Etabeba Gulelat – Founder of New Life Youth Academy

Born into a low-income family in the area known as “kirkos”, Etabeba Gulelat, nicknamed Nani, always knew deep down that she wanted to be a teacher as her mother and grandparent had done before her. The love and dedication to teaching children started at a young age for Nani. She remembers gathering her neighborhood children in the summers and putting them through her well planned personal courses. She even rewarded the kids by having small tea parties made for their parents to come see them upon their completion. She understood that one of the problems she saw her community face was childcare. Families struggled to provide the finance necessary to raise and feed their children because of the lack of daycare facilities as government schools only accept kids at the age of five and above. So many parents were left with only one source of income as one parent tended to the kids. She hurt especially when she saw women not being able to work because of this and promised herself she had to focus on helping women especially. She says the reason why she wanted to focus on helping women and young girls was because she understood the undeniable cultural and traditional burdens placed upon the female of the family. It rests on the female to care for everything concerning the house and the kids and so she must be the one to be made financially stable first and foremost, is her belief.

Etabeba received her diploma in management and worked in finance for a while but was not content. She could not fight back the feeling of the need to service her community and her desire to teach. After receiving land from her parents, she asked her siblings, one brother and one sister, to allow her to use the land to set up the space as a daycare for her neighborhood kids. It all started with her painting the small traditional Ethiopian outdoor smoke kitchen, in the compound, white, to place a chalkboard and then placing cement blocks as seats for the kids. At just twenty-three years old, she took in her first three kids at 15birr a month each and provided tea and care. This small initiative led to addition of 50 children seven months later, after word spread that a woman was taking in children from the ages of 4-5 at a small rate. Parents flooded her door asking to register their children, and some came asking for help because they could not cover even the small price she had placed as a fee. She knew then that she was officially opening a daycare center. At the time there were no legal requirements and government regulations regarding daycare and so she maintained the kids by teaching herself, and asking her siblings for help.

She slowly used the remaining rooms to separate the four year olds and five year olds and hired babysitters; all with the very little funds she received from each child. She says her salary was only 45birr and she paid her brother 50birr as incentive to continue to help her. Even under the harsh circumstances, she says the love she had for the kids and for the work she was doing was the motivating factor in her continuing on her struggle to provide, what she calls the simplest of services, to her community. She called her school “Addis Hiwot” which directly translates to new life, because she said she wanted to provide a new life for the so many potential filled parents that only needed a daycare to place their kids so they could go out and work. She decided to call her school name “New Life” because at the time the English language was so revered and would affirm the school’s competency. She got married and her husband supported her, and still does, as the school’s financial head. When the government changed, new laws came into place that proved extremely challenging. Because her funds were limited the challenges were harder for her, starting such an expedition without capital. The one thing that kept her pushing through and fighting to fulfill the newly required elements by the government was the support of her family, the belief that she would succeed no matter what, and more so, her relentless persistence to see her dream of providing such a service become a reality.

She says with age came maturity and the realization that as a family she need to open this project of hers as a certified PLC business. She then got loans from banks to fulfill her requirements and twenty-five years later she has now transformed her family’s land into a primary school and rented two other spaces close by for her kindergarten and daycare compound; New Life Youth Academy now accommodates children from kindergarten to the 8th grade. Not without strive, but you would not be able to tell by her demeanor. So passionate about what she does, and so invested in the children’s benefit from her services that the challenges are just stepping stones to her growth and improvement. She started out building a play area for the kids with random recycled items from the neighborhood and slowly used her small profit income to build better environments for her school children. The process was gradual but steady. She couldn’t afford to pay her teachers a high salary but maintained with what she could. She was even able to transfer some of the funds to help parents that could not afford to pay anything. With three hundred children in total today she can maintain to help eleven of them free of charge. She now has purchased land for her second branch in the ‘kotobe’ area, although, she is now currently challenged with finding the resources to fulfill the requirements of starting with a daycare there.

After our sit down she took me to see her school, she walked into the narrow street that leads to her school, with a small student bookbag strapped to her shoulders. The road is under construction, dug up, with large rocks protruding everywhere, yet she didn’t walk with ease and care but with a steady, fast and confident step towards the gates of her primary school compound. All the while every person, adult and child, walking by shouts out her name “indeminesh nani?”, “how are you nani?”, “selamnesh nani?”, “are you well nani?”; a true community figure. Inside the school grounds, the kids ran to give their “nani” hugs and kisses. She then showed me her daycare facility, which is just around the corner. That is where you will see the true Nani, she shined with glee upon entering the small room with almost thirty children, all four and five years old, playing around, some watching a children’s show on the very small television placed on an old table in the corner of the room. She began to take tissue from the babysitters and cleaning up some of the kids noses, addressing each child by name and kissing away boo boos, hugging, skipping, and twirling along with some; in her truest element.

For those of us that live in the heart of the city, and in our well kept urban communities, with all of our conveniences fulfilled, it is easy to sometimes forget of our poorest parts of the country. Neighborhoods filled with men and women struggling on a daily basis to provide food and shelter for their families; families surviving on the bare minimum. And then, as the universe will have it, a light appears from within dedicated individuals that sacrifice their whole being to the service of others, by helping in whatever manner they know how. Nani is one of those individuals that took her passion and turned into a commitment to help her community, the best way she knows how. AWiB provides the platform for women such as Nani to showcase their work especially in relation to the contributions to their communities. It allows our readers to get to know these hidden figures that are silently impacting lives with sometimes little to no supportive resources. If you want to help, don’t only think about donating money, which is of course very much welcomed, but instead think of other creative ways in which you can help in terms of tangible resources. Below is a list of the legal requirements Nani must fulfill to open her second branch. Please take the time to look through it and see in what ways you can donate, help, or support this commendable citizen. And remember, if anything, try to make the time to go visit the school and meet Nani in person to pass on motivating words of support and appreciation.

Daycare Facilities Requirements

  1. toys and books
  2. beds, mattresses, bedsheets, blankets and towels
  3. table, chairs, shelfs and drawers for children and babysitters
  4. television sets, computers, fridges and stovetop ovens
  5. trash bins and trash carriages
  6. fire extinguishers and generator
  7. lockers for students and teachers
  8. babysitter uniform including hair nets and slippers
  9. rugs and carpeting

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