Whoso loves, believes the impossible - Elizabeth Barrett Browning
This is the story of such a love. This is the story of a man who loves. This is the story of a woman who loves. This is the story of a mutual love between them and a seemingly impossible act of selflessness that has change the lives of so many they have touched, forever.
Dawit Hailu was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. He doesn’t know how old he his or even the year the year he was born. Things like marking the date of ones birth just don’t seem relevant in a country where surviving your first year of life is an accomplishment.
“Going from his personality we have fixed his month as September and then we imagine that he is about 30,” his wife Stephanie acknowledges.
When Dawit was growing up his family had no money. He was educated at the local government school in Addis Ababa. He eventually trained in mechanics but never had the opportunity to work in this field. Instead he got a job as a driver with the Israeli Embassy in Addis Ababa.
It was during this time that Dawit met Stephanie, a British citizen working in Addis Ababa. Stephanie was a teacher at a posh international school and Dawit was the driver for a little girl who came to Stephanie’s class. They met and fell in love during the moments Dawit would escort his charge to and from Stephanie’s class. They shared an immediate, common bond….the love of children. And so their life and love together began. Dawit continued to work for the Israeli Embassy and Stephanie taught at the international school. To Stephanie, however, the frustration with helping only the rich kids began taking its toll.
“I could see clearly how the poor kids didn’t have a chance. It seemed cruel that money was dictating their opportunity of a decent education,” she said. They would talk for hours of the social injustice of the education system among the people of Ethiopia.
Thus began the genesis of English Alive Academy. They rented space in a school after hours for a nominal fee. The poor children in Addis who had no chance for a decent education were getting the opportunity to be educated and begin their foundation for a bright future. Dawit left his job at the embassy to take on the job as principal/administrator while Stephanie continued teaching at the international school to finance the school to carry on.
“This situation continued until I got pregnant and we realized that this really wasn’t the right direction.” Stephanie admits. With sorrow they boarded up the school in Addis Ababa and moved two hours south of the capital city, to Nazareth.
“We moved to Nazareth since in those days, it was a small town and there were no good schools there so we felt we could really make a difference and set up a school. To supplement our income I worked part time at the University in Nazareth, training teachers,” Stephanie recalls.
The struggles continued, however.
“We realized that things had to change one day …we didn’t have enough money for milk for the children and that perhaps we had to change things, so I got a teaching job at a school in Addis and Dawit and I moved back there with our family.”
“[English Alive] has the reputation as a strong center for learning. Dawit stands firm, however. English Alive is for those children who have not.”
The two English Alive Academy schools stayed open in Nazareth when Dawit and Stephanie’s family moved back to the city. Today, Dawit commutes to the two campuses in Nazareth a few days a week to oversee it. His mom is the day-in and day-out administrator on site. She maintains her residence in Nazareth. A variety of foreign volunteers make positive contributions to the school through working with the teachers and students alike.
A visit to the two campuses in Nazareth is truly an uplifting experience. The children who attend are the poorest of the poor children of this region yet they want to be there; they want to learn. Most of the children attend the school through sponsorships. Some are AIDS orphans and are, themselves HIV+. The children have literally nothing more than their schoolbooks, the clothes on their backs, and their pride in being educated. The first school (K-2nd grade) educates 83 children. The school building and yard is equal to about 2 American classrooms in size. The library has maybe 60 books total. The benches and tables…all built by Dawit’s hands. The children are dressed in bright red and yellow uniforms. The small boys have close shaved haircuts and the girls wear tight cornrows with bright, dramatic beads and clips. They are very well put together.
Dawit explains, “We emphasis pride in self. To have self pride is our number one rule.” The children must come to school clean and bathed.
The second campus is for older grades, 2-4th, but students are as old as 13. Dawit shared a story about one student at this campus named Hana. Hana’s parents are both dead of AIDS and she had been living by herself since their death. Hana is 8 years old. Hana is HIV-positive. The neighbors told Mr. Dawit about Hana and he took her into his school. After school he believes she is taken care of by neighbors. Hana looks sick but for six hours a day she can be the little girl she should be among the children of Mr. Dawit’s school. For as long as she can, Hana is getting an education.
Recently Dawit and Stephanie have been honored for the fruits of their labor. The council in Nazareth presented them with a Certificate of Merit for their services to the general public in the city of Nazareth. Proudly Dawit offers that word has spread about the success of the English Alive Academy. The more fortunate families of Nazareth want their children educated at English Alive as well. It has the reputation as a strong center for learning. Dawit stands firm, however. English Alive is for those children who have not.
Unfortunately a paper Certificate of Merit will not pay the bills. Dawit and Stephanie continue to put the love of the children of Ethiopia first and are constantly soliciting donations, volunteering, book donations, sponsorships, and just about anything else to keep the gates of English Alive open. On a recent trip to England Dawit walked by a pile of garbage outside a house and within the trash was an incomplete set of primary reading books. He collected the volumes from the street, cleaned them, carried them all the way back to Ethiopia and now they rest on the primitive bookshelf of the primary school library. In truth, any donation of money or books, big or small is a treasure to Dawit, Stephanie and the children of English Alive.
Love. This is the story of the love of a man named Dawit, who has the capacity to do anything he wants to in this world but chooses to give back to the children of his motherland. This is the love of a young woman named Stephanie who donates part of her income without fail to make it possible to keep school in session for the poorest of the poor children in Ethiopia. This is the love of a young couple that have scoffed at the word impossible and created a beautiful little oasis of learning on the edge of the Great Rift Valley. This is love.
Whoso loves, believes the impossible.
Read more about English Alive on their blog: http://englishaliveacademy.blogspot.com
Thank you Dawit, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Julianne Barclay and Story of My Life®