When I was younger, I "sponsored" a child in Africa through a charity. Occasionally I'd get a postcard from a support worker, telling me how the child was doing, and what was happening in her village. That was always nice to receive, but – pretty quickly – I realised I wasn't really sponsoring anyone.
In truth, I was just donating to the charity. My money wasn't going to that girl or her family – it was part of a bigger pot, used to fund the charity's regional operations and, very likely, cover some of its admin costs.
It was still a good thing to do, it just wasn't 'sponsorship'. And I wasn't directly changing anyone's life.
In 2006, when I met Haymanot in Ethiopia, I wasn't thinking about any of this. Mostly because I was just trying to reach a monastery I'd seen in my guide book. Haymanot, then just 11, was showing me the way – picking his way expertly over the rocks. I was stumbling behind.
SENDING A "SCARF BY TOURIST"
So we had a bit of time to talk. Sometimes you just know someone is smart. And he was definitely a bright kid, even if his English was broken.
Haymanot was living in a village where the only school was shut half the week because there weren't enough teachers. His parents were poor subsistence farmers. And he only had a place to sleep thanks to the generosity of a cousin. He was ambitious in a place where there was no possibility for ambition.
It was only when I was back in the UK and he emailed me, and then sent my partner Anna a scarf "by tourist" (see the campaign story), that I realised Haymanot may become part of our lives. And I saw that – even if I could do nothing about most of the world's problems – we could do one thing: we could help this boy.
That's why we tried so hard to help him move to a school in the capital city, Addis Ababa. And why we supported him through university. For nearly ten years, we paid for everything in Haymanot's life – food, accommodation, clothing, and medical emergencies for his family. I think we spent around £10-12,000 in total, but we didn't really keep track.
This wasn't “meant” to be Haymanot's life. Looking back, it was a pretty random act of kindness. After all, I had met this kid just once, for a few hours. (I met dozens of other people in Ethiopia on that trip.)
But once it started, supporting Haymanot just felt right – and it was amazing to see the difference this support was making to his life. When Haymanot told me about his school grades, or getting into university, it was incredible. When we had two children of our own (now 5 and 3), and he talked about them as his "little brothers", that didn't feel weird at all.
Haymanot has recently graduated from university and has set up his own tourism business in Addis Ababa. Now he's working, we no longer support him, but there is one final chapter in this story.
The business, and the life that Haymanot has been working towards for 10 years, needs one last push to get off the ground. The set-up costs include things like a minibus to take tourists on daytrips – something that is prohibitively expensive in Ethiopia.
He has shared a business plan with me, and we need to raise £25,000 to cover all of the costs. Unfortunately, this is more than we can afford alone.
We know this is not a traditional charity appeal. There are many brilliant causes out there that need and deserve our support. But in 2017, we want to do something good that has a direct and immediate impact. That's why Lark has decided to support Haymanot – someone we know and love, and who has already beaten many odds in life.
We would be so grateful if you would help us start the next chapter in this young man's life.
For more info and to donate, please visit Haymanot's campaign page: