Profile in courage: Messay

SP Mesay Habtamu 14- 7We all love meeting some of the most courageous young people on the planet. Look at  Messai, a 16 year old.

Messay is from Fiche, about 4 hours from Addis Ababa. His parents died when he was 4 years old. Neighbors took him in. They were farmers with 8 children. They permitted him to go to school. But they treated him like a servant. They fed him worse food than their own kids. The kids did not treat him like a brother. But he was alive, and he was surviving. However, at age 10, he developed shaking chills, followed by severe back pain. His spine began deforming. He was not treated.

His host family later told him that they did not want him in school – he had to work full-time attending to their animals. Determined to be educated, a few years ago he moved to the town of Fiche – a 3 ½ hour walk, followed by a 90 minute car ride from his village. Messay’s friend from his village had moved there, living alone in a rented room and attend 9th grade. It is not uncommon for dedicated Ethiopian students to leave home at an early age like this in order to get educated.

In Fiche, he met a shoe shine boy and rented his box for 5 birr/day (25 cents US) when it was not being used. He could make 50 birr ($2.50) on a good day. His diet depended on his success at shoe shining.

But his spine continued to deform, and Messay decided to come to Addis Ababa to seek medical care. He had saved 300 birr ($15). Using his savings, he got on a bus heading to the capital. He got off the bus when it stopped in Akaki outside Addis Ababa.

He met someone with a pickup truck and slept inside the truck his first night. The following day, he met a taxi driver and helped him wash the taxi. As they were washing, Messay told him about his life. He slept inside the taxi for a while.

Eventually, the taxi driver invited him to share his house with him – Messai paid 200 birr a month ($10) to sleep on an empty sack a dirt floor. He returned to his occupation of shining shoes again, often making over $1 per day. (UNICEF data shows that 31% of Ethiopians live on less than the international poverty line,  $1.25 daily).

Messay registered to start school school – 6th grade. After school started, the school director met the students and asked if anyone had special problems. Mesay pointed out that he had no family, no place to live, and no notebooks. A local woman, a recent widow, heard about him and took him into her home. She felt that if she took an orphan into her home, it would somehow benefit her late husband’s soul. She purchased clothes for him. His teachers uniformly admired his courage. The brother of his teacher was designated legal guardian.

Messay went to a local health center, seeking care for his deforming spine. He was referred to the university hospital and sent to CURE Hospital, a Christian orthopedic facility, which referred him to our clinic.

We evaluated him and immediately started TB treatment. We  funded his travel for every visit to us.

We determined that ithout surgery, he had a very high risk of paralysis: In our evaluation system, he was rated “1+”, our most urgent designation for spine care.

Recently we drove him to the airport early one morning and he got on the plane – by himself –  to fly to FOCOS Hospital in Accra. We asked him how he felt: “Now I realize I am not alone and for the first time, I have hope that I can be healed and have a future.”

Messay will spend months in traction before surgery. Messay’s goal after surgery: to become a doctor. We’d love to see this happen.

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