This story is from and written from the perspective of Selam Terefe, our program director in Ethiopia.

The first thing we noticed when we walked into Ebo’s one room house are the drawings posted on the clay walls: Some were drawn with pencil, others with pen, but they were all so good! There were more drawings in the notebook we found in his notebook, wedged between the family’s couch and his bed.

There was very little in the home: Besides the bed and the couch, there was just one small, beatdown cupboard. That was it – the one room could not hold anything else. Ebo’s mom, Dani, led us into the room and we sat on the small couch while she sat on the bed and faced us, ready to answer all our questions.

Dani told us that she has worked in the garbage dump for 11 years, picking up plastics and selling them. However, both the recent landslide and the new management coming into the garbage dump have made her work very challenging. She told us she’s even resorted to begging to raise her son, though she has found a way to make a little bit of money through weaving: Dani can make handmade scarves from scratch even though she lost her two fingers on her right hand as a kid due to a fire.

“I came to Addis Ababa from [REDACTED] when she was 15 seeking a better life,” she told us, “And I met Ebo’s father in Addis Ababa after he came from [REDACTED] for the same reason. We met while I worked as a maid in the house he was living in and we soon had Ebo. Ebo was my first child, but he was his father’s sixth. Ebo’s father and I separated when Ebo was only four. Ebo was… challenging as a child, so he was held back in the first grade, but he’s doing so well now.”

Dani is very supportive of her son’s education. The way she talks about him, it is evident how much she loves him. She sadly told us that she had a lot of people telling her to get rid of Ebo when he was younger and more difficult, but that never stopped her from trying to provide for her only son. She almost did lose him three years ago in a car accident, and she is so grateful he is with her and well.

At this point in our conversation with Dani, Ebo walked into the room. He politely greeted us with a smile, and we started talking. We asked him about his drawings first, of course – he told us that he drew all of them and we were so impressed. We took time going through the entire notebook and Ebo explained to us the meaning behind each drawing. My favorite was a drawing with the face of a man facing a woman with a heart in between them and flame from below, captioned “True love has lots of enemies”. He told us it was based on a story he wants to write one day. The notebook was filled with art, some bits of writing, and even song lyrics he’d written, so it was not surprising when Ebo told us he wants to be an artist when he grows up.  Dani told us that, while she’s supportive, she would prefer if he focused on his studies because there isn’t money in art. She said she regrets not going to school herself and wants her son to be successful.

Ebo is heeding his mother’s wishes and focusing on academics – his report cards were clear indications. He scored 17th from 48 kids his first semester, and he’s found other classes to take outside of school. He even started going to church to take lessons recently and even participates in art and acting competitions he can find. He goes with kids in his neighborhood once a month to participate in poetry presentations, too.

When Ebo talks about his passion for the arts, this shy boy he becomes louder, more confident, and he has this fire in his eyes. He really loves it! We were so moved by this fifteen-year-old boy who wants nothing more than to follow his dreams and explore his talent, and his mother who has done so much to support him.

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