Attending Harvard Against All Odds
In Ethiopia, poverty and persistent gender inequalities mean that only 25 percent of girls who are eligible attend high school. Yet it never occurred to Yeabsira that she couldn’t achieve her dreams. Against all odds—and with the support of her family and our Salesian missionaries—she will soon depart her hometown of Mekanisa for Harvard University in the United States!
“As long as you are ready to work hard, achievement will be yours,” says this 2021 graduate of Don Bosco Mekanisa High School. “It might take time to see the fruits, but you need to have patience and things will eventually work out.”
Located at the foot of Addis Ababa’s largest garbage dump, Mekanisa stands in harsh contrast to the capital city’s gleaming splendor and wealth. Here, most residents struggle to escape the grinding poverty that confines them to the slums and dashes their dreams for something better.
“This is precisely why, nearly 20 years ago, our missionaries established the Don Bosco Center there,” says Father Gus Baek, director of Salesian Missions. “Through a holistic suite of services grounded in nutrition, health and literacy, the Center provides Mekanisa’s children and families with opportunities they otherwise wouldn’t have. Being poor doesn’t preclude intelligence, motivation or promise. There is simply no reason why every child shouldn’t have the same access to quality education that their more economically advantaged peers do.”
“Education is the pillar on which our work is built,” agrees Salesian Brother Donato Galetta, who runs the Center’s food program. “It is through education that we can ensure these children who come from situations of extreme poverty can look forward to a brighter future.”
In addition to the Center’s on-site primary school, Salesian missionaries in Mekanisa operate several off-campus high schools and vocational training schools for older youth like Yeabsira. The Salesian program covers full tuition as well as the fees for uniforms, books, supplies and transportation. “This effectively removes the greatest barriers parents face when it’s time to send their children to school,” says Fr. Gus.
Yeabsira enrolled in the 7th grade because her father wanted her to study at the Don Bosco Center, where he knew she would receive a quality Salesian education.
Today, reflecting on the past five years and the successes that led to her Harvard acceptance, Yeabsira says, “Of course, first of all, my gratitude goes to God, my Creator. Without his help, I am nothing. Then I owe a lot to my parents and my brother who supported me throughout the process. Next, come my Salesian teachers, and in a special way my teacher, Abebayehu, who was always of great help to me. I am also grateful to the team who mentored me and gave me the necessary support; and last but not least, my friends who have been cheering me on from the beginning.”
Still, she can’t help but feel slightly overwhelmed by her own accomplishments. “To be honest,” she admits, “I still can’t believe this news that I have been admitted to Harvard University. It was always my dream, but now the dream has come true. I am really happy that I have made my parents proud of my achievement.”
The entire Don Bosco community is proud of you, too, Yeabsira—and we can’t wait to see what comes next!
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Learn more about our work in Ethiopia.