Konjit Tilahun: Using Her Inexhaustible Talent for Impact

Konjit Tilahun Yimer, born and raised in Addis Ababa, is the oldest of four children.  Even as a young child, she was energetic and had great ambitions.  Konjit was also academically strong, graduating high school at a young age.

At the age of 16, Konjit moved to Cairo, Egypt, where she grew as an independent, young woman and gained invaluable life experiences.  She developed a passion for helping people as she supported community projects including those benefiting prisoners.

Two years later, Konjit moved to Melbourne, Australia, and had the opportunity to continue her studies.  She worked full time to support her family while earning her degree.  Konjit worked as a chemist in a quality control laboratory.  As a young woman working in a male-dominated industry, she faced challenges of being undervalued and underestimated.  Still, she remembers the challenges and abuse she faced from men co-workers just because she was a woman with a higher position.  Konjit was able to learn key leadership skills as a result of her quick, successive promotion.  (She even experienced difficulty buying land as no one was willing to talk to a woman.  She had to bring her brothers to deal with the men.  Finally, she was able to buy land and constructed her house.)  The hardship was fuel for Konjit’s career; she succeeded due to her hard work and determination.

Later she turned to her field of interest and earned a Diploma of Applied Social Science (Psychology) and a Bachelors degree in Counseling Psychology, specializing in Drugs and Alcohol and Loss and Grief counseling.

Living in Australia as a single mom of four children (her husband lived in Ethiopia), Konjit was active in the community especially through her children’s schools.  She shaped her children in her way—to stand up for their rights, be kind, and resilient.

While travelling from Australia to Ethiopia with her children, the airline asked for donations for an organization supporting orphaned youth.  Konjit believed this was a wonderful cause.  After arriving in Ethiopia, she visited the organization and began working as a volunteer.  She was deeply touched by the hardship the children had experienced and provided them counselling support.

In 2013, Konjit founded Brave Hearts Ethiopia (BHE) after the closure of the NGO she was volunteering at due to administrative problems.  Despite the challenges and risks that come with taking on such a heavy responsibility, Konjit was excited to support the community even when it meant she had to forgo an income from working at a local psychiatric clinic as well as put on hold her plan to setup a mental health center to run the organization.  Family was soon convinced seeing the impact this organization would make to young and vulnerable children.

After several ups and downs, BHE was registered in March 31, 2014, as an NGO to empower orphaned and vulnerable children and their parents/guardians through holistic alternative care, quality education, skills training, income generation, counselling and psychosocial support.  During the first days of the opening of Brave Hearts, Konjit travelled to Australia to raise funds.  Still, her desire is to get funding and support locally as we have to resolve our problems ourselves.

To date, Brave Hearts Ethiopia has reached 1,315 beneficiaries, 339 directly and 976 indirectly.  The organization currently supports 156 beneficiaries.  Children and youth are able to attend daily tutorial sessions, have nutritious meals, use the library and play at BHE’s drop-in center.  Quality education and literacy is at the core of the program and the library has over 14,000 books the children use to support their studies and reading skills.

BHE focuses on empowering youth through life skills and psychosocial support, which builds their self-confidence, self-expression and communication skills.  These services help build their mindset and make them well-rounded individuals.  Konjit’s profession as a psychotherapist helps the children and their guardians overcome loss and develop a feeling of empowerment.

To ensure families’ economic sustainability, Konjit started income-generating activities where the guardians—who are mostly single mothers—run their own micro-businesses such as ‘Nu Buna Tetu’, small restaurants, vegetable shops, laundry and backyard gardening.  This major life-changing initiative has taught them to discern viable income-generating businesses and a habit of saving to support their families.

The program has also supported the community at large by constructing two public toilets in the areas where the children live.  The lack of these facilities had resulted in bad sanitation and illness for the community, affecting children who had to stay home from school when they felt sick.  BHE, with the support of its partners, constructed these facilities with clean water pipe and flush systems, showers, toilets and hand-washing basins.

Financial support for the children and guardians is not handed out but systematically done through bank transactions.  Finances are provided in savings accounts for the children, given to them when they graduate from the program.

Students who excel join private schools so they may advance in their education.  Up to the end of 2019, youth in the program have graduated and earned their degrees from universities, meeting the goal of BHE to support their self-reliance through education.  Thirty-one have successfully graduated from the program, becoming independent, self-sufficient, young adults.

Konjit also manages AUSSIE FOAM, a company she established with her husband. The company is a CANNON VIKING plant that produces high-quality foam products.  Unfortunately, the nature of the work does not involve women, as it is hard labour intensive.  Nevertheless, Konjit’s unrelenting desire to include women prompted her to employ them in the construction of the factory.  She made certain they got equal wage with that of men.

Konjit’s encourages the youth, especially women to fight for what you think is right and fair and do not be fearful of taking risks for things that matter.  Help those in need and be a woman of courage and purpose.  Do not be scared to stand alone for what is just, and make an impact!

“I am greatly inspired by AWIB as an organization.  As a woman, I feel grateful to see an organization that is so driven to change perceptions of women, believe in their capabilities and enable them to reach their fullest potential.  I support AWIB’s 50/50 women on board initiative and believe it will significantly impact nations for the better,” Konjit asserts.

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