June 29 2017

"I have been equipped with the necessary skills I need"

In an interview, Masresha Esayas speaks about how her childhood at the SOS Children’s Village in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, and the opportunity to learn have laid the foundation for her future.

Masresha Esayas, 26, grew up at the SOS Children's Village in Addis Abeba, Ethiopia's capital. Today she is an English teacher and strives to help vulnerable children. After a long time away from home, she has come home to see her family at SOS Children’s Village and remembers how her family has helped her seize opportunities to succeed and she speaks about what it means to her to be a teacher.

You have been away from home for a long time, how old were you when you left?

I was 12 years old when I received a scholarship to study at Waterford Kahlaba, a prestigious school in Mbabane, Swaziland. I was there for seven years. After completing my studies, I applied for college in the United States for my undergraduate degree. I graduated in 2015 and I started working there. Then I realized that I would be more useful if I were to come back here [Ethiopia].

When did you return to Ethiopia?

I came back to Ethiopia four months ago from the United States. I was studying my undergraduate degree in psychology. Apart from my teaching job, I help 11-year-olds with their personal, education or social issues. I volunteer at the international leadership academy of Ethiopia every Saturday as a counsellor. I want to make a permanent job out of this calling. I want to help vulnerable children who are bright, giving back what I have received, creating a doorway for them. If someone had not done it for me I would not be here doing it for others.

How do you feel visiting the house you grew up in after 13 years?

Coming back here after such a long time gives me a feeling of nostalgia. Time is still and has gone fast at the same time. This place has not changed, yet my brothers were babies when I left but now they have grown up.
Masresha visiting SOS families at the SOS Children's Village in Addis Abeba. Photo: SOS Archives

What do you remember about your childhood?

I was an overachiever in school. I had a burning feeling that the world was more than our community. I would sit in the library on Saturdays and read and read. I did my homework with great diligence. My SOS mother helped me a great deal. Even when others felt I was too young to be set free on my own, to go to Swaziland, mum saw my potential and persuaded me to follow my dreams.

Would you say that the young people in SOS families are well prepared for independent life?

I have not interacted much with the young people here so I cannot specifically answer that question. My observation, however, of the youth in general is that they have a limited mentality. They need to change their thinking and believe anything is possible. One can change the path they are on so long as they remain committed to it.

What would you say contributes to this mind-set?

So many aspects contribute to this – culture, lack of role models and so they have no idea of how to present themselves. Lack of access to role models creates a mental block. My economics teacher in high school turned out to be my role model and my friend. She said to me that anything is possible and I ran with that. I also had an assertive mum, she made sure I did what would help me to excel. She pushed me to excel. She constantly reminded me to make the best out of the rare opportunity that I was given.

My SOS family has created a good foundation for who I am today. I have been equipped with the necessary skills I need, and I believe so have the other young people. Though I cannot be fully armed, I have been given the ingredients I need to start off in life, what I do with those ingredients is up to me. In my mind I know I wanted to be a teacher. Being a teacher means shaping the minds of pupils. I have to make sure they become leaders and innovators.
Masresha during the interview in Addis Abeba. Photo: SOS Archives

Why did you join an SOS family in Addis Abeba?

I was five years old when I came to my SOS family. I am not sure about my parents; no one has ever told me about them. I just know that I lived with my uncle. Life here was entertaining, kids playing together, playing soccer in the bedroom, every day was an adventure. All I needed was books.

Being part of a family was important to me. It gave me a sense of self that I did not think I had. It is an opportunity to be taken. Without education I would have had no power. People do not take opportunities the same way. We [the youth] need to get better at it in order to have more good and successful people. It comes down to education. My SOS family has given me a foundation, I need to create my life on it.   

What are your future plans?

I plan to work in Ethiopia for two years, then I will go back to university for my Master’s degree. After that I plan to open a non-governmental organisation that deals with women and girls issues like physical abuse. I want to teach them about their rights so they can know how to protect themselves. I will also bring a business aspect to it, to have women I work with learn skills like sewing, so they can have a sense of achievement and empowerment. They also need to be equipped to be better leaders of their lives and of their families - something that is timeless but with mind-blowing impact on society.

SOS Children’s Villages has created a great impact in the lives of many children. It changed my life. I was handed a life that I could not have had. As children growing up in SOS families, we do not have the same experiences as other people in the society. Most people have parents, but we come with our experiences and our stories, and that makes an impact.

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