Ethiopian author and filmmaker Tewodros Fekadu survived childhood abandonment, famine, civil war, rejection from an orphanage, life as a homeless teenage street person, cruelty and imprisonment in a Japanese detention center before he found his way to the free world with love, family and a career.
Fekadu, who speaks five languages, is describing his successful struggle against almost unbelieveable adversities in a series of free slide shows and book-signing events this week in Western New York.
"It's a miracle for me to be alive," he told a small audience Sunday in the Frank E. Merriweather Jr. Public Library on Jefferson Avenue. "Life can be very tough," he said, "but I want to give people hope for a better life. I want them to dream big."
Looking physically fit at age 40, Fekadu said he now sponsors a medical clinic with a local doctor and nurse in his adopted home near Brisbane, Australia. "Hundreds of children and women have no hope, and I'm sharing my story to encourage them," he said.
Fekadu, who uses the Americanized version of his first name, "Teddy," said he was born to an impoverished, unmarried 14-year-old mother in war-torn Ethiopia. He said his mother was raped by a wealthy doctor in what today are the two separate countries of Ethiopia and Eritrea in northeastern Africa, and neither country would accept him as a citizen.
Unable to care for him, his mother sent him from Eritrea to Ethiopia, where she thought his father would support him, Fekadu said. Instead, the father denied paternity, making the young Fekadu an orphan without a country or a home.
Rejected by both parents, and without a country, he sought refuge in an orphanage. When officials discovered that his father was a wealthy doctor, they expelled him from the orphanage that they said was only for indigent children. That left him homeless, penniless and living on the tough streets of Addis Ababa.
After making his way to Japan as a "tourist," but actually a refugee, Fekadu was held for more than three years in a detention center that he said was "worse than a prison." Through a series of circumstances, he met and fell in love with a woman who was teaching English in Australia.
After a hard-fought immigration battle, he was granted a visa to Australia and is married to the woman he loves. She now works for the government there. His company, Moonface Entertainment, produces films and documentaries about East Africa. He films his projects in Africa and travels to the United States to promote his work.
His latest memoir, "No One's Son," published last month, is available for order in paperback both online and in bookstores for $19.95. He also is the author of "I Did Not Forget," which is out of print.
Besides Sunday's appearance, Fekadu did a book-signing Saturday at Talking Leaves Books on Main Street. He is scheduled for a similar program at 6:30 p.m. today in the Niagara Branch Library, 280 Porter Ave. He is to appear Tuesday in Dunkirk, Wednesday in Brocton and Thursday in Dunkirk and Jamestown before taking his book tour to Washington, D.C., New York City, Los Angeles and other cities.