Every time I work on a project like this, there's a certain tension I get caught in. As we planned out the shoot, I get some big ideas about how I hope the story will turn out. Usually, what actually happens isn't quite as exciting. But today was different.
It started off pretty much like I expected. The medical team quickly set up, and soon afterward the very first patient walked through the door. There was little bit of chaos as the team dealt with some technology issues, but quickly worked out the kinks and started screening more children. They took vital signs, did vision screenings, and referred several kids for further treatment.
Then, someone pulled me aside. It was Makeda Mulugeta, the founder of the nonprofit I worked with the last time I came. She had some very good news. They had found Demoze! We would be able to talk to her. Of course, at age 16, she had grown up quite a bit.
We went into an empty classroom, and she sat down at the one the desks that she had now outgrown. I had realized that she never actually saw the video we made of her, so we pulled it up on Makeda's phone. Her reaction was a lot more moving than I expected. It nearly brought tears to her eyes. She said that watching it brought back a lot of bittersweet memories. She said that it reminded of how much harder her life used to be, and how far she had come. The house she lived in actually burned down and they were able to build a nicer one. She received a scholarship to continue her schooling.
Now in 8th grade, she attends a private school and is still actively working toward her goal to become a teacher. She says she wants to help other kids have a better future and is already tutoring younger students. Of course, there are still difficulties ahead. When I asked about how she plans to keep working toward her goal, she said that it's difficult to plan too far ahead, because it still takes so much effort to make it through each day. Still, it was incredible to see that she was still making progress almost five years later.
In my first post, I talked about the tension between dreams and reality. After covering years of real-life events, I've learned not to set expectations too high. I've seen what looked like picture-perfect stories end with tragedy. So wasn't really sure what to expect with Demoze. Obviously, her story isn't finished, but it was huge breath of fresh air to find out how well things were going and that she was still working toward her dream.
More than that, it was a really cool full-circle moment for me. When I came to Ethiopia in 2018, I was in the middle of a huge life transition. I had just quit my news job to finish training to become a professional pilot. I was unemployed with a lot of uncertainly. Ember was a vague idea with no name and no tangible game plan. All I knew was that I wanted to pursue my passions. Five years later, I found myself back in the same place, talking to the same person, both of us still pursuing those same passions. It's hard to find words to describe how amazing that felt. I'm now getting paid to fly airplanes, and I get to use my journalism experience to help others. Ember still has a long way to go, but it's happening. It reminded me that there's so much to hope for.