Through Compassion, award-winning artist Belachew Eshete has found freedom from poverty.
A destitute boy sits on the dirt floor of his one-room home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, staring at a book. His expression is pensive with just a hint of despair. He studies the book. In his mind, he weighs the opportunity for success the book represents against the reality of being 10 years old with no mother or father and the responsibility of caring for his younger siblings.
This heart-wrenching image, immortalized in dark green and blue acrylics, greets you as you enter the Compassion Ethiopia office. The painting is the work of formerly sponsored child Belachew Eshete. It is this award-winning artist's homage to the thousands of Ethiopians, like himself, who struggle to fight for a success that seems so elusive to those weighed down by poverty.
"In Ethiopia, most of the children don't have a father and they're like me - they may lose their mom," says 22-year-old Belachew. "(In the painting the boy) wants to learn at the same time he wants something to live on, not only for himself but also for (his family). That's the story. That's my personal life."
Life Exceeding Art
It's obvious that Belachew uses art to express the anguish he felt as a child growing up in the crowded slums of western Addis Ababa. But he didn't always have this outlet.
When Belachew was 10 years old, his mother died. His father wasn't around. So the young boy moved in with his sickly grandmother. It was a crucial fork in the road for Belachew.
Most Ethiopian children in Belachew's position would have no choice but to drop out of school and begin working. The government estimates that 40 percent of the nation's children are in the workforce, some starting as young as age 6. But thanks to his Compassion sponsors, Belachew attended the Gulele Muluwongel Church Child Development Center (ET-400) in Addis Ababa. There he found his freedom from poverty - art.
"My project director saw my paintings," Belachew says. "She encouraged me. My sponsors also encouraged me. They sent some pictures and they encouraged me very much. They prayed about my school and I was successful because of their care and prayers."
Spreading Hope Through Art
With Compassion's support, Belachew attended art school. Project workers arranged for him to get art materials and helped him secure entrance into high-profile exhibitions. Three years ago, Belachew was accepted to the Severn University of Fine Art where he's now a graduate student.
With earnings from the sale of his art, Belachew has built a house for his family and is able to support his grandmother and siblings. His work is seen by people all over Ethiopia, including university professors, church leaders and culture icons. Art has freed Belachew from the prison of poverty and he wants others to know that success doesn't have to be elusive.
"What I like is (that) art makes me free. Like I was a poor man before and now I have many things," Belachew says. "People helped me and because of that I have to support other people. I want to pass it on."
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