A OneChild graduate in Ethiopia describes how a last-minute enrollment at a Hope Center changed the course of his future.
Yonas Wegeyahu grew up with his mother in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa. His mother was a single parent who worked as a maid, so she moved into her employer’s house with little Yonas.
When Yonas turned 4, his mother had a baby boy but found that living with two children in her employer’s house wasn’t working out.
She, however, couldn’t afford to rent a house or provide for their needs because she earned so little.
“Her salary was approximately equivalent to the price of my school sweater then,” Yonas says.
With two kids at home, one of whom was about to start school, her expenses shot up. As a single mother living in poverty, she could not afford to care for both of them.
Yonas’ mom turned to one of her sisters who lived in the city. Her sister, Yonas’ aunt, suggested that little Yonas be taken to live with his grandparents in a village in Amhara, a regional state in northern Ethiopia. The village is 447 miles away from Addis Ababa by road.
Yonas says that back then the region had no water, education, or health services. It had little to no social services. Most people then, including his grandparents, depended on farming as a source of livelihood. Life in the village meant Yonas would have few opportunities beyond basic survival.
So, as they were planning on how Yonas would move to the village, Yonas moved in with his aunt. At that time, his aunt had no children and worked in a textile company. She earned slightly more than his mom, but still not enough to cover their basic needs.
Hope Steps In
As the family was waiting to take Yonas to the village, his aunt heard about a Hope Center in her neighborhood that was registering kids. She visited the Mercy Hope Center and Yonas was registered into the OneChild program there, which allowed him to stay with her in Addis Ababa.
As he joined the Hope Center at age 5, he also started school.
He recalls not only attending program activities on Saturdays but also receiving monthly food and school supplies as well as receiving medical care whenever he was sick.
The Hope Center was also open for tutoring sessions three times a week after school, and kids would access reading materials while Child Champions helped them with their homework. Yonas says the remedial classes and the opportunities offered by the center helped them improve their grades.
“I never went hungry, neither was I thirsty or lacked anything,” he says. “The Hope Center shielded me from that. My performance in school also improved, and my grades in each exam got better and better.”
Yonas says that in addition to the help he received at the Hope Center, he also had a Child Champion, a counselor named Addis, who held his hand and encouraged him.
He met with Addis on Saturdays at the Hope Center. He says Addis encouraged him to persevere whenever he faced a difficulty and cheered him on. She also not only motivated Yonas but also his aunt. Addis would visit their family often to check on their welfare.
“Once when I was sick, I remember her visiting me at home. She closely monitored my progress until when I got better. She also sat down with my aunt and talked for long hours during her random visits. This I believe helped motivate my aunt,” he recalls.
In his final year in high school, Yonas lost his aunt. He says Child Champions and kids at the Hope Center stood by him during that difficult time and helped him heal.
Lessons That Last
Yonas says the Hope Center poured into him. He was taught virtues that helped him when he transitioned into a teenager, and to date, he says, he is grounded by the values instilled in him as a child.
“I became a better friend and a better member of my community because of the lessons I learned at the center. I also learned about and found Jesus at the Hope Center,” he says.
Upon completion of his high school education, Yonas scored high grades that earned him the opportunity to study statistics at a local university.
At the university, he says, the greatest challenge he faced was peer pressure to take drugs and drink alcohol.
“At college, one is exposed to drugs, and because kids are away from their parents, there is a temptation that comes with the freedom,” Yonas says. “There is a high chance of one falling into drug abuse, because of peer pressure and the urge to ‘fit in.’ What helped me resist the temptation is that I was well-grounded on virtues while at the Hope Center.”
Moving Forward and Giving Back
Months after he graduated from college with his bachelor’s degree in statistics, Yonas landed a job. He says he was lucky to get a job that fast because years after his graduation, most of his former classmates in college are still looking for jobs. He says jobs in the city are not easy to come by.
Yonas, now 24, works as a claims adjuster at an insurance company in the city and lives with his younger brother and mother, who he takes care of.
He also got his mother a better-paying cleaning job at one of the insurance companies in the city and helped his brother get a taxicab. His brother now works part time as he studies in college.
Yonas is also helping a child from his former primary school. He helps buy educational supplies, books, and uniforms. He also supports the child’s family with food and cleaning supplies monthly.
“I support the child because Kristin, my sponsor, held my hand when I was a child, and it is now my turn to hold another’s hand. I am grateful for the support I got, and beyond that I learned from Kristin what kindness and love to a child in a hard place can do,” he says.
If he had not joined the Hope Center, Yonas says he would have ended up in the village and would have become a local farmer because the chances of getting an education back in the village are minimal. He would also have risked being forced into child labor to survive.
“Sometimes, I just sit down and think about how life would have been without the support I got from the Hope Center and all the Child Champions globally. Your hands are the hands of God,” he says.
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