By Mike Tenbusch | September 2, 2020

I was stunned last week when Selam Terefe sent me the winning entry of the essay contest she organized for our scholars in Ethiopia.  Azeb (pictured above), one of our 9th grade scholarship students, wrote:

What is the Perfect World for You?

Me and my friends were conceived, born and raised in a small neighborhood near the biggest garbage dump in Africa called Apartama. Since I was in her cozy womb, my mother considered me as a daughter of the whole district.  Our neighbors didn’t disappoint either; they started spoiling me even before I took my first breath. My due date was a very anticipated event.  Everyone was eager to see my little face.

And so the time came when my mother started labor.  My father was the only one beside her at first. Thirty minutes passed and my mother started screaming because of the painful contractions. Our small house was flooded with mothers, fathers and youngsters from the hood.  Everyone got busy.  Some took the role of helping out my mom; the others comforted my dad, and some left to get a car to take her to the hospital. Helping each other in times of need is a treasured value we took from our forefathers.

My mom delivered a healthy baby weighing 3 kilograms.  As she walked into her house after her brief hospital stay it was full of people who were very delighted to see me. My mom describes that day simply as… wonderful.

And so I started this thing called life in our cozy Apartama neighborhood. Mamush, our neighbor’s son, was the one who bought me my very first slipper which made a  “sit sit “ sound whenever I took a step.  I celebrated my first year’s stay on earth surrounded with all the kids around.

If I had to describe my childhood in one word, I would have easily picked the word, “perfect“ to sum it all up.  Me and my friends used to share school materials, books and toys.  There was no such thing as ”it’s mine.”  We used to fight five times a day, and before it was noon you would see us already made up and playing together.  As the scripture warns, we never let the sun go down on our anger.

Most days, my father used to buy all my friends and me a piece of candy as he was heading to work.  This was a trend that we were accustomed to not only by father but by all the grownups around.  My sneakiness would get a hold of me some days and I would hide my candy while others devoured theirs.  Soon after, I would take it out and show off, naturally.  Yet, almost every time, I would end up splitting it with my buddies.

Of all my friends, Emnet had a special place in my heart. We were best friends! Everyone knew they had to get past me first to get to her. We were thick as thieves.  I remember one day as we were coming back from school, the slippers I was wearing decided to break off.  We were miles away from home and walking with one leg was no option. Emnet got so desperate that she attempted to carry me on her back. Sweet Emnet, she couldn’t pass two blocks. Our little minds started working two times faster…, and Bingo!  We came up with a brilliant idea.  She would first take a long stride, take off her shoes, and hand them to me.  I would take a long stride. give the shoes back and “Voila!” we would reach home.  It worked!

Even though we got home later than most days, we reached there safely.

There are many other incidents like this where we were there for each other.  How I miss that tender age where there was no trace of evilness, resentment, cunning, or robbery in our hearts, and we seldom thought of sickness and death.

But as life would have it, we grew up and I noticed we developed envious thoughts.  We started to fight … steal … everything we hated seemed to rule in our heart.  It breaks my heart to see families which once were very close rising against each other for no good reason. I hate the fact that I grew up.  I hate it.

I would give anything to get back to my childhood days.

My childhood, which was so pure and innocent…
My childhood which was full of joy—
That time is what I call the perfect world.

Tears filled my eyes as I read this the first time.  In this short reflection, Azeb captures the preciousness of life, the warmth of her mother, the love of a father, the beautiful bonds of friendship, and the sinister pressures of this world.

When I wrote you last week about the big IntSam Global 5k Run, I told you that we are doing it to buy tablets for 465 students like Azeb who are attending school from home because of the pandemic.

But that is only part of the story. 

Azeb’s essay reminds me that the real reason why we run is because life is precious.  Our own lives, our friends’ and families’, and those of strangers a world away.  Like Emnet reaching back to share the shoes off her feet, let’s get our friends and family together and go for a walk or run while sharing just a little bit of what we have with Azeb and 464 of her peers across the world who could use a hand in this most difficult time.