Updated: Jul 7, 2019
Six years ago, Meron and her parents came to the Lelt Foundation for help. She was 9 years old, almost always hungry, and as a result, ill-focused at school. Meron was too weak from hunger to learn, so most days she stayed home instead of attending class. In their poverty-stricken neighborhood, her parents had always struggled to earn enough money to put food on the table. All their lives they had made a living through whatever jobs they could find – day laborer, maid, laundress. But it was never close to a living wage.
To understand the kind of poverty Meron and her family came from, it is helpful to know more about her mother, Meseret. She was born in a small village in northern Ethiopia in the 1980s. No one wrote down or remembered her birthdate or year, so she is not certain exactly how old she is. Meseret was the fifth of 10 children. Only the oldest, a boy, had the privilege of going to school; the others received no formal education and went to work as soon as they could to earn their keep.
When Meseret was a young teenager, she left her village with her oldest brother to Debre Birhan, a small city an hour to the south. They lived together until a dispute about money caused a rift. Meseret decided to move out, relocating to Addis Ababa a few hours away. She found work as a waitress. Her wages were too low to keep up with the cost of room and board, so within a year, she ended up retreating to her brother’s home. By then, he had married and started a family, leaving little room for his baby sister. She reversed course again, back to Addis, and back to another job as a waitress.
In the city, she met Tadele. They married and had a baby girl, Meron. Meseret sold vegetables at the side of a road, and Tadele worked as a day laborer. They were struggling to keep up, surviving by only the slimmest margin. Officials at Meron's school noticed her absences, her constant hunger, and her inability to do her schoolwork. They requested the help that brought her to the Lelt Foundation in 2014.
That year, Meron started coming to Lelt’s Community Center every day to receive a nutritious lunch and tutoring. Her schoolwork improved, so Lelt moved her into a private school in their neighborhood. Lelt covered all costs of attending, including tuition, her uniform, and extracurricular classes after school and on Saturdays. Her entire family received free household staples and monthly food rations, so Meron and her new little brother, Yonathan, were finally eating well at home as well.
Meseret enrolled in Lelt’s Business Creation Program, and learned the money management skills to start her own small business baking and selling bread. She applied for two micro-loans over the past several year. She used them to expand her bread business and build an extra room onto the family's home, which they now rent for extra income. She has nearly repaid the loans in full.
No longer struggling on a daily basis, this family is infused with optimism and pride in their success. Meron, now 15, excels in school. She is also a student in Lelt’s music program and has demonstrated a talent for playing the masinko, an ancient Ethiopian violin. Meron can now contemplate a promising future filled with options. She said she wants to do nonprofit work when she grows up. "I want to help children like these to find their talents and true callings," she said. "I want to provide services to children that they wouldn’t have access to otherwise."