HUMANITY MATTERS: Beautiful Eyael
Making A Difference Brings Joy
I have flown from Nairobi to Addis Ababa to meet Eyael, a little girl I’ve sponsored through Compassion for 12 years since she was six. I started the sponsorship in Australia in 2004 and continued with the monthly payments when we moved to the UK in 2009.
Eyael is now a young woman of 18 who has travelled with a project worker over 300 kilometres on a public bus for seven hours from her rural home in Yirgalem in the southern region where she lives with her parents and three brothers and three sisters.
This is an exciting and emotional day! I’m in the Ag Place Hotel, a pleasant Three Star hotel, waiting for Eyael to arrive with her project worker, the Visit Host and a driver, who will take us around for the day.
When I explain why I’m here, Ganet the charming hotel manager, invites us to sit in the private VIP lounge for our initial meeting.
When Eyael walks in the foyer I am blown away. She is a stunningly beautiful young woman with sparkly brown eyes, a dazzling, shy smile, wavy black hair, honey complexion and the elegant poise of a model! My eyes fill with tears, I am choked up and filled with joy and pride. We hug and look deeply into each other’s eyes with a connection that goes right to the heart.
The Visit Host, Meheretab speaks impeccable English and the national Ethiopian language of Amharic. He translates between the two of us. I ask Eyael and the project worker, Birhane about their journey the previous day and they say all was fine, despite a much-publicised, government-declared State of Emergency.
I ask if she has visited Addis before and she says only when she was a toddler so coming to the city is a big event she has been excited about for weeks.
I discover the she is soon to complete high school, where she has excelled as an outstanding student, and will then do two years of preparatory school before applying to University. When I ask what career she wants to follow, I almost fall off the chair when she says: “Journalism. I have been inspired by you to be a journalist!” I am deeply touched. I can’t believe that I’ve had such an impact on this young girl just by donating money every month.
Through Meheretab, she tells me she has an ambition to be a television presenter and I say that with her beauty and intelligence she is sure to succeed. I tell her my own beautiful daughter Justine is an award-winning filmmaker in London with her boyfriend Andy, who is also a drummer in a rock band. She is very interested and wants to know all about my family.
I say that when I started sponsoring her in 2004 we lived on the Sunshine Coast in Australia and how we moved to the UK seven years ago, how my son Daniel is an entrepreneur and is married with a little son, how my husband Andrew is a business coach and trainer. She wants to know if we all still live together and I explain that my children are grown up and live in London and how we live in the country, an hour by train outside the city, with our cocker spaniels and hens. I show her photos of the whole family.
Eyael tells me about her family. Her parents farm their land and grow avocadoes, papaya, spices and coffee. I say how I adore avocadoes! Her eldest sister is a midwife and her brothers are studying engineering at university while her little sisters are still at school.
We are building a strong bond as we get to know each other. I suggest we go clothes shopping, the universal, cross-cultural activity that all women love! We hit the mall with Meheretab valiantly trying not to get bored as us girls worked through the racks. Eyael tries on several outfits and settles on a long olive green dress and a stylish fitted skirt with a burgundy top. This girl’s got taste! I agree to buy all three items and she is delighted and plans to share the new outfits with her sisters.
Our driver Solomon takes us to a shady tropical outdoor restaurant attached to the National Museum and I get an education about Ethiopian cuisine! We all have Ingera bread made from fermented teff flour with a holey texture that looks like coral. We break off pieces and squash them in our fingers to scoop up the delicious spicy stews. Meheretab explains that Ingera is a healthy staple made in every home and eaten twice a day.
Over our meal, Meheretab shares that he was also a sponsored child from the age of seven. He has never met his American sponsors however he is deeply grateful for the financial support that changed his life. He has just completed his second degree in Public Policy and works as a counsellor and lay pastor ministering to the needy.
He says: “Education has developed in me a good heart with a desire to do good for others. I have a strong belief in God and believe that every sponsored child has a God-given purpose. I do this hosting work to give back to Compassion because of the difference it made to me and all it does for so many children.”
I ask Eyael what sponsorship has meant for her. She says: “If I was not in the Compassion program going to school would not be easy. My brothers and sisters did not get this privilege. All my needs are being provided for from the money you send. My parents have a big family. They could not afford the school registration, uniforms and books. And the money helps my whole family. It buys soap and cooking oil and grain.”
I am flabbergasted. I did not realise my sponsorship over 12 years has meant so much to this precious girl and her family.
Meheretab says there are 400 Compassion projects throughout Ethiopia. Each project supports 250 children with just four hard-working staff; a project director, accountant, health worker and social worker. They do an incredible job caring for so many youngsters, getting them through school and doing regular health checks and family support.
The next stop is Addis Ababa University, which was formerly the Emperor’s Palace. We stroll through the beautiful gardens in the gentle sunshine and Meheretab says the flourishing, government-funded university has several campuses and student accommodation and around 60,000 students from all over the country and the best academics in Ethiopia. This is where he studied and got his qualifications and direction in life.
I immediately have a vision of Eyael attending this university doing media studies and I watch her face light up as she explores the vast academic panorama. I imagine the opportunities this first-class university would open to her.
Mehertab is an expert on Ethiopian history and culture and shows us around the university museum, eloquently explaining the intricacies of the country’s rich cultural heritage and ancient sacred sites.
He says Ethiopian is a peace-loving country with a population of over 90 million and 80 nationalities speaking 80 different languages and following the two main religions of Christianity and Islam, all co-existing in harmony throughout nine distinct regions.
The next stop is the National Museum where I meet Lucy, the renowned fossil that dates back three million years, which was discovered in Ethiopia by archaeologists in 1974.
We stroll around the museum looking at artefacts and paintings and opulent relics from the Emperors’ era. Eyael is fascinated and loves the history and culture of her country and wants to share it with the world.
When we say our goodbyes back at my hotel, there are tears and hugs, greetings to each other’s family and my heartfelt promise that I will continue to support her through university and into her television career.
Meeting my beautiful girl has been profound. My heart is overflowing with love and respect for Eyael and her family. And I’m dreaming of her wonderful future.