Dr. Tessema Belele
Dr. Tessema Bekele is the founder, the heart and the soul of Emannuel Development Association. Dr. Bekele has been actively working toward his vision for the children of Ethiopia since 1996, but his desire to help started long before and is rooted in his personal history.
At the age of two, Tessema’s father, a church priest, passed away, leaving Tessema’s mother, Yeshi, with two daughters and two sons. The small salary that his father had made at the church was all the income that the family had, and without it life became very challenging. Tessema’s mother had to take care of her children without a permanent income.
Thanks to her resilience, Yeshi was able to generate an income from employment at simple jobs and send Tessema to school. This meant that he had to say goodbye to his friends, the kids he normally played with on the street, whose families could not afford to send them to school.
The dirt road to the school was rough. One day, when Tessema was running home from school barefoot, he cut his foot on a sharp stone and came home bleeding. He went to his mother crying to tell her.
“My son,” she said, “don’t be discouraged and cry. Look at your friends who sit on the street in the dust. They don’t have the opportunity to go to school, but you do. If you work hard in school, then one day you will grow up to help Ethiopian children.” Tessema stopped crying. The words his mother said that day have never left him. From that day on he knew that, in the future, he wanted to help poor children access education.
Tessema was very successful in school. While in high school, he worked as a coordinating leader to preach the word of Jesus Christ, but under the Military Dergthis this was not allowed. Tessema was imprisoned and tortured for a year. Following this difficult year, Tessema joined the air force and trained as a pilot. This decision helped him support his mother financially. His experience in the Air Force built his confidence and reinforced his commitment to helping others.
Thanks to Tessema’s academic achievements he joined the Addis Ababa University and began his lifelong quest for higher education. He completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Business Administration, Masters of Art Degree (MA) in Organizational Leadership and Development from the UC and was granted a PhD from the University of Phoenix, AZ, in 2017.
While in University, Tessema began to better understand international development and how to establish a charity. This led him to join World Vision Ethiopia, as a program coordinator in Northern Ethiopia. With this experience, Tessema gained more knowledge about child and community development. World Vision was vital in bringing a clear focus to Tessema’s vision. He wanted to establish a national development child development organization in Ethiopia.
In 1996, Tessema created the Emmanuel Development Association (EDA). There were many initial challenges. The government required donor commitment before EDA could be registered as an official charity; however, at this point, no international donors knew about the organization. Tessema convinced the government that he could raise local funds and was given a certificate to operate for only 6 months.
This was the point where Tessema had to decide how committed he was to his goals. He consulted with his wife, and with her support, he decided to resign from World Vision and raise funds for EDA. He took the $US 1000 which he was given when he left World Vision and contributed it to EDA. There was no car, no office: just a committed board of directors and a community in need.
EDA chose to help 30 street children who didn’t have access to basic education in the Akaki-Kaliti area. Within the first 6 months, the project attracted the attention of local communities, the government and donors. Many private supporters extended their hands, and in one year the number of children EDA could support increased from 30 to 120. The first years were challenging, but thanks to community support, EDA survived and grew.
From this point on, under the leadership of Tessema Bekele, EDA has grown to include not only basic education, but also child protection, water, sanitation and hygiene, community health, livelihoods and environmental sustainability. The association has also expanded their work to the Amhara region, the Afar region and, in 2015, the Oromia and SNNPR regions.
Tessema’s dream has become a reality.