By Adam Martin-Robbins for YorkRegion.com
Tigrai Online Dec. 25, 2012
Hannah Godefa has rubbed shoulders with local politicians and heads of state in Africa, still the 15-year-old philanthropist was honored to land a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper two weeks ago.
“It was really, really exciting,” she said. “He was very friendly, gracious, approachable — and he was really supportive, too.”
The pair chatted about her initiatives and what Mr. Harper is doing for education in Canada and abroad, said Hannah, who has garnered international recognition for her Pencil Mountain project.
Through that initiative, launched seven years ago, Hannah has donated about 500,000 pencils and countless other school supplies to children in remote areas of Ethiopia.
International Cooperation Minister and Vaughan MP Julian Fantino helped broker the meeting.
“Hannah exemplifies the meaning of community spirit and dedication. She continues to accomplish so much in support of those in need half way across the world,” Mr. Fantino said in a statement e-mailed to the media. “It was a delight to arrange a meeting between Hannah and the prime minister; someone who works so hard on behalf of others deserves the recognition.”
Mr. Fantino forwarded a letter Hannah had written to Mr. Harper explaining her efforts to date and requesting a sit-down with him.
Hannah learned that she’d been granted a meeting in September.
“I was definitely surprised,” said the St. Elizabeth Catholic High School student. “All of the (security) people that check you before you go in, they were so surprised because it’s very rare that people are able to meet the prime minister.”
While Hannah was in Ottawa, she picked up 600 textbooks donated by the University of Ottawa and Carleton University.
It’s part Hannah’s latest effort to help students in her parents’ native Ethiopia. “They are constructing a lot of new facilities for students and they have about 33 new universities in the country,” she said. “A lot of facilities are being constructed, but it’s very difficult for university students to learn if they don’t have proper resources. So the job is almost finished, but it’s not complete.”
Hannah is there now delivering the text books as well as more pencils, other school supplies and a couple of wheelchairs to people in need, thanks in large part to Ethiopian Airlines, which covered the cost of flying Hannah and the donated items overseas.
And she has some pretty ambitious goals for the future.
In addition to continuing with Pencil Mountain and collecting university textbooks, Hannah plans to set up a support system designed to help girls in rural regions of Ethiopia pursue an education. She also wants to get local youth more involved with her various initiatives.
“I want to make this more of a charitable effort in which other children that have been supporting this project from the very beginning can take over and get involved more, rather than it being an individual effort,” said Hannah, who was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal earlier this year for her volunteer efforts.
Hannah’s parents are incredibly proud of how much she’s accomplished at such a young age.
“She is not the kind of girl who will watch television, she works very hard,” said her father, Godefa Asegahagn, said. “She’s always studying and doing research.