Ever since the Leadership Development Program was launched in Ethiopia in 2004, students from Compassion-assisted child development centers around the country submit their applications each year and pass through an intensive selection process to be one of the few chosen to participate in the program.
A student’s acceptance into the program is considered a big accomplishment for a child development center, the family, and most of all the student.
Development centers invest a lot to make one child eligible for the program; the outcome is the aggregated input of many years of work and one that involves the unrelenting effort of the center staff, Sunday school teachers and caregivers.
In any community, if there is an understanding of the value of education, there will be a gradual change in the development of that community as students succeed and pursue higher education. The more the society believes in education, the more they invest in their children.
According to Mr. Azale, who has worked as Director for DebreZeit Meserete Kirstos Child Development Center for 14 years, the community’s view toward education has been the decisive factor in the academic success of the majority of the children at his center.
There are parents who sacrifice a lot in order to buy their children books. There are also those who pay close attention to their children’s academic progress. This isn’t always the case elsewhere.
Many children living in poverty are forced to drop out of school and support their family. It takes extra effort to motivate these children and to show them other options. Even if the family believes in education, it is often considered a luxury.
To tackle this and other related problems encountered during the process of developing academically competent children, the center staff’s commitment to constantly counsel and guide them plays a pivotal role.
According to Mr. Azale, who is also among center directors who won last year’s award for bringing the highest number of students to the Leadership Development Program, the center starts working with children when they are 7 or 8 years old.
Children are encouraged to make a habit of reading. The center developed a system where the children are asked to list the books they need for the coming year. Those books are made available when possible in the resource center for all children to access. The resource center has a professional librarian, and Mr. Azale visit frequently.
In order to recognize the hard work of the students each academic year, the center arranges recreation time at the end of the year. During this time, the center staff encourages and awards those who did well academically, while motivating the others to do well in the coming year.
This event works wonders every year to create the kind of competitive spirit the center wants to instill in the children.
“We don’t only work on the improvement of the children’s academic performance; we want our children to have a balanced growth. Therefore, we also devote our time in developing their spiritual life as well as their social life,” says Mr. Azale.
Even though the children come from various religious backgrounds, the Bible studies they learn gradually bring change in their lives, and many have accepted Jesus as their Savior.
To strengthen their spiritual life, the center encourages children to participate in various church activities. In addition to the spiritual activities, the center staff makes sure children are involved in various clubs, which helps develop their social skills, too.
According to Mr. Azale, the center focuses not only on making students eligible for the Leadership Development Program, but also works hard to ensure children qualify to pursue higher education.
“Preparing students for the Leadership Development Program is a longtime process and one that requires long-term planning. We believe that if we work on the foundation, our children will be competent in any setting. Therefore, we invest in them starting from their childhood.
“What we emphasize most is that children should work hard on their education, on their social as well as spiritual life to get accepted to the Leadership Development Program. But even if they don’t get the chance, their being accepted at the university is success by itself.”
Within the past six years 20 applicants from the center went through the selection process and nine were accepted into the program.
The students who compete for the program but aren’t selected often have no one to financially support their education, making it hard for them to concentrate on their studies.
Mr. Azale mentions the challenge he faces in reassuring students who are not selected. He wants to raise the quota to accept more children in the future.
“It is very difficult for us to convince students who don’t get the chance to be sponsored through the Leadership Development Program. I personally don’t blame them because these children will have no financial support whatsoever after they join the university.
“Our center staff currently supports two students in university because the students’ parents have no means of giving them financial support. It would be good if more children could participate in the program. If not I think we should think about supporting the children who don’t get the chance.
“The Leadership Development Program is a sacrificial service for everyone involved. We pay a price to bring the children to that level; the specialists pay a price to cultivate the children they accept and people who find sponsors pay a price to make sure that each child has a support.
“I would like to encourage those that are engaged in the work of finding these fine students sponsors to work hard because the more sponsors they find, the more children will be accepted in the program.
“Each child’s success in the program is the fruit of their hard work, so I say ‘God bless you’ and I encourage you again to make it possible for more children to get into the program.”