Gezahegne is director of Mekanisa Addis Kidan Child Development Center, one of the oldest child development centers in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia. When asked to initially volunteer his time as the center accountant in 1991, he said, “For this kingdom work, I will do it.”
The idea for the center began in 1989 through the initiative of Gezahegne and other church leaders who discussed various options to evangelize in the community. After these many discussions, Gezahegne says, “We agreed that Compassion would be the best method.”
At the time, Compassion required only three people to start a child development center – an accountant, a social worker, and a director. Gezahegne’s accounting experience prompted the church elders to invite him to that position.
After Gezahegne’s initial work as the center accountant, he was approached again by the church elders to become the center director.
As Gezahegne reflects on the impact of his program, he says,
“When I was a child, my friends and I had no direction or guidance growing up. Here at Compassion we fight to protect the children from negative influences, and we give them support to continue their education.”
This academic support for the children comes in the form of tutorial classes and money for school fees and materials, including clothing. However, the program also provides for their physical and spiritual needs as well; Compassion gives grains and other food stuffs, hygienic materials, and provides summer and Vacation Bible School and Bible studies for the children.
The child development center is located in one of the poorest communities in Addis Ababa, near the city dump where many beggars reside, pilfering through the garbage to get food.
As a result, the center organizes monthly family meetings where they distribute food and other materials as well as conduct Bible studies and educate families on how to care for themselves, their children, and how to effectively use their resources. Gezahegne says,
“We not only change the lives of the child, but also we change the lives of the family. We educate them [Compassion-assisted families] about not going to the dump and not begging; we support them and encourage them to work hard.”
Even though Gezahegne’s job as director keeps him busy with many administrative tasks, he still makes sure he has time with the children.
“Because I live in this community, children and their families come to my house if they need assistance.”
In addition to home visits by the children, Gezahegne and his staff also make a point of visiting the children’s homes to observe their home life.
“We not only take care of them here at the student center, but we go to their houses and ask their families ‘Where do they sleep? What do they eat? How is the communication between parents and child?’”
Much of Gezahegne’s work is that of a social worker, in counseling and giving advice to the children. Some of these children’s problems occur in the form of abuse; Gezahegne is called to minister to these special needs of the children.
“All the children respect me as a father. When they have particular problems, things they can’t share with others, they come to me – especially the teenagers. Stepfathers, brothers, and even high school teachers abuse these children and they come to us. We listen to them because they need someone to listen to them. In my trainings, I have learned to listen and ask few questions.”
After providing a supportive ear as they confide in Gezahegne, he then talks with their families and friends to come up with a solution together. “I ask the children, ‘What is your suggestion for a solution?.’”
While Gezahegne and other staff members have a significant impact on these children’s lives, Gezahegne also mentions the huge impact of the children’s sponsors. Of these people who touch the lives of children thousands of miles away, Gezahegne says,
“Sponsors do a great job supporting the poorest of children. From their own lives, they share with the children, and with their families.”
As the child development center director, Gezahegne witnesses the huge change in children’s lives when they begin a sponsorship program.
“When children get support, they begin coming to Sunday school and they have good hope. But when the support is stopped, the children become gamblers and beggars; they go back to the dump and stop going to church.”
Most importantly, however, the children relish the letters from their sponsors. The sponsors touch the lives of the children by encouraging them to keep up with their studies and remind them of their goals and promises they’ve made for the future. Gezahegne agrees,
“The words of the sponsors in the letters are words of encouragement for the children – a source of hope.”
As Gezahegne thinks about the center’s future, he dreams of networking with local governments and other organizations to better care for the community’s children.
“We have the opportunity with these children to effectively support and train them to become church leaders to continue the tradition of training more youngsters.”
One way he hopes to achieve that is by creating more awareness of how to better support children by communicating with churches and partnering with the government and Addis Ababa schools to cooperatively work at improving the lives of the city’s children.
But for Gezahegne, Mekanisa Addis Kidan Child Development Center has already achieved success. To date, Gezahegne reports that 109 children have been baptized in the program and these children have since become leaders in various church ministries, members of the choir, and lead Bible studies.
As these children come to know the Lord, Gezahegne says their lives are visibly changed.
“Their behavior changes within their families, the child evangelizes in the family – leads prayers over meals; their communication and interaction with friends and family changes. Even teachers in school notice behavioral changes in children since they’ve learned about Jesus. “The works are small, but the harvest is big. We planted some seeds and when you take care of them, they becomes beautiful flowers.”