Though a popular name in the Western world, Lisa is an unusual name for an Ethiopian girl. Personal names in Ethiopia have great significance and are considered a tribute to circumstances and people the family wants to commemorate. Most Ethiopian children are named after national and religious heroes, saints, Bible characters, and celebrations or other major occurrences taking place when a baby is born.
But even before his wife became pregnant, 29-year-old Sintayehu had this name picked out!
“When my wife and I decided to have a child, I told her if it is a girl, we would name her Lisa, after my sponsor,” Sintayehu says. “I wanted to honor the role she [Lisa] played in my life by remembering her every time I call my daughter. She is my hero. My wife agreed, and the Lord’s gift turned out to be a beautiful baby girl.”
Little Lisa already knows the significance of her name, proudly announcing it whenever she is asked. The surprised looks and responses never bother the little girl. Instead, she smiles the moment she says her name.
Her father, Sintayehu, feels warm pride as he says his daughter’s name dozens of times a day. Whenever he calls for his daughter, he is also sending his gratitude thousands of miles away to her namesake and the person who has made the biggest mark on his life: his sponsor.
And it all started 23 years ago!
A Church and a Sponsor
Sintayehu still remembers the first day his mother walked him to a local church for Child Sponsorship Program activities. Neither mother nor son could have anticipated how the relationships he would form would change the course of his life forever. As he delighted in the program that gave him access to education, life-skills training and spiritual development, Sintayehu began to spend most of his weekends and spare time after school at the local church.
In addition to the program activities he attended regularly, Sintayehu enjoyed his new friends, the love and care of the staff, and the freedom to run around and play. The nurturing environment helped him thrive and filled his childhood with many fond memories. However, the special bond he created with his sponsor through the consistent letters and photos is what he still treasures the most.
“Considering my neighborhood and the situations that surrounded me, the center was a sheath that set up my journey to a great future. I grew up nurtured and protected,” says Sintayehu. “My sponsor is a special person. Not a day goes by without me thanking her. In all her letters, she told me how she is proud of me. She told me to be courageous and to work hard. Every time she writes, she said to try different things and to never give up. Her letters have trained me to be daring.”
Even when he failed to pass the admissions test to attend university, Sintayehu didn’t give up. Instead, with his sponsor’s words ringing in his ears, he registered at a vocational school to train in woodwork. During the three-year course, his sponsor continued to encourage him, helping him to stay the course and dream big.
“I never wanted to let her down,” he says. “I graduated top of my class and instead of me hunting for a job, hiring firms were offering me jobs. At that time, I just wished my sponsor Lisa could see how her encouraging words and dedication to supporting a young man she never met paid off.”
When he graduated from the Child Sponsorship Program 10 years ago at age 19, Sintayehu wrote his final letter to his sponsor.
“The day I wrote my final letter, it was one of the hardest days of my life. … I will forever remember her kindness, her consistent encouragement and the way she believed in me,” says Sintayehu.
“It was then that I decided the best way to always thank her is to name my first daughter after her. And it is not just that. I also decided to work very hard and succeed as a way of thanking her. I decided to try and never give up.”
After nine years of working in different major furniture houses, Sintayehu has now opened his own workshop where he makes and sells household furniture. Within one year of opening his own business, he has earned enough income to purchase his own house and is planning to expand his business into a house-finishing company. Sintayehu has six employees and even offers training to youths during their school breaks.
“Compassion is like a hidden medicine that is saving and healing a generation. The sponsors sacrificially commit to seeing us through. I believe there are many like my sponsor Lisa who put a mark on a child’s life,” he says. “When all I saw was despair and lack, when there was no one who believed in me, when all that was modeled for me was something that dampened my hope for the future, when I didn’t know how to dream, my sponsor believed in me.”
“The center staff loved and cared for me as one of their own. The church became my light. I’m now a hardworking citizen, a husband, a father to two children and one on the way, a God-fearing man, and a firm believer in helping those who need my help.”
Compassion intern Hayli Kieser contributed to this blog.