Roman Yassin: Planting the Seeds of Hope and Dream In Children One Injera for One Child Program (and injera le and lij)

Roman Yassin was born in Addis Ababa and went to Addis Ketema High School. She came from middle class family. Since her young age, she always had a sense of her community and a giving spirit

Her life changed when her physician ex-husband left her with three kids with no steady income of her own. She worked as a street vendor selling coffee and tea with bread then roasted barely (kolo) to make ends meet. Roman highlights, “Even though times were tough, I have instilled in my kids mind to focus more on what we have and not on what we do not.  I have always felt that we have enough to give and share. “She made sure that the basic needs of her kids are met for them to focus in school as she is a firm believer that the only sure way out of poverty for her family is her kids’ education.

Her children attended Hiber Elementary school, a public school where many kids of families from the street or beggars in the area. In 2009, there was a growing concern about some children in the school taking other kids’ lunches.  “I was so touched and angry that those kids are just hungry doing whatever it takes to survive through the day. I wanted to do something about it. I asked the school to give me five of those kids that I can pack lunches for, ” Roman adds.

She packed lunches and brought to the school every day for a year. The five kids became like part of her family. She saw a big shift in those kids way of thinking. Those kids not only did they show interest to come to and stay at school but have improved their school performance.   “What I saw in the kids was hope. planting hope is an ingredient for any kid to succeed,  “she adds.

“I envisioned and saw what these kids were becoming and with God’s provision, i fed 8 kids including mine. but that was not enough. “ It became her mission to add more kids to the program. Then, she decided to add more the following year. And she increased the number of students to 10 in 2010. In 2011, 15 kids.  In 2012, 20 kids; in 2013, 50 kids; in 2014, 75 kids. In 2015, 100 kids. “  Then the school gave her  a space to cook inside the compound and a storge room to keep  school supplies and food items .  Then in 2016, the number increased to a 105    and currently, in 2017, she has a 110 kids in the school feeding program.

Hiber Elementary School area kids come from poor families, a highly poverty stricken areas where many of the families are beggars, homeless single mothers, mothers with HIV/AIDS, daily laborers who live in shanty area and plastic homes which the kids  are from the  dumpsters area also known as koshe . Some families even use their kids a begging tools. “I wanted break the cycle of poverty, planting hope, love and a dream in the kids,“ she underlines.

She says, “My great passion comes from my deep love of helping others and my hate of poverty. I named the program one Injera for one child (and injera le and lij”. These kids are used to just grabbing whatever they find and eat.  When the kids beg, they ask ‘give me one birr or buy me a bread.’ Whether from begging or labor work, many of the parents are able to provide them with a bread but barely making it or not enough to put them through day. Injera on the other hand is not something they find every day.  Injera is a meal to enjoy around the table (Mesob) as a family and converse. That is the feeling the one injera for one child created. Injera symbolizes family, care and dignity.

Roman receives every student in the program with warm greetings and puts their Injera and Sauce (Wot) on each plate one by one.  She says, “I have individually connected with each child and like any mother would. They call me Enat, mother. Enat is a symbol of love and anchor of a family and more. “When I put Injera on their plate, I tell them they all are unique and that they are leaders and future inventors.  They matter to me, to their families, to their country and the world. “

Throughout the years, these kids not only got meals but love that helps them focus in their school work. The love and care is what makes them want to come to, stay in school and off the street.  (Alenilachuhu yemil ) we are here for you) is what they need to know.  Now the kids imagine that there is a better tomorrow that society cares about them to attend school.  They come to school not for the sake of coming, they come to learn. “I have seen girls and boys becoming more confident and vibrant.  What they are used to is people giving them left overs, or dumpster foods. Giving these kids a warm meal with injera in a clean plate has a meaning beyond the food they eat. A sense of a dignified person,” she adds. The one injera for one child program has also created hope in families. Many mothers started coming to the school now to know more about how their kids are doing which never was the case before.  These families are believing that education is possible for their kids.

Also the impact One Injera for one child is making tremendous.The kids from the program have significantly improved their grades (many ranking between1-5).  School attendance have increased with almost zero absence. These kids are engaged, caring, and present in their school performance.

In addition, one injera for one child program teaches kids life skills, the importance of work and hygiene. These kids are used to grabbing whatever they find and eat. Now, they know, to wash their hands, to be patient in line while waiting for their lunch and when they finish eating and they all are taught to wash their plates. “It is about taking care of self and their environment, caring for others.”

Roman also serves as a counselor and mentor. The kids need a person who they can look up to for any of their problems. They come and talk to Roman when they have issues or want to share something great.

Roman also supports a group of women in the Koshe and the school area who are single mothers, mostly beggars and some HIV positive, she does home visits and console them to take care of themselves and giving them hope.”  I have seen poverty coming between the love of mother and child. These mothers feel their kids are obstacles sometimes and it is important to alleviate that tension so that the mothers live longer and that they have hope of their kids getting good education.”

To sustain the program, Roman has sold all her jewelries and valuable items. She also gets support from her siblings and various people from the community: by way of food item donations and school supplies.

Roman is humanitarian at its best and a true leaders who teaches to give a 100% of self to a cause one believes in. She adamantly thinks failure is not an option and it is through her strong leadership that she has sustained the program through thin and thick.

When Roman talks about her challenges, whether you are feeding school kids or doing nothing challenges are always there. One has to laugh about the challenges and use them to motivate self. “My challenges make me think and are my models to getting and doing better. I do not dwell on them.   I just get up and make things happen “

There are small every day challenges that she does not give attention to. Her biggest challenge that keeps her awake is not being able to provide the same service to all kids that need food to stay in school. “I think we can and should do better as a society, “she highlights.

Her biggest dream is that poverty is totally eradicated from the face of Ethiopia. “My dream is no one goes hungry at Hiber Elementary School and beyond and that the kids have a healthy upbringing. My dream is producing the future generation of Ethiopia with vision and I want these kids to see the future clearly without seeing poverty as their limit. I want them to see tomorrow as positive and bright so that they can use their potential fully, “Roman states. Government reports show that there are about 5 million street kids in Ethiopia. “ If I do my part in decreasing that number somehow by keeping vulnerable kids off the street and in school, building and producing productive future generation, then I have done my part. “

Roman’s message to other women and/or men is that : First we should be willing to open our eyes and see what goes on in our neighborhood schools and elevate the burdens of many.  We all have the responsibility of showing kids that there is a better tomorrow.  She believes that focusing on education is the only way out and to make poverty a history in Ethiopia and beyond. However rich or wealthy one is, one eats only injera with wot (sauce) not injera with Work (Gold). We should not sit and wait until we raise kids that are burdens to the country. We are all interconnected and we should focus on education being the prime solution to curving poverty and preventing kids from potentially creating more vulnerable and poverty stricken families prone to other social problems like drugs, crime, and other social problems. Secondly, challenges always exist but it is important to believe that there always is a solution to a problem.  “You just have to get up, decide to face it and trust that you will win.”

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