Alem picture

Agent of Transformation

Meet Alem Gebregzi. She volunteers in our child sponsorship program in Addis Ababa. By day Alem sweeps streets with a broom and picks up garbage, 7 hours a day, 7 days a week. It is a job for which she gets paid the equivalent of $40 a month. By night she mentors a group of 21 people, all living with HIV, whose children are in our child sponsorship program. It is a job for which Alem has never been paid a cent.

She began working with some of them more than 10 years ago when Genet, the leader of her basic discipleship group and our child sponsorship social worker, taught her and her friends that to follow Jesus is to serve people in need. Little by little, thanks to Genet’s example as minister to people living with HIV and her personal mentoring, Alem has picked up leadership skills. For the last 4 years she has met with this group every other week, coaching them on how to parent well, how to stay healthy, how to maintain good hygiene, how to handle money, and how to love each other. Though they are all from non-Protestant backgrounds, she has also taught them to learn from the Bible together and pray for one another. Between meetings she walks to visit up to 9 of these families every week in their homes to see how they are really doing and encourage them personally. When she has left-over cleaning supplies from her job she breaks them down into small parcels and shares them with the group members. Following her example, the group members now visit one another regularly, providing food or money or childcare or transportation to the hospital or simple camaraderie when one of them is in difficulties. 

In 2013, under Genet’s tutoring, she began to teach her group to save money together. Each time they met, every person would contribute $0.25 towards their group savings plus $0.05 to meet social needs of the group. Gradually the money accumulated. Over the past year six of the group members have taken small loans from this fund, from which all six have started profitable small businesses. All of these loans have been or are being paid back on time with interest. The others all want their turn to get loans now. She told us today that their attitudes toward work have changed drastically. “They want to work hard and produce their own income, rather than get handouts-and they believe they can do it!”

They have also become healthier. Alem attributes this to five things (none of them, we notice, medical): Their previously dirty homes are now clean. They know and are practicing good health habits. They are far less stressed, knowing that if they die, their children will continue to be sponsored. They love one another deeply. And they pray for one another.

And oh yes, Alem has a third job: in her spare time she’s attending a distance-education program to enable her to complete 10th grade.