Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Future of Ethiopia

The first week we were in Ethiopia, the guys and I were hanging out with kids at the Alemgena Care Centre. The nurses were in full active mode, providing medical assessments and educational clinics to the kids and guardians. Seated in a group of students watching the nurses' demonstrate different types of viruses and bacteria, was a young man who caught every one of our group's attention. His name is Trevor.* He is about 16 years old, has a smile that catches you off guard with how wide and bright it is. He is just one of those charismatic personalities that even when he's sitting still, there's an energy buzzing about him that seems to draw your eye back again and again as if you're waiting to see when it's going to erupt. Before I even heard him speak a word, I was so intrigued by this effervescent boy that I wanted to know his story.

I half expected that Trevor was the son of one of the care centre staff or perhaps a student on a work placement, he was that out of place in a centre that cares for orphaned and vulnerable children. Trevor looked well put together, like a million bucks, seriously...the kid has style oozing out of his pores.
He sat like a doctor or a counsellor, leaning earnestly into every conversation and absorbing what those around him were saying. His mannerisms were that of a well brought up young gentleman.

Later in the day, as we were leaving, Trevor took up a drum and began to lead the kids in an impromptu dance party that involved young and old alike, singing and dancing and following his lead as though he had choreographed the entire event in his mind before ever picking up the drum. He sang out chants and the group repeated them with such enthusiasm and laughter, I asked one of the drivers what he was singing about. He laughed and told me that the words were nonsense, things like, "We're going to eat bread and jam!!" and that the others were singing it just because he was leading it.

We left that day and as we drove away, I just couldn't stop thinking about this young man and his joie de vivre. At dinner that night, I asked Dr. Northcott about him and he told us the story of Trevor's life.

Trevor was born to a mother who was the mistress of a very wealthy, well known businessman in Addis Ababa. His mother became sick when he was still just a young child and she passed away. Trevor's father washed his hands of the young boy and so Trevor was sent to live with his mother's sister. She took him in when he was about 6 years old but she mistreated him, having him in the home as a slave not as a son or nephew. She neglected and abused him so at the age of 7, Trevor left the home. He negotiated with a security guard at a local business to allow him to sleep in the guard shack at night while the security guard was out at work. A guard shack is a coffin sized metal box that sits just off the side of the road in front of businesses in need of 24 hour surveillance. It offers little protection from the elements and even less from the heavy traffic passing by. He attended school during the day and slept in the corrugated tin box at night, alone. A small boy, with the courage and strength to make a way for himself, yet so small that he was still incredibly vulnerable on the street. He scrounged food where he could find it and began to work shining shoes to make some money. A 7 year old. By the time he was ten or eleven, he had fallen behind at school and was not making enough money to survive on. It was then that the care centre received a referral for Trevor from the local town council. Trevor came to the centre, was given a meal everyday and began to do better in school. When he was eleven, he rented his own small 4x6 shanty and lived alone, again working as a shoe shine boy to make ends meet. Eventually, he grew his business into repairing shoes and then selling shoes to make a living, all the while going to school.
Around this time, Dr. Northcott had Trevor in his makeshift clinic at the centre for a medical assessment. He asked Trevor what he would like to be when he grew up and Trevor told him that he was going to be the leader of Ethiopia. That was ten years ago.

Today, at 16, he's in about grade ten and still working hard to complete his education, while supporting himself. This boy, who has been on his own since an age where my children were learning to tie their own shoes, now pays rent on his own home, goes to school, and works to support himself. Dr. Northcott says that at one point, he had thought about adopting Trevor and bringing him back to Canada to allow him to have an easier life. He asked Trevor why he was always so happy and optimistic and Trevor said this, "It's because I have a choice. I can choose to be happy or be sad about my life. I choose to be happy. I choose to believe that things are going to work out. How could I not?"

The Northcott's then felt that if they pulled Trevor out of the situation he was in, they would, in essence, eliminate the struggle that was actually shaping him into the mature and genuine character that he is today. For me, meeting Trevor was such a gift. I felt like he lives just as we all should, with optimism and hope and a work ethic that doesn't quit when things get difficult. I'm not going to forget this boy anytime soon. I'm also going to be cheering very loudly when he announces his run for the leadership of Ethiopia.

*name changed

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