A story of a computer science student at Addis Ababa University presented on the TV show ‘Ehuden be EBS’ on Epiphany day got me thinking a lot about scholarship opportunities, particularly to the most disadvantaged sections of our society. Although this boy has an excellent academic performance, he and his closest friends fear that such performance may not a have a long way to go because of his poor financial situation. The boy grew up in an orphanage and therefore does not have any family support. He receives a monthly stipend of 120 birr from Addis Ababa University, an amount which is barely enough to cover monthly supplies and the mandatory copies of school materials. Coupled with his very limited financial means, the boy faces the additional challenge of conducting the most trivial daily life activities such as washing his clothes and dressing up autonomously because he was born without both of his arms. In spite of all these challenges, the boy remains quite optimist about his future as a computer scientist, a job which as we know requires the use of both arms and hands. They say that if there is a will, there is a way. He demonstrated his will quite well by using his legs as a replacement for his arms.
I believe these kinds of TV shows are and should be wake up calls for those of us who claim ourselves to be country-loving people. If we really think about it, the financial support that the boy presented on ‘Ehuden be EBS’ requires is not much to be considered a burden even to three or four individuals with a modest standard of living. In the show, the boy explains that one of the things that he wishes to own is a laptop to work on his assignments. Assuming that the cheapest laptop costs 7,000 birr, this approximately amounts to a monthly saving of 150 birr by four individuals for a period of one year to be able to afford this computer. This 150 birr is probably an amount that many of us spend on coffee in a month. Even three or four individuals are enough to sponsor every year one laptop for one needy but very promising student. Who knowns what kind of scientist the recipient of such sponsorship can turn out to be? The boy in the story of EBS probably needs no more than 400 or 500 birr more per month to be able to comfortably afford making copies of school materials and a person who can wash his clothes for him. If you really think about it, one wealthy (or even modestly wealthy) individual can easily afford to provide such financial support to one needy student. How many wealthy (or modestly wealthy) persons do we have in this country?
I myself am a recipient of a scholarship that enabled me to undertake my masters and PhD studies in Europe. I can never be more grateful for those foreign institutions that helped me turn my life around and be able to lead a modest life. This got me thinking, are there any well-established non-for-profit institutions in Ethiopia established for the main purpose of providing scholarships to support locally (without having to send students abroad) needy but bright and outstanding students in schools and universities all over the country? Schools and universities may financially support a selected number of their own students but I am not sure I’m aware of any independent local institution providing scholarships. The boy presented on EBS receives a monthly stipend of 120 birr from Addis Ababa University. I wouldn’t call this amount a scholarship because it barely covers the boy’s basic necessities. I strongly believe that we Ethiopians have the means to provide scholarships to our own people if we really put our minds and hearts to it. All we need is to love our country, in the true-sense.