“Don’t Ever Give Up”

August 19, 2014

by Champ RhodesIMG_1044 (2)

“Maybe he’ll be the manager when I come back next year!” This was my half-joking statement to Tibabu Solomon, owner and manager of Tibabu Solomon Furniture in Awassa. I was referring to Mustefa Muhamed, one Discovering Light’s previously sponsored vocational students, who now works at Mr. Solomon’s shop. After three years at Selam Awassa Technical and Vocational College, Mustefa graduated with a certificate in metal fabrication and assembly, and electrical installation for buildings. He has been employed at Tibabu Solomon for nine months.

Don't Give Up (2)

What excited me most was Mr. Solomon’s response to my quip about Mustefa taking his job someday soon. In clear English and
a serious smile on his face, he said, “Maybe he will. He can, if he works hard!” He wasn’t kidding. A small statement like that reveals a wealth of perspective and potential for an outstanding future available to young Ethiopian men like Mustefa. Time prevented us from spending more time to learn more about his story but Tibabu Solomon, probably in his mid-fifties, must have had an uncommon imagination and persistence as he established his business in Awassa. This frog-in-the-crane’s mouth drawing on his office wall says a lot about his approach to life. It’s not easy to be a small-business owner in southeastern Ethiopia. To have worked so hard yet be completely comfortable with one of your employees earning their way to take your job is tremendously empowering. This was obvious among the men and women working at the furniture shop. Our unannounced visit was met with smiles that seemed to say, “Hi, nice to see you. I’ll just keep on doing my job.”

Mustefa was excited to see us and proud of his work. He showed us the ‘profiles’ they make for construction companies and explained how he was able to rent a room in town with his earnings. Mustefa had a good rapport with Mr. Solomon, who affirmed to us later how pleased he was with his work.

A worker prepares sheet metal for cutting at Tibabu Solomon Furniture.
A worker prepares sheet metal for cutting at Tibabu Solomon Furniture.

Some of the projects we sponsor multiply and spread naturally by virtue of their design while others more directly impact individuals. Vocational training is an example of the latter, changing the trajectory of men like Mustefa. It is highly rewarding to see Mustefa on solid footing, earning a living and gaining experience while applying his freshly developed skills. In fact, we confirmed all four of our first sponsored Selam students who graduated last summer are employed. We visited one other, Moyeta, who works for a Toyota dealership in Awassa as a body repair man. We’re thrilled to see the impact of the investment many of you made in helping send these students to Selam. We are seeing hope lived out by Mustefa’s employment with Mr. Solomon and we’re looking forward to how these opportunities reverberate in his family and community.