Robert Tadjiki spends his days helping special needs students overcome disabilities by making sure that they focus on what they can do. A special education teacher at Bend High School, Tadjiki has been recognized for his outstanding work by the Oregon governor's office. In 2005, USA Today named Tadjiki to its annual teacher all-star list for his innovative approach to instruction. But it was a trip to China that truly expanded Tadjiki's horizons. There he met the director of a local orphanage who was selling traditional Chinese artwork in a public square. Tadjiki introduced himself and learned that the work was the product of Chinese orphans and that the proceeds were used to support the orphanage. The chance encounter led to the formation of a novel non-profit business, EChO (Educating Chinese Orphans) that is building schools for Chinese orphans, a la Greg Mortenson and Three Cups of Tea in Pakistan.
"I'm a Christian and I've grown up in the belief that you serve others and that is a major part of who I am," said Tadjiki, who has adopted four Chinese orphans, including one special-needs child.
So far, Tadjiki has built one school and plans to open two more in the coming months. At the same time, EChO is expanding with a branch opening in Bellevue and two Midwest offices in Cleveland and Chicago.
At the same time, Tadjiki continues to teach at Bend High School, where on a recent afternoon his students were gathered in the high school's secondary gymnasium to work on Tadjiki's latest idea, a choreographed dance routine that he plans to unveil at the upcoming Oregon Special Olympics as a "flash mob" routine. To help his students with their moves, Tadjiki brings in three members of the high school's dance team who run through a choreographed version of Aretha Franklin's "Respect," which Tadjiki says is fitting for this group of students who sometimes need to remind others to show a little. Tadjiki looks on from the sidelines, but he can't help bouncing and beaming. It's clear that he loves the energy and it's infectious. The kids are soon dancing and smiling, too.
In a few months he'll be back in China to check in on his foundation's work. It's a busy life when you can't stop giving. But the rewards are rich, he assures.
"Knowing what can happen for these young people and that with a little care and support and love we're making some pretty cool things happen," Tadjiki said.
Bend High Special Needs Teacher
Personal hero: Martin Luther King, Jr