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Doctor Abio Ayeliya, ’08, was selected by the EOU Alumni Association as the 2022 Distinguished Alumni for his work helping others and he continues to affect change years after his graduation from Eastern Oregon University.
The young man, who once went to a school without electricity or water, slept in the school he was attending, and had to scavenge for food he cooked over a fire, has come a long way. Ayeliya holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Eastern Oregon University, and a Master’s in Public Administration (MPA) from The University of Utah. He is also the Executive Director and founder of Sabu Help International, a nonprofit organization focused on eliminating poverty and transforming lives through microloans, training and education in Africa.
In 2007, while Ayeliya was a student at EOU a flood hit his village in Ghana, Africa. As a senior, Ayeliya decided his capstone project would be to fundraise to make a difference in the lives of those affected back home. The community of La Grande responded to his call to action with clothes and donations. The high cost of shipping delayed those donations until a local church stepped in.
“It was going to cost $7,000 to ship (the donations) home,” Ayeliya recalled. Instead Ayeliya made a deal with the church and traded the donations for cash. “It was a temporary solution and I was looking for something permanent.”
Ayeliya feels indebted to the La Grande community members who helped him establish his charity. They raised money and helped teach his village to be self-sufficient to “mulitply and give a them a lifetime of sustainability, not just clothing or shoes that will last less than a year.” The funding raised was the seed of his microloans project.
“Growing up, there were times there was never food in the house; I was always hungry,” Ayeliya recalled. “Having the opportunity to come here to get the education, I was empowered to change my situation. I could change my family’s dynamics. But, I didn’t want to just change my home, I wanted to change the community.”
Ayeliya’s opportunity for education came after Izaak Edvalson, a Peace Corps worker from La Grande, met him in Ghana. Eventually Edvalson would raise funds to send Ayeliya to an academy in Ghana that prepared him for his education at EOU.
“American education is designed to teach people to think critically about issues; it’s not just memorizing or following the majority. Education gives you a way to think for yourself.”
“EOU is my second home. This was a community that gave me a sense of belonging, purpose, and a sense of empowerment to make me think critically. And because of this, I need to give it to other generations,” Ayeliya said.
When asked how he measures success, Ayeliya recalls a story about his father in Africa. “My dad has always been an example of putting people first,” Ayeliya said. He remembers when a man from a neighboring village came looking for a chicken to feed a sick child and his father gave the man the family’s last chicken. “It comes back to you,” Ayelia said.
“It’s not the material things that make you successful,” Ayeliya said. “I am happy where I am, I am happy I am able to help people and feel a sense of purpose in society. I believe God created us for a reason. If there was no reason for you, why would God have created you?”
I look at my family, my children, my brothers and sisters back home, and they don’t miss their meals. The clients we are supporting are able to go to college,” Ayeliya said. “That is the level of standard for life; I consider that a success.”
Ayeliya, who is still at the head of Sabu Help International, speaks passionately about empowering individuals and communities, from microloans to providing goats to make sure new families have milk, to supporting exceptional students from year one to graduation.
“I was the only one in my village to have earned a college degree, and also a master’s degree. I think with that, people will call for help with initiatives. The government alone can not provide that.” Ayeliya said.
The founder of Sabu Help International said he has been conditioned to look inside himself to be the change.
“I create tools to help people help themselves,” Ayeliya, an ambassador for change, said. “We all have a sense of responsibility, if they can they should help us to raise the resources, stand up and help.”
Ayeliya said he remains grateful to the community of La Grande. “I want to express appreciation to the people who continue to support this organization in the city of La Grande and Portland areas, and across the state. They open up to share with others in need. But, I cannot do it by myself, it takes a village,” Ayeliya said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without Izaak, without the La Grande community and without Eastern Oregon University. I love Eastern. It is like my home, it is my spirit. Eastern is in the heart of me and I really want to express that.”
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