A teen in Ethiopia who overcame poverty and danger with the support of her Child Champions discovers a passion for entrepreneurship.
Have you ever seen relentless hardships collide with relentless hope? Sparks fly. And hope wins.
A fellow writer and I had traveled to Ethiopia to see firsthand how Child Champions are transforming lives.
When a Child Champion told us about Tigist, a resilient youth at the Akaki Hope Center in Addis Ababa, we knew we had to meet her.
The Hope Center director invited us to come and talk with Tigist.
When we arrived, Tigist was outside playing a pickup volleyball game with a few other kids. Dressed in jeans and a sports jersey, she looked like any other teenager.
Soon Tigist and our interpreter joined us in a small office. A slender girl of 18, Tigist wore her hair pulled back in a neat bun. She seemed completely at ease with these foreign visitors – my colleague and I – who had come to hear her story.
Her irrepressible laughter bubbled up from time to time as we talked, a sharp contrast to the hard story she was telling us.
Tigist told us her father died when she was small, leaving her and her mother, Yeshi, on their own. Yeshi remarried, and Tigist’s younger sister, Miheret, was born. But Yeshi’s new husband didn’t want anything to do with Tigist. Unwilling to abandon Tigist, Yeshi left with both her daughters.
Once again, Yeshi had to fend for herself against crushing poverty, now with two young girls. Her meager earnings as a day laborer baking injera, an Ethiopian flatbread, were not enough to cover even their basic needs.
By the time she was 9, Tigist didn’t have enough to eat.
That’s when Child Champions at a nearby Hope Center met Yeshi’s family. Seeing how dire her circumstances were, they worked with Yeshi to quickly get Tigist enrolled in the OneChild program.
To help as many families as possible, Hope Centers in Ethiopia enroll only one child from each family. But when Tigist was enrolled, things began to change for the entire family.
Tigist and our interpreter break into laughter as she relates a particular change, making me smile before I’ve even heard the story.
Changes for the Better
Before Tigist joined the Hope Center, her mom used to struggle to afford school fees and supplies for the girls. Even a pen was precious. And it seems young Tigist had a habit of losing her pens and was often in trouble with her mom as a result.
When she came to the Hope Center, Tigist’s school fees and supplies were covered, which relieved a lot of her mother’s worries. But her Child Champions also helped her learn to be responsible with her belongings – a big relief to both Tigist and her mom.
Beyond that small example, Tigist explains that the Hope Center also provided her with clothes each year. Now, instead of wearing tattered clothes, she could dress like the other children, giving her and her family a new sense of dignity.
Important vocational training was offered, too. Tigist learned about computers, hairdressing, and tailoring, while her mom was trained in business skills.
Instead of working as a day laborer, Yeshi was able to open a small stand selling spices and incense used in traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremonies.
And Tigist learned an even more important lesson at her Hope Center.
“God is hope,” she says. “We are equal in the eyes of God. No one is big, no one is small. So as a child of God, there is hope for us.”
Tigist would soon need to cling to that hope.
Danger and Escape
Just as things were looking up for her family, a period of inter-tribal conflict broke out in Tigist’s town. Tigist relates the horrifying experiences with an even voice and matter-of-fact strength.
Things became so dangerous in their area that Tigist had to drop out of school.
Men from another tribe, after seeing her mother alone with two daughters, decided Tigist was an easy target for a forced marriage and tried to kidnap her.
Their attempt failed, but the family’s troubles weren’t over. The other tribe set fire to Yeshi’s tiny spice shop.
With nothing left and danger looming, Yeshi took her girls and fled to the capital city of Addis Ababa.
A New Beginning
Starting over is never easy, especially for a family living in poverty. But hope was waiting for them in the city.
The Hope Center in the town they left had arranged for Tigist to transfer to the Akaki Hope Center in Addis Ababa where Child Champions welcomed them with encouragement and support.
They helped the family rent a small house and even provided seed money for Yeshi to start a new spice stand. They also made sure Tigist was enrolled in school.
Happy laughter spills over again as Tigist talks about the Child Champions at her Hope Center, Fikeru and Natial, who have given her so much hope and encouragement.
“I wish a great deal for them – that they would have great things in their life!”
The Young Entrepreneur
Now Tigist is attending school while also helping her mother with her spice stand. And an entrepreneurial spirit inherited from her mom is fueling her dreams.
With the setbacks she experienced in life, Tigist still has three years of high school left, but she knows exactly what she wants to do when she graduates.
She says her mother has taught her about saving and being a good businesswoman. And Tigist is eager to continue and expand their small shop. She exudes excitement and determination whenever she talks about the shop.
Having their own shop is also a great source of hope, she says, giving them the opportunity to make a profit and grow the business. In addition to spice and incense, they are now selling fuel.
Asked what advice she would give girls to succeed in life, the young entrepreneur doesn’t hesitate.
“Do any job. Work brings you security. And one more thing. They should focus on their calling.”
Inspired by her mom and her Child Champions, and fueled by hard work and irrepressible hope, Tigist is striding with confidence into her calling and her future.
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