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Semegen “Sem” Molla Hodes ’13 (left) with his adoptive father, Rick Hodes, medical director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee.

Another Step in an Earlhamite's Remarkable Journey

June 14, 2013

Semegen “Sem” Molla Hodes ’13 wants to return to Ethiopia, the place he was born and walked away from, so that others like him may not have to suffer. He is one of many Earlham graduates who leave Earlham determined to make a positive difference in the world.

Sem graduated in May with a degree in chemistry and plans to attend graduate school to study pharmacy. His graduation was another remarkable step in the improbable plan of a child with a serious medical condition born in a poverty stricken area.

“When I was eight years old, my back began to hurt and my spine became severely curved,” he remembers. As a young boy, he helped his uncle with crops and looked after the animals. “As my back deformity started getting worse, it made my sleeping, breathing and walking difficult.”

His village lacked supplies and a medical facility, so at the age of 11, he set out on foot seeking relief.

“I did not know that electricity, paved roads or water pipes existed until I made a decision as a young boy to leave my village on my own in hopes that I could find a cure for my back,” he says. “I walked a day and a half before finding a truck going to the town.”

People he didn’t know helped him into the bed of the truck, where he rode for two days in even more misery.

“When the truck began moving, it was extremely painful for me,” he says. Much of the route traveled bumpy, gravel roads, and Sem bounced in pain in the back.

“Two days later, I ended up in Mother Teresa’s Mission of Charity in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia,” he says. He spent two years there and was diagnosed with spinal tuberculosis, a painful and life-threatening disease.

“It was a difficult place to be with a lot of sick people, and I watched many people die,” he remembers. Dr. Rick Hodes, medical director of the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, adopted Sem and invited him to live in his house with 20 other children with different medical conditions. Hodes also arranged for Sem to travel to the United States for two back surgeries, which helped to save his life.

Sem says he is forever grateful to his adoptive father and that he is anxious to complete his next phase of schooling and return to work alongside him in Ethiopia.

Hodes also arranged for Sem’s education.

“In 2007, I was sent to Olney Friends School to learn English, and at Olney I learned about Earlham,” he says. “Earlham is a significant part of my life. I liked the diversity, Earlham’s educational value, my professors and the fact that everyone is so friendly. I am sure some of my brothers and sisters will love to come to Earlham to get an experience similar to mine.”

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