For a young boy who had just moved to Addis Ababa, the lifestyle of the youth in the big city was very confusing yet tempting.
Sheleme was brought to the city by his eldest stepbrother for a better chance of education but was quickly lured into a life of gambling. Sheleme became one of the youth in the community who got what they wanted by fighting and threatening whomever got in their way.
His stepbrother got him enrolled in one of the best schools in the neighborhood, thinking that he would be influenced by the students there and realize that the lifestyle he was slowly being pulled into was not a good one.
However, concentrating on his education became very difficult as Sheleme’s name was constantly on top of the school’s black list. He got into daily conflicts with teachers and students because of his rebellious attitude, and this further aggravated his lack of interest in his education.
“I needed acceptance from my teachers and my friends at school. The way I interacted with them and my behavior at that time made it impossible for anyone to accept me. Deep down I felt like nobody wanted me there. So I was very angry and rebellious, which put pressure on the way I feel about my education.”
It was during the time when Sheleme was confused and the bad habits were taking control of his life that Mrs. Zewde, his stepbrother’s landlord (who later became the director for Nefase Silk Mekane Yesus Church Student Center), took him to the nearby church to get him registered in Compassion. She knew the program would provide for the young boy and be a good influence on him.
For 9-year-old Sheleme, the church environment was a totally new experience that he slowly came to enjoy as the center staff paid attention to him and encouraged him.
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“Even when I joined Compassion, I never let my guard down and fought with every one whom I thought was against anything I said or did. But gradually, I was won by the concern of the center staff. Of course, there were many times I was given a warning for not attending and for fighting, but they still cared about me and that was all I wanted.”
Even though the change in his behavior was gradual, Sheleme started to mix well with others. The faith the staff and his sponsor had in him concerning his academic performance triggered a desire to do well in school.
“I always got the lowest grade from my class, but still wanted to get the reward the center prepared for outstanding students. Even when I ranked 74th, my sponsor used to write me that it was good. When I passed to grade 8, I made a decision to prove that I can indeed do well in school.”
He scored well on his 8th grade national exam and became one of the top-ranking students in his class. However, even though he was making progress academically, Sheleme was finding it hard to separate himself from his neighborhood friends and from the habits he had practiced for a long time. As a result, his attendance at the center lessened day by day.
To entice students like Sheleme to spend more time at the center, the staff provided table tennis so that children would want to spend more time there playing with their peers. Sheleme started to spend a considerable amount of time at the center.
“Initially, I came to the center to learn how to play table tennis so that I can make some money out of it. But later, as I’d spend almost the whole day at the center, the singing and the word of God I heard at the church made me want to attend the programs.”
Yet as he was straightening out his life, a conflict arose at home that led him to move out of the house and start living on his own. With the support of Mrs. Zewde, Sheleme easily adapted to his new lifestyle and continued to progress academically and spiritually.
“The counsel I got from Zewde, who is like a mother to me, is what helped me be who I am today. She helped me see that if I work hard today I would be a great person tomorrow and achieve my dreams. She used every opportunity to keep me away from my friends who were bad influences on me and give me advice on life. She instilled in me the desire to pursue my education and told me to never lose sight of my purpose.”
Supported by the center staff and energized by the encouraging words of his sponsor, Sheleme became a model student both academically and spiritually at the center. Although Sheleme was not able to score the passing grade for preparatory education, he graduated with honor from Selam Technical College in General Mechanics and continued studying for his first degree in Mechanical Engineering.
“Of course, I was a little disappointed for not scoring a good grade at the 10th grade national exam, but God planned something else for me. After graduating with honor in General Mechanics, I was truly surprised to be accepted at the university to do my first degree in Mechanical Engineering. It was all God.”
Sheleme received a scholarship from the university when he was a second year student. While studying at university, he continued to be active at his church, leading the youth choir and participating in different activities at the center until the time when he decided to leave.
Sheleme is currently employed in an organization that specializes in importing spare parts for heavy machinery.
Sheleme finished his first degree in 2000, but he didn’t stop there. With many visions for the future, Sheleme continues to study for another degree that he believes will help him accomplish the desire God put in his heart to be a Christian leader who will bring change to his church, community and nation.
“I was happy to graduate but I still didn’t feel content. The lack of good governance and shortage of Christian leaders in the country always prompts me to do something about it. Therefore, I decided to first equip myself and study Leadership and Development. I believe that if my country finds a great Christian leader, we would become a great nation.”
In addition to striving to be a great leader, Sheleme is involved in organizing other Compassion program graduates from all over the country who have a vision to give back to children in need.
“My vision is to help children get an education and give them a chance to change their life and achieve their dreams. There are currently 12 of us and we have started providing for one child whose parents were unable to send him to school. We provide school materials and pay his school fees. For next year, we plan to help more children get education.
“I wouldn’t be where I am today had it not been for the persistent follow-up of the center staff, especially Zewde. My sponsor has also played a great role in building my confidence to try harder academically. Compassion has been a means for me to realize the purpose God ordained for me. I feel like I am just beginning to live and there is a lot I have to do and contribute.
“God willing, my ultimate goal is to be a Christian leader that will influence so many for the betterment of my country. Until that time comes, I will continue giving back and helping the children that are facing the same challenges I faced years ago.”