbrella to all branches. In an amazing speed, we have
just finalized the organizations by law. This draft will be approved in
the upcoming general meeting. All this could not have been done if we
did not look for all who are willing to help from wherever they are.
What are the first steps you took to jumpstart your career? What motivated you?
I have been fortunate to have a family who value education and reading
more than anything else. I grew up with a believe that true freedom in
life comes with education and reading. I believe in it and that was what
I have been doing throughout my life. Now, looking back, I can tell you
that it did not disappoint me.
Medicine is an exciting field. So much to do but with so little time. To
be able to help individuals in their time of need is rewarding and
fulfilling at the same time. The thought of helping those who are in
need of help motivates me on a daily basis to practice my profession as
best as I can. Besides the dream to help back home is always an energy
that propels me on a daily basis. Another big aspect of my life that
drives me is seeing my children growing. I envy the opportunity and
limitless potential that they have in life. Teaching them all what I
wanted to be and did not is something exiting.
When you think about people who tend to do well in this field, what kind of qualities do they typically possess?
I might not be the best person to answer this as this is a difficult
issue but I can share with you what I believe in. Anyone who is open
minded to new ideas and developments, who constantly seek knowledge by
reading, who does not block his vision with prejudice and preset beliefs
will do well in life no matter what profession he chooses. Inquisitive
mind that seeks an answer and reads to get to it with perseverance have
the best qualities to succeed in a long run than a natural gift. I
always advise people to nurture those qualities as those will serve you
good in the future. I believe success is more of a learnt behavior than
an acquired one.
Please share some accomplishments with us - some that you are most proud of?
Five years back, I was asked to work with members of ENHAPA (Ethiopians
in North America Health Professionals Association). They were
brainstorming as how to help Ethiopia in coping with the ongoing HIV
epidemics. Working with dedicated physicians tirelessly, we secured a
small grant to start a free HIV clinic with antiretroviral therapy
bought from India at ALERT Hospital. What started as a small clinic grew
in a very short time to be the biggest HIV therapy provider clinic in
the country. As the hospital and clinic area was overflowing with
patient, we looked and secured a donation from President Clinton’s
foundation to build an HIV wing in the Hospital. That is how the Clinton
foundation got introduced to Ethiopia. Now ALERT Hospital HIV clinic is
one of the biggest in the country following over 4000 HIV patients.
Since you mention
HIV, as an expert on infection disease there is a lot of skepticism out
there about H1N1 flu vaccine, due to lack of enough research and
unknown side effects. This has become a household debate for many
parents and what would be your recommendation?
Thanks to scientific innovations and new technologies we now live in a
world which is much safer in regard to health and disease. To confirm
this, one has to just look at the difference in child mortality between
our country and the developed world. Though there are many reasons to
explain this, one of the single most important reason is the development
and mass use of childhood vaccinations. In countries like USA, many
have now forgotten how deadly measles or polio were. The same can be
said for the rest of vaccine preventable infections like diphtheria,
pertusis (whooping cough) and hepatitis. The decline of disease and
death from those diseases is so remarkable (in most more than 90%drop),
many no longer know what those diseases are. For this reason, without
examining this background fact, many so called “famous individuals”
confuse the public with anecdotes of vaccine caused complications. In
essence, vaccination has become a victim of its own success. It is
always true that vaccinations as any medication that comes to market
have to be studied adequately before coming to market. But to say that
vaccination in general is causing more problem than its benefit and
advising people not to take it or even doubting their benefit is right
out wrong and shows profound lack of knowledge as to how they work or
how they got to be approved in the first place. Having said this, let me
briefly say something about the H1N1 vaccine. Flu, as most of you know
changes its strain on a yearly basis. For this reason, the vaccine
prepared for this year might not neutralize the type that will
predominate next year. That is the underlying reason for yearly
vaccination. H1N1 is just one type of flu vaccine. As in any other type
of flu, the vaccine is manufactured in EXACTELY the same way as in any
given year. This is not a completely new disease that we are trying to
create a vaccine. This is the same disease with just different strain
and every year we see different strain and we prepare different vaccine.
For this reason, the studies done to look for the efficacy of the
vaccine prior to its distribution are adequate. Next year this H1N1
strain of flu might even be part of the seasonal flu vaccine. As for me
and my family, all of us (including my 2year old and 4year old sons)
have got both the seasonal and H1N1 flu vaccines.
What is your hobby, what do you do in your free time?
For as long as I remember, I am fascinated by astronomy. What is beyond
us, what is out there, how far are the stars, are there planets around
the stars are kind of questions that I always entertain when I have
spare time. For the last 8-9 years, Astronomy has been the biggest
hobby of mine. I read about it and when the sky is clear, I sit in my
back yard with my books and try to make sense out of the seemingly
random distribution of the stars. Few years back, I bought my first
telescope and officially become an amateur astronomer. When you know
how big and how far the night stars are, you start to realize how small
our place in galaxy is. The traditional earth bound distance
measurement and concept of size starts to lose meaning. It humbles me
and puts my day to day activity in perspective. I bet with you that
anyone who spends few time reading about the universe and galaxies is in
for life time surprise. When you know the distance to the most closest
star to earth in our night sky is over 39,900,000,000,000 km and you
now that there are billions if not trillions of starts in the sky, you
wonder as to what is out there. When you think about things like this
it usually is overwhelming and you know that we humans are spending too
much of time preoccupied with ourselves.
What advice would you give to the current Queen of Sheba students & Alumnus?
Everything I said before will count but to add more I want to remind
them that every journey starts with a single step. If they aim high and
work towards achieving it there is no hardship that they will not
endure. This is the history of many of us. We grew in the same
circumstance as they are now. If you were to tell me when I was growing
up in Adua, that I will be a physician working in USA, I only would have
thought that you are out of your mind. When current QS students look at
their life now, the odds are stacked against them but I want to
reassure them that this was so for so many of us. With a goal in site,
determination and hard work they can overcome all this. Years from now,
they will look back to the day that they made a decision and work for it
for we are what we wanted to be. Years from now, they will reap what
they are sowing right now.
Thanks much! Dr. Dawd we wish you & your family the best of luck in all your future plans.
Queen of Sheba Alumni