Dr. Mero Getta is living proof that the sky is the limit when you follow your dreams.
The once illiterate young boy is now specializing in head and neck cancer surgery at the Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto, Canada.
The Israeli doctor was chosen to become one of the few medical professionals from all over the world that specialize in surgical removal of cancerous tumors in the head and neck area as well as the base of the skull.
One Jewish Chicago family took Getta under its wing in 2005 and played a significant role in his success story, having funded him through medical school at Ben Gurion University through the IMPACT scholarship, on behalf of the Friends of the Israel Defense Forces (FIDF).
"The scholarship's contribution to my success was crucial," said Getta, who graduated at the top of his class. "It allowed me to invest most of my time in my studies and minimize work hours."
Dr. Getta was born in Gondar, Ethiopia in 1983 to a family of 13. He tended to the family's livestock and did not go to school until he was 8 years old.
"We lived in a small and distant village," he said. "And my family, like all the other families in the village, earned a living through animal herding. I didn't go to school until I was 8. I only started my studies after we made Aliyah.
My main focus as a shepherd was to make sure no animal escaped. It was a great responsibility. It taught me to take responsibility at a young age and worry all the time. I think that's what built me. These are very important lessons."
In 1991, Getta and his family immigrated to Israel as part of Operation Solomon. "We had a deep internal religious belief that we would be rescued and taken to Israel," he said.
The family settled in Be'er Sheva, and the Ethiopian adolescent graduated from high school with a major in physics and mathematics. He served in the IDF as a combat officer in the Golani Brigade, where he commanded platoons of soldiers and participated in fierce battles during the Second Lebanon War.
His dreams to become a doctor were sparked by his father, who was a traditional healer in their village in Ethiopia. "I was used to seeing people come to our home to ask for remedies and healings," he explains.
"Our village was far from the city, and not all of us had the option of getting to see a doctor in the city, so people would come to us for first aid. There, in my opinion, I started to put together the decision to be a doctor. I always believed that it is the best profession in the world, a profession that has a lot of meaning, and grants life to people."
The generous donor that granted Getta a scholarship was Lin Goodman, whose husband was a doctor who passed away from cancer himself.
"She wanted to donate to someone who intended to study medicine," said Dr. Getta. "I met with her after I received the scholarship, and we keep in touch to this day."
Dr. Getta shares that he's experienced quite a bit of racism throughout his career, but has always continued to move forward nonetheless.
"There's no doubt the situation isn't ideal," he said. "Many of my patients are surprised that I'm a doctor. We all have prejudices and stereotypes that we need to work on. As a society, I think we need to aim to reach a better place.
"Still so, I've never let myself give up based on that. I've always looked forward. At home we were always told we need to work hard and be determined in order to success no less than any other Israelis.
After he finishes his sub-specialty and training, Dr. Getta is supposed to return to work in Israel.
"My dream is very simple: Heal people and be a good doctor, and simultaneously, be a good dad and husband," shared Getta. "It's not always easy to combine the two, especially given the fact that I have six kids, and unfortunately, they almost don't see me."
The IMPACT scholarship program was established by the FIDF 20 years ago for IDF combat soldiers that put their lives in danger for the sake of their homeland and the Jewish people.
"Our scholars have been proving for 20 years that they're fighting to achieve their goals in the academia, involvement with the community, and integration into the market and industry fields," said Orna Pesach, Executive Director of FIDF's IMPACT.