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IC Philanthropy in action: Yonas's story

IC Philanthropy in action: Yonas's story

Yonas and his family in their hut in Addis Ababa in 2002

In September 2002, when Yonas entered the tennis programme of Tariku and Desta Tesfaye, he lived with his parents in a hut in the slums of Addis Abeba. The programme was really demanding. Every day, from Monday to Saturday, he practiced at 6 o’clock in the morning before going to school. After school, he went back to the club to eat and do his homework, before training again. Lack of discipline at school, or poor attendance meant that he would have been barred from the project; this also applied to any of the kids who were impolite or late for tennis. Maintaining good grades was imperative! At 7pm when it started to get dark he had to be home and get ready for bed so that he was ready to get up early in the morning. 

At the age of 9, Yonas won his first tournament in his age group. But he was winning much more than just a tennis tournament: he was gaining attention, empathy and respect. From this day on, Yonas Gebre Woldetsadik became a well-known face at the tennis clubs in Addis Ababa. He became a symbol without knowing it or willing it. 

For the first time in his life, Yonas found structure and purpose. He not only wanted to be the best in tennis, but also at school. He could only reach these goals through consistent work. The feeling he got when he perfected himself such as improving a volley or winning a point only increased his self confidence. Achieving something in school, learning to read and write and receiving top marks in math or science, were making Yonas happy. He realized that with hard work and good results at school and in tennis, anything was possible. 

In 2010, two promising children, Yonas and Meron, received a scholarship for a private schooling. Both of them attended the Andinet School in Addis Ababa. They had the opportunity to obtain a quality education with international credentials. Through all this Yonas refocused his goal: he now recognized his future depended on more than tennis. He knew – and he was working harder than at any other time in his life to achieve his new dream. He was determined to gain his High School diploma, while studying in his family hut in the evening, learning by candle light. From now on his racket sat in the corner collecting dust. Of course he used it from time to time, but the school books and learning were much more important than tennis so close to final exams. Yonas was the most outstanding student in his class. At the graduation ceremony, the headmaster would award Yonas the “most valuable Student of the Year” prize. 

A few months ago, Yonas passed the American SAT college entrance exam. With these results and the kind of financial support of the Roecks family from the USA, Yonas secured a tennis scholarship at Lewis and Clark State College in Lewiston, Idaho (USA).

Tariku Tesfaye and his brother Desta represented both Ethiopia during their playing careers, Tariku at the Davis Cup level and Desta in the African Junior Championships. Their stories are also incredible. They achieved all this in a family of 8 children who struggled since the early death of their father. At just 25 years of age, Tariku realized how fortunate he had been and decided to make a plan. He wanted to give something back to his community. With the help of Yohannes Kifle (a prominent businessman and Tariku’s mentor), Manfred Lautenschläger (another prominent businessman and member of the German IC), Kindernothilfe (a German NGO) and IC Philanthropy in junction with the IC of Germany they built this programme which is meanwhile run with 66 highly motivated children from the slums under the name “Tariku and Desta Kids’ Education through Tennis Development-Ethiopia (TDKET)”. 

Alexander Kurucz, President of the IC of Germany, with Yonas and Tariku

Education is now a major part of the children’s development. “We want to make the children professional”. This statement does not mean turning the children into professional tennis players, but showing them a path to a professional life through learning. They must learn to become responsible for themselves and for others.

“Finding solutions in adversity, in cooperation and for each other”, that is the aim of the project. The project
embodies a deeply meaningful, transformational, inter-generational contract among Ethiopian youth.

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