Tesfaye Nigusu is Country Director of the International Solidarity Foundation in Ethiopia. His job entails improving the livelihood opportunities for women in one of Ethiopia’s poorest states, Somali, as well as participating in efforts to end female genital mutilation, intimate partner violence, and child marriages. Tesfaye Nigusu has graduated from the University of Jyväskylä’s Master’s Degree Programme in Development, Education and International Cooperation.

Tesfaye Nigusu is from the city of Dessie in northern Ethiopia. His younger years were overshadowed by the war, as a result of which his family had to flee. His father had to escape to Sudan while his mother was left to take care of the two boys. “My mother worked a lot for us to get an education,” says Tesfaye.

Finland become familiar to Tesfaye early on as he was invited by Felm and Pirkkala parish to visit the country. Felm has supported Tesfaye’s and his brother’s education. Accordingly, Tesfaye worked as a volunteer in the Ethiopian Evangelical Church Mekane Yesus’s social work projects for disabled children and young people. This work led him to develop an interest in sociology and development cooperation.

In 2008, Tesfaye graduated from the University of Gondar with a BA in sociology and then worked as a coordinator for projects related to AIDS orphans. He worked at the centre for AIDS orphans where children and young people learned to make things out of wood and metal. He also participated in guiding leisure activities. This was the first of many projects he was involved in over the following years.

In 2016, Tesfaye started the Master’s Degree Programme in Development, Education and International Cooperation at the University of Jyväskylä. Once he arrived in Jyväskylä, he was pleasantly surprised with the university’s various study methods. “I did a lot of courses in the form of essays as it is a natural way for me to learn,” says Tesfaye. “When I heard about the reading circle as a method of completing a course, I was surprised. And very excited at the same time: Wow! Taking exams wasn’t in fact the only option.”

“Jyväskylä is a beautiful city, and the university is exteremely high in standard! Studying there was an amazing experience, particularly for someone coming from the African educational system.”

Tesfaye Nigusu wants to highlight the fact that students were encouraged to think critically during their studies. The structure of the study system was not hierarchical, so students could discuss topics with their professors freely while they were considered to be at the same level. “We were a very international group of students from almost ten different countries,” says Tesfaye, recalling his time as a student at Seminaarinmäki.

“My advice to new students is this: start learning and studying at a relatively fast pace from the beginning, so that a bit later on down the line you will have time to take on interesting internships and projects!”

After graduation, Tesfaye Nigusu started his job as Felm’s development cooperation coordinator in Ethiopia. The COVID-19 pandemic had made the region’s food production more difficult. Felm reacted to the acute food crisis, for example, by training women in raising livestock. The goal of the training is to improve the financial position of women. Tesfaye coordinates the projects and reports on their progress to Finland.

“In my job, I constantly make use of the critical thinking I learned during my studies,” says Tesfaye.

“Additionally, the conversational nature of the studies and the related argumentation skills have been extremely useful in working life. I also learned to analyse structures and positions of power during my studies.”

Since spring 2023, Tesfaye Nigusu has worked as the Country Director of the International Solidarity Foundation in Ethiopia. Their most important goal is to end female genital mutilation, intimate partner violence, and child marriages in the region. Even if the position of women has improved under Ethiopian law, it is not evident in practice yet. Climate change and conflicts in the region pose challenges for both the locals and the humanitarian workers. “The need for preventive work,” says Tesfaye, “is right now.”

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