A Clear Path to Success

With the generous gift of an anonymous Holt supporter, a 6-year-old girl in Ethiopia receives treatment and glasses for a debilitating eye condition.

Birhanesh and her father.

Birhanesh walks along a dusty, broken sidewalk in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Holding her father’s hand, she frolics down the uneven ground — bringing up gravel that dirties her pretty white flats. She wears a pink, pleated skirt and a forest green zip-up jacket. Her eyes, already teary and red, fill with dust as she strains to see on this bright day in November, one of the driest months in Ethiopia. Standing at almost 7-feet-tall, Birhanesh’s father holds his daughter’s hand tightly as the heavy Addis traffic rushes around them. The father and daughter are almost 200 miles away from the place they call home, a traditional mud hut in the Wallana district of southern Ethiopia. Accompanying them on this long-awaited journey is Miruk Alemu, then Holt Ethiopia’s child sponsorship coordinator. They have arrived in Ethiopia’s capital for a very special reason. Today, 6-year-old Birhanesh will, after years of discomfort, visit an eye specialist for the first time — hopeful that he can finally give her some relief.

From a young age, Birhanesh has suffered from a debilitating eye condition that causes her great pain. Her parents, both subsistence farmers trying to raise two young daughters on meager wages, did their best to keep Birhanesh’s condition controlled with frequent eye rinses and trips to a nearby health clinic. Aggravated by Ethiopia’s dry climate and infamous dust storms, however, Birhanesh’s condition worsened. A 15-minute walk to her school, a Holt-supported kindergarten, leaves Birhanesh’s eyes inflamed and burning. She strains and squints, struggling to see the day’s lesson. Sometimes she misses school entirely.

Birhanesh and her family at their home in Wallana.

As she already lives in an impoverished community, Birhanesh’s condition makes her chances of receiving a proper education even more unlikely. Drop-out rates for children in primary and secondary school in Ethiopia are extremely high. But Birhanesh’s parents are adamant their daughters attend and stay in school. “They believe that education will create opportunity for a better future for their children,” Miruk says.  In a country where only 77 girls to every 100 boys attend primary school, this is an inspiring notion.

Through our work in Ethiopia, however, Holt is helping to combat this troubling trend.  Since we began working in the southern region of Ethiopia in 2008, Holt has provided the tools and resources families need to support their children, and stay together. We’ve partnered with schools, community leaders, local governments, medical professionals and social workers to holistically fight poverty and child abandonment, and to empower children with the resources and support they need to reach their full potential — recognizing primary education as a critical factor in our efforts. In 2010, we provided the funding to build Wallana Kindergarten — a three-room school for children in a community about 20 minutes from Shinshicho. Holt provides educational support to the children enrolled at the school, as well as support for Wallana to have a quality teaching staff and social work services. In the six years since Wallana Kindergarten opened, attendance at the school has nearly doubled. Holt child sponsors also help support the children who attend the school, including Birhanesh and her sister.

Birhanesh receiving an eye exam.

At school, Birhanesh has many friends and loves her teacher. She enjoys singing educational songs and playing games. She is said to be shy and bright. And she enjoys learning. But her condition has worsened. Birhanesh’s parents did their best to alleviate their daughter’s distressing symptoms with proper hygiene. But her condition ultimately reached a point where a simple daily hygiene routine would not suffice. For Birhanesh to continue her education and have hope for a bright future, Birhanesh required specialized medical attention.

When Holt heard about Birhanesh’s case, we acted quickly to help her — reaching out to our supporters for help providing for Birhanesh’s eye care.

Thankfully, someone did step forward, a generous donor with a heart for Holt’s mission and a wish to remain anonymous.  And on November 12, 2015, Birhanesh and her father arrived in Addis Ababa to see an ophthalmologist. At her appointment, Birhanesh received an eye exam, an official diagnosis and treatment. With medication, eye drops and continued proper hygiene, Birhanesh’s doctor says her condition will improve dramatically. “Birhanesh was delighted,” Miruk says. After her appointment, Birhanesh was treated to a new outfit — a hot pink jumpsuit, bright pink striped shirt, and neon blue outdoor shoes.

Birhanesh with her new glasses.

But the most noteworthy part of Birhanesh’s ensemble are her new glasses — her thin round frames securely fastened around her neck. Her father carries an extra pair, just in case.

Two days after her eye appointment, Birhanesh and her father returned home to a waiting mother and sister. “They arrived with gratefulness to the sponsors that made this treatment possible,” Miruk says. And today, because of this sponsor and the resolve of Birhanesh’s family, Birhanesh’s path to success will be a little clearer.

Ashli Keyser | Staff Writer

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