“I am a bit nervous,” Bethlehem announced as the cameraman was getting ready with his equipment. The early morning light filtered through the window to shine on the walls of her parents' typical Ethiopian house made of mud and straw.
Raffaello, the director of the documentary we were filming in Ethiopia, asked me to chat with Bethlehem so she could relax before the interview.
Only forty-five minutes before, we had left our guesthouse a few kilometers away to drive to the house where Bethlehem, one of the girls in our program, used to live. The abysmal roads were difficult even for our off-road vehicle. I imagined how, just five years ago, this frail young girl had walked on those roads in the sun, rain and pitch darkness just to go to school and to get an education.
Despite her determination, she had almost dropped out. The daily two-hour walk to reach her high school was becoming too daunting and tiring. There were many perils during her journey ... abduction by men and attacks by wild animals like hyenas. The books she carried on her head to look taller and chase away wild animals weren’t enough to reassure her anymore.
Then she received a chance in life ... she joined Boys' & Girls' Towns of Ethiopia (BGTE) alongside 100 young women like her and lived in a house near her school. Not only did she complete high school, she became one of the first BGTE graduates to finish college with a degree in Mathematics. Instead of looking for a job after graduating, the first thing she decided to do was to dedicate one full year of her life to others by volunteering in an orphanage.
The cameraman was almost ready, but still waiting for me to say something to Bethlehem. The first question that came to my mind to chat and reassure her was, “What was your favorite fairy tale as a child?” To my surprise, she said that she didn’t know any fairy tales.
“What do you mean? You never heard of fierce dragons keeping princesses in the highest towers and the charming princes who saved them?”
“Not really...” was her bemused response.
“I think that’s because you are already living in a fairy tale,” I replied quickly. “You were a princess imprisoned in a world that didn’t allow you to achieve your dreams. But you fought your dragons: poverty, hyenas, obstacles ... You climbed roads, fought against the wind and the rain and studied by the dim light of a candle. No Prince Charming saved you. You saved yourself, and now you are helping other children to do the same. This is the most amazing and beautiful story I have ever heard.”
Her bright smile showed how proud she was.
“We are ready to roll!” said the cameraman. “1, 2, 3 and go!”
“My name is Bethlehem. And this is my story...”
PS: If you wish to give a chance in life to more girls like Bethlehem, click below. There are still so many dragons out there … let’s fight them together.