Werkneh Ourga: an inspiration

WHS has much more to offer than meets the eye. Werkneh Ourga ‘18 grew up in an orphanage in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, from the age of four. After battling growing tumors in his hands, he moved to California in 2008 to receive surgery and experience new opportunities.

Ourga presented at the [email protected] event on March 18, responding to this year’s theme of “Connections.”  In his speech, Ourga encouraged the audience not to give up in the face of a challenge.

“I’m actually sharing the story about myself. I’ve been through so many things in my life since when I was born and I had a tough life [growing] up in an orphanage,” said Ourga. “How does my life transform from nothing to something?”

When Ourga moved to the U.S., he faced even more challenges; he had to adjust to a new world, meet new people and learn English while undergoing multiple surgeries, but he never let that stop him from achieving his dreams.

“I had a tough life in my childhood, [but] things happened for [a] reason,” said Ourga.

In 2016, Ourga began attending WHS as a junior. Since then, he has taken part in multiple activities and clubs on campus. He is a member of the varsity soccer team and runs in distance events for the track team; he is also a member of Action Team, a volunteer organization.

“He has what I like to call a ‘mamba mentality,’ meaning he is fearless and always tries to be better tomorrow than he was today,” said teammate Erol Arik ‘18. “He has great natural ability as an athlete and, in addition, adds a great work ethic in his training.”

In addition to his limitless effort and talent as an athlete, Ourga stands out as a person.  His positive words and friendly attitude touch the lives of the students and teachers around him.

“Werkneh is the most outgoing person I know, and when you walk by him, he is always smiling or waving at someone,” said Lexi Hartsuyker ‘18. “I think his bubbly outgoing nature is what sets him apart from so many other teenagers on the Westlake campus.”

Each day, he strives not only to be a better athlete but a better student as well.

“He is always making sure he understands the material, even if that means staying a few minutes after class or stopping by after school to clarify anything,” said math teacher Marina Morales.

Ourga has inspired students to be grateful for the lives they have been given. Before moving to California, he had never been on a plane or owned a cell phone, something most students cannot relate to.

“Hearing about his major surgery and struggles in his early life, I just thought it was crazy that I was having a conversation with someone my age who has lived a totally different life than me,” said Arik. “But, in terms of personalities and people, I think we are very similar, which allowed us to become good friends from the first day we met. He has given me motivational talks, life advice and most importantly has taught me to be fearless and pursue all my goals.”

Ourga’s dedication and efforts were commemorated in 2015, when a Grey’s Anatomy episode (season 12 episode six) featured his story in alliance with the Mending Kids organization that helped him receive his surgeries.

Ourga hopes to continue to be an inspiration to those around him and to one day make an impact on the world. Currently, he is writing a book about his life with Dorothy Lucey who formerly hosted Good Day L.A.

Ourga said, “I hope one day I will go travel on around the world to accomplish my dreams [of doing] research on hands.”