Alemtsehay Lelisa: Committed To Alleviate Women’s Burden

Born and raised in Hawassa, Alemtsehay is the third born in a family of 6 girls. Her father passed away when she was very young and her family didn’t have much when growing up. She went to Komboni Mission Elementary School and Hawassa Tabor High School. When she was young, Alemtsehay was an athlete and a basketball player for Hawassa girl’s sports clubs. She was a very bold, open minded, fun loving and strong girl who always stood for her rights.

The biggest change in Alemtsehya’s life happened when her mother passed away when she was 16 and a grade 12 student. Her oldest sister was only 21 and there was no one to take care of the children. Life was tough when her mother was alive but it got worse after her death. “Life was extremely hard for my mother but she never made us feel it”, Alemtsehay recalled how strong her mother was and her influence in the life of her children. Her mother got sick and was admitted in a hospital while Alemtsehay was preparing for the 12th grade national school leaving examination. When her mother died, Alemtsehay was broken into pieces. She didn’t expect to score 2.4 in the national exam which was enough to get her enrolled in Awassa Teacher’s Training College.

Alemtsehay was assigned to join the English department, although she couldn’t make a proper sentence in English. She was scared and frustrated. All she was doing was crying and praying as she was worried about her future. “I never, for a second, thought I had what it takes to make it through college which as a result I withdraw in the first year”, Alemtsehay remembers.

Due to the past history of her mother who owned a bar and was a drug addict, Alemtsehya’s family was an outcast from the society to a point no one was willing to rent their house. Everyone in her community expected her to fail and Alemtsehay was determined to prove them wrong. She got re-enrolled the following year, worked hard and took all the help she could get from her friends. College years were the toughest as there were days when Alemtsehay and her sisters didn’t have anything to eat. Eventually she graduated with diploma after 3 years. Then the perception towards her and her family has changed.

After college, Alemtsehay came to Addis Ababa upon a request of her pastor to join a church choir. While serving in church, she found her first job at School of Americana with 800 birr salary which was a lot of money for her back then. Later, she joined Ghibson Youth Academy and Future Talent School to teach in elementary classes. She was also teaching after school hours. Then she got enrolled for a degree program in Alpha College to study law. In the meantime, she had her boyfriend move to Addis from Hawassa and they got married. She also had her first CD of gospel (religious songs) released.

Alemtsehay loves teaching and her professional life got at its peak when she joined Sanford School. The four-years in Sanford shaped her life significantly. After having her first child, Alemtsehay faced financial shortage. So, she accidentally started selling traditional closes to her colleagues which later turned out to be a good business. Before she knew it, the business grew. When she heard that there is an opening at Haile Resort Hawassa, Alemtsehay borrowed 10,000 birr from her sister to open a cultural shop.

After a year, Alemtsehay resigned to focus on producing household materials such as curtains, table runners, bed covers and so on using traditional fabrics. On the side, she was working as a substitute teacher at International Community School (ICS). When the business was growing, she made her husband resign his job and had him trained in sewing while she learned weaving. The couple founded a company, received a sq. meters working space from the government and created job opportunity for 10 weavers and tailors.

Although Alemtsehay realized her passion was working with children, she was sad about the situation of millions of children in Ethiopia. She used to wonder about the fact that the amount of money families pay to send their children to international schools could feed and teach hundreds of poor kids. Questions such as this one made her test her personal life values. “My existence, my assets, my connection and all that I have achieved in life should benefit more than myself and my family. My skills, knowledge and expertise should be invested to help those who need it most. I know the pain that comes from feeling not being loved as I lost my parents at a young age so I want to help those kids not to experience such pain”. Almetsehay then quit her job at ICS to follow her passion.

Alemtsehay visited Dukem as she heard stories about poor single mothers living there.  What she saw broke her heart so she decided to start a humanitarian organization. Although she did not have much at the time, Alemtsehay was sharing her dream with everyone she knew. Her dream was to look after and teach kids in Dukem whose mothers were too poor to feed them send and send them to school. Her mission was to focus on the most important formation age of the children: 3 to 6 years old.

After 18 months she opened “Vision for New Life Charitable Organization.” Gradually, Alemtsehay started getting support in cash and in-kind including 8,000 Birr donation from her young students at ICS. Individuals and companies donated furniture and clothes, paid rent and painted the school. The school opened its door with 20 children and Alemtsehay was the only teacher for the first month, travelling every day from and to Addis Ababa. The school now has 2 teachers and 2 support staff. In the school, the children were given balanced diet in addition to the free education. Alemtsehay currently runs the school with the money she generates at her business. She plans to extend their services to Hawassa and other regions in the future.  Her business has contributed a lot in bringing her dreams come true so she believes in giving a chance to others to gain financial freedom.

Alemtsehay believed that the challenges she faced at a young age made her a strong and compassionate person. She doesn’t accept the status qua. She stands for her own right and the rights of others. She has a big heart for women and children. Her vision is to see no child suffer from poverty in Ethiopia. “I know how it feels to have a child and not being able to provide so I want to elevate the burden of single mothers in the country” says Alemtsehay.

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