“By providing access and improving the quality of education, we can change many lives for the better.” – Atti Worku
Welcome to Face Time. DFW Style Daily’s popular series goes beyond the runways and picture-perfect shoots to get to know top Dallas models on a personal level. Today, a special edition of this exclusive feature will explore the passion and motivation of an inspiring model citizen.
A native of Adama, Ethiopia, Atti Worku began modeling half a world away. A trip to Dallas to visit family then launched her career with The Campbell Agency, including high-profile clients such as Neiman Marcus and Stanley Korshak, as well as runway work with top producers. For the former Miss Ethiopia, however, a future giving back to her home community was always part of the plan.
In 2005, Atti founded Seeds of Africa. Now based in New York City, the recent Columbia University graduate has dedicated her life to improving the lives of children in Ethiopia, and beyond, through education. Read on to learn more about the story of Seeds, how you can help further its mission, and the commitment at the heart of this inspiring beauty’s global goals.
DFW Style Daily: At what age did you begin modeling? Were you discovered, or did you pursue modeling for yourself?
Atti Worku: “When I was 20 and 21, finishing up college in Ethiopia as a computer science major, I competed in four or five beauty pageants. One of the judges on the first Miss Ethiopia Pageant I participated in was a former Ethiopian model, Anna Guetaneh. She lived in South Africa at the time, and she reached out and encouraged me to pursue modeling. A few months later, I flew to South Africa and signed with my first agency in 2003. My modeling career was a combination of being discovered and pursuing modeling for myself.”
Tell us about a memorable experience in front of the camera.
“I did a shoot for a potential cover for Shape Magazine South Africa in 2005, right before I came to the U.S. This shoot was at a beautiful resort outside of Durban, South Africa. We shot in different locations, from the beach to inside the resort. The whole experience of working with Shape for a week was one of the most memorable experiences I had as a model.”
College and career were always part of your plan. How did modeling fit into the bigger picture of your life’s goals?
“I was always a curious kid, and I still am. When I was younger, I didn’t think I would become a model, I thought I would be a lawyer or an architect or something like that. But, once I got into modeling, it fed my curiosity, and it allowed me to meet new people, to travel to new places, and to learn about different cultures. It gave me the opportunity to truly discover who I am and what I wanted to do with my life.”
You recently graduated from Columbia University in New York City. Congratulations! Tell us about your studies and areas of focus.
“Thank you! At Columbia University, I studied Sustainable Development. My main areas of focus were Education, Social Movements, and Urban Development. I also studied about Global Health and Leadership. The reason I chose a Sustainable Development major is because of my interest in development in general. I needed to understand how development occurs, how it’s hindered, and how it could be used to alleviate poverty.”
What are your next career steps, with diploma in hand?
“I began my full time position as the Executive Director of Seeds of Africa on June 2 of this year. I am the first full-time employee of Seeds in the U.S., which is an important milestone for the organization, and for me personally. Although I have been the Executive Director from the beginning, I always had something else going on. Now, I am focusing all of my efforts on growing the Foundation and building our first educational facility in Ethiopia, the Dream School.”
You founded Seeds of Africa in 2005, based on a compassionate and practical purpose. With the organization now entering a period of growth, tell us about the ongoing projects and goals of Seeds.
“Shortly after I came to Dallas in the summer of 2005, my older brother Anteneh Worku and I had a conversation about what I wanted to do with my life. We have both been inspired by our parents, who have done a lot of work in education. They opened two schools shortly after they got married in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. We were raised in a household that believed in the power of education; we were told that education will provide us the tools we need to lead a successful and fulfilling life.
“Our main goal at Seeds of Africa is to use education as a tool, or weapon, to fight poverty and to improve the livelihood of underprivileged children, young adults, and their families. We work to improve the access to and quality of education in Ethiopia, and beyond. We believe that education changes lives, and that it is one of the most important components of life. By providing access and improving the quality of education, we can change many lives for the better.”
The organization recently launched its “Year of Dreams” in order to fund a “Dream School.” How will this school further the mission of Seeds of Africa?
“Yes, every year we have a new motto, and the current one is ‘Year of Dreams.’ During this year, we have made incredible progress in identifying the kind of school we will build, and the services it will provide. The Dream School Campaign will launch this fall; it is a one-year campaign to raise funds to build our first school in Adama.
“This school will further the mission of Seeds in many ways. First, we will be able to enroll more students every year, which helps to expand our reach. Second, this educational facility will provide additional services to the Adama community. For example, it will have the first Public Library that will be available to Adama residents, as well as a small healthcare facility that will provide services to our students and their families. Also, a robust community center will provide literacy seminars, business and entrepreneurship training, and health seminars to the community. Finally, the school is the first step in our expansion plan, and it will be used as a training facility for educators who are interested in our progressive teaching philosophy.”
In what ways can the general public donate or volunteer with Seeds of Africa?
“There are several ways people can support Seeds of Africa. Donations are accepted online, and we have an event coming up in Dallas on October 22. Follow us on social media for the latest updates, on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. We also have summer programs for professionals and educators who want to volunteer in Ethiopia. For more information, email us at email@example.com.”
What keeps you motivated, with all the work that you do? How do you persevere when faced with a setback or roadblock?
“First, it’s prayer. I pray and I read scripture; I try to read every day, and it helps me get through setbacks. Then, it’s my work. I love what I do, and I love that I get the opportunity to work on what I am passionate about, that I get to make an impact in the lives of our students and their families.
“Knowing that I am responsible for an organization that directly works with children and families who believe in us, and knowing that I am responsible for the ultimate success or failure of Seeds of Africa as the Founder and Executive Director keeps me more than motivated – it is my fuel. Knowing the array of challenges our students have faced as young children, their desire for a better life, their excitement about being in school, and their enthusiasm to learn, keeps me motivated. I always think that if they can have such a positive outlook on life, regardless of their circumstances, so can I.”
All images, courtesy of Atti Worku. For more information, visit SeedsofAfrica.org.