It is a popular name in the Western world, but Lisa is an unusual name for an Ethiopian girl. Most people at her kindergarten call the five-year-old “Lisa-Monanisa”—the latter is a more common name in the country. Yet her father, Sintayehu, feels pride as he says his daughter's name dozens of times a day. Whenever he calls for his daughter, he is also sending his gratitude thousands of miles away to her namesake, the person who has made the biggest mark on his life—his sponsor. Personal names in Ethiopia have great significance and are considered a tribute to circumstances and people the family wants to commemorate.

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Beautiful Lisa. Photo/Compassion International.

Most children are named after national and religious heroes, saints, Bible characters, or after celebrations or major occurrences taking place when a baby was born. Even before his wife fell pregnant, 29-year-old Sintayehu had a girl's name picked out. "When my wife and I decided to have a child, I told her if it is a girl, we would name her Lisa, after my sponsor," he said. "I wanted to honour the role she played in my life by remembering her every time I call my daughter. She is my hero. My wife agreed and the Lord’s gift turned out to be a beautiful baby girl.” Little Lisa, knowing the significance of her name, proudly announces it whenever she is asked. The surprised looks and responses never bother the little girl. Instead, she cracks a smile the moment she says her name.

It all started 23 years ago. That day, six-year-old Sintayehu and his mother walked to the local church where he would attend his first day of activities as part of Tearfund’s partner, Compassion's Child Sponsorship Programme. Neither mother nor son could have anticipated how the relationships he would form would change the course of his life forever. As he delighted in the programme that gave him access to education, life-skills training, and spiritual development, Sintayehu began to spend most of his weekends and spare time after school at the local church.

In addition to the programme activities he attended regularly, Sintayehu enjoyed his new friends, the love and care of the staff, and the freedom to run around and play. The nurturing environment helped him thrive and filled his childhood with many fond memories. However, the special bond he created with his sponsor through the consistent letters and photos is what he still treasures the most. “Considering my neighbourhood and the situations that surrounded me, the project centre set up my journey to a great future. I grew up nurtured and protected,” said Sintayehu. “My sponsor is a special person. Not a day goes by without me thanking her. In all her letters, she told me how she is proud of me. She told me to be courageous and to work hard. Every time she writes, she said to try different things and to never give up. Her letters have trained me to be daring." When he failed to pass the admissions test to attend university, Sintayehu didn’t give up. Instead, with his sponsor’s words ringing in his ears, he registered into a vocational school to be trained in woodwork. During the three-year course, his sponsor continued to encourage him, helping him to stay the course and dream big. “I never wanted to let her down,” he said. “I graduated top of my class and instead of me hunting for a job, hiring firms were offering me jobs. At that time, I just wished my sponsor Lisa could see how her encouraging words and dedication to supporting a young man she had never met paid off.”

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Sintayehu working in his own workshop where he makes and sells household furniture. Photo/ Compassion International.

When he graduated from the Child Sponsorship Programme 10 years ago at age 19, Sintayehu wrote his final letter expressing how he wished he could have thanked her in person. He struggled to find the words to capture all that was in his heart. “The day I wrote my final letter, it was one of the hardest days of my life. Even if my wish and dream of meeting Lisa in person didn’t happen, I will forever remember her kindness, her consistent encouragement, and the way she believed in me,” said Sintayehu. “It was then that I decided the best way to always thank her is to name my first daughter after her. And it is not just that. I also decided to work very hard and succeed as a way of thanking her. I decided to try and never give up.”

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Sintayehu, his wife, Lisa and Lisa's younger sibling.

After nine years of working in different major furniture houses, Sintayehu has now opened his own workshop where he makes and sells household furniture.  Within a year of opening his own business, he has earned enough to purchase a house and is planning to expand his business into a house-finishing company. Sintayehu has six employees and takes in young boys to train them during school breaks. “Compassion is like a hidden medicine that is saving and healing a generation. The sponsors sacrificially commit to seeing us through. I believe there are many like my sponsor Lisa, who put a mark on a child’s life," he said. "When all I saw was despair and lack, when there was no one who believed in me, when all that was modelled for me was something that dampened my hope for the future, when I didn’t know how to dream, my sponsor believed in me," he continued. "The project staff loved and cared for me as one of their own. The church became my light. I’m now a hard-working citizen, a husband, a father to two children and one on the way, a God-fearing man, and a firm believer in helping those who need my help."
 


 

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