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Dawit’s Story

The life of a young Ethiopian boy was forever changed by the help of the Daughters of Charity.

photographs by Asrat Habte Mariam

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I was born in March 1978 in a small village called Atuy in the Gondar area of the Debre Tabor region of Ethiopia. My father was called Aklogue and my mother Serawube. Until the age of 10, I looked after our cows. My family was one of the poorest in the area so I went to live near the priests as a kolotemari [Orthodox seminarian] learning church subjects and the alphabet and begging for money with others in a group. We wore sheepskins and carried sticks to frighten the dogs. A kolotemari could be from a rich or a poor family, but we all had to beg. After I learned a little within the group, I was ready to be a deacon. I was 12 years old.

In October I walked to Bahir Dar with my friends. It took us two days and we knew nobody in town. We met a very devout man who worked in a factory. We asked him for lodging. He took us to his home and let us stay the night.

After that we stayed at St. George’s Church for four months until we received the diaconate in January from Bishop Mercarios. We had to learn the psalms in Ge’ez [the ancient liturgical language of the Ethiopian Church] and be able to read them fluently. It was then that I heard my family was desperately looking for me so in February I returned home. Even though we were poor, my family celebrated my return. When I told them how beautiful Bahir Dar was, they said Addis Ababa [the capital of Ethiopia] was far more beautiful. From then on I decided to go to Addis.

I was really keen to go; another boy, who was a bit older and stronger than me, suggested that we go together. We didn’t tell our families; we took only our special begging bags and the firm belief that God would provide. People knew we were kolotemari so they were generous to us. On reaching Dajen, however, we realized we were very weak – the land was desert-like and the sun was strong. We were melting as we moved across the Nile Gorge.

Eventually we reached the village of Filikilik. We stayed the night and while there we discovered the people spoke a different language. We were frightened – we didn’t understand anyone and no one understood us. Had we passed Addis? We were scared but determined to continue.

Very early the next morning we went to the church so people knew we were church-going people. As luck would have it, we found some people who spoke Amharic. The priests talked to us and asked us a lot of questions. One of them taught us a few words in Oromiffa, the language of the region. We stayed a day and a night in this man’s house and studied the language. After we were sure of the few words we learned we set out again for Addis.

We reached Sululta in June 1990. A kind man gave us one Birr and put us on the No. 30 bus to Addis. We arrived in the middle of the Mercato [a local shopping area]. The number of people and cars frightened us – we just stood there, not knowing what to do. We jumped onto a No. 17 bus to escape the noise and arrived at Sedist Kilo. We needed to find a place to sleep for the night. People laughed when they heard us speak; it was obvious we were straight out of the countryside.

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