From Shoe Shiner to Educator

From Shoe Shiner to Educator

By: Brandy Campbell, with Tigist Gizachew in Ethiopia   |   Posted: August 29, 2008

Compassion Helps Boy Find Hope and Success Through School
Zewdu manages one of four schools he helped open that serve 500 impoverished children.

Zewdu yawns widely as he stumbles along beside his older brother in the cool morning air. He holds a heavy wooden box tightly as the two push through the beggars crowding the busy Addis Ababa street.

When they find an empty spot on the sidewalk, Zewdu sits, pulling rags and shoe polish out of his box. For the next four hours, he calls out to the men walking briskly to their jobs in the tall office buildings down the street. Some stop, and Zewdu quickly begins running his rag over their dusty shoes before they can change their mind. Some smile kindly at the 8-year-old, dropping a few coins into his polish-stained hands.

Other children rush by on their way to school, and Zewdu stares at their sturdy shoes and swinging backpacks. Heaviness overcomes him. He has already seen his older brothers and sisters drop out of school to work and he has no reason to believe his fate will be different.

"It was our duty ..."

At noon, the sun is high overhead and the sidewalk is sweltering. Zewdu can smell injera and rice cooking in the food stalls and he's tempted to buy a quick meal. But knowing his family needs the money he instead walks to the gate of the nearby school, begging the students for a scrap of bread or rice.

For two years, Zewdu watched those children run back to their classrooms after lunch as he walked back to his shoe-shining box. "I understood it was our duty to go out and bring in whatever we earned in order for our family to survive," says Zewdu. "I never questioned why I wasn't one of the children I saw at the school because I knew they were somehow different than me."

Zewdu already believed the lies of poverty, that he was not as good as those children in the schoolyard. But his parents weren't ready to give up. So when his father found out about a Compassion-assisted child development center opening nearby, he rushed his son to the registration.

When Zewdu joined the Gulele Muluwongel Church Child Development Center (ET-400) he says his family felt, for the first time, hope. 

"For my family, it was as if a huge responsibility had been lifted from them," says Zewdu. "They were very excited for me and they talked about my being able to go to school as though I won a lottery. It was truly a miracle." 

Zewdu is the reason Compassion works with children in poverty. This desperately poor child needed more than a hot meal or an education. He needed to know that he was valued and capable of changing the world.

A Driving Force

Zewdu was registered in the first grade, and by the time he was in the third grade, he had risen to the top of his class. "Everything was happening so fast, that I didn't even know what it meant to stand first in my class," says Zewdu. "But I knew my teachers were proud of me, and that made me happy."

Zewdu remembers the first time his tutor told him he could one day attend a university. "I had no idea what a university even was," says Zewdu with a laugh, "but I knew it had to be something good and big for her to wish it for me. And this has been my driving force throughout my life the belief in me of my tutor, my parents and my sponsor."

His Life's Mission

Zewdu did, in fact, attend a university through the support of Compassion's Leadership Development Program, which enables graduates from the Child Sponsorship Program who demonstrate leadership abilities to work toward a college degree.

Now 22, Zewdu has made it his life's mission to open schools for children in poverty. With a loan from the city, Zewdu and four Christian friends have opened four schools in and around Addis Ababa. 

"Thanks to Compassion and my sponsors who have supported me with determination throughout my life, I'm now equipped to contribute to my community as well as to my country," he says. "God has been my dream maker and He has also been providing every need in each step of my life using Compassion as a channel. Now it is time for me to give back and honor God in everything I do."

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