Michael Gervers called on the Ethiopian community to raise money for Ethiopian studies at U of T and announced he would kickstart the cause by matching their donation up to $50,000―and he succeeded.

By Noreen Ahmed-Ullah (U of T) |

Long before Grammy-award winning artist The Weeknd donated $50,000 to help launch Ethiopian studies at the University of Toronto, Michael Gervers was busy exploring, preserving and promoting a largely unknown ancient culture.

A professor in the department of history, Gervers has swung from ropes to get into rock-cut monasteries in Ethiopia. He’s created a database of tens of thousands of photographs– mostly his own – of Ethiopian art and culture.

And for decades, Michael Gervers has taught one of only a handful of classes in Ethiopian culture and history in North America.

At a local event honoring him for his work on Ethiopian culture 11 months ago, Michael Gervers came up with a novel concept.

He called on the Ethiopian community to raise money for Ethiopian studies at U of T and announced he’d kickstart the cause by matching their donation up to $50,000.

Ethiopian religious scripture“I thought this was a perfect moment to try and make something happen,” Gervers said. “I gave them a challenge. I said that I would contribute $50,000 of my own money if they could match it. They accepted the challenge.”

Since then, the Ethiopian community group, named the Bikila Award organization after Olympian Abebe Bikila, has been raising funds in earnest. The Faculty of Arts and Science has contributed $50,000. With The Weeknd’s gift, U of T’s department of Near and Middle Eastern civilizations has reached about $170,000 of its $200,000 goal in endowment funds to start a course in Ge’ez, the liturgical language of Ethiopia, in spring 2017.

Department chair Professor Tim Harrison says he hopes that, with continued support, U of T will eventually add more courses and be positioned to launch the first Ethiopian studies program in North America.

Continue reading this story on U of T News
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