My wife, Gido, and I had a baby girl, Regina, born in June of 2007. I cannot explain the feelings that came over me the second I saw her beautiful face! I became a father! Of course I was overcome with joy and love, (and still am!), but immediately felt a true sense of responsibility and an overwhelming urge to protect that child with my life. I knew it required a lot of hard work, but more than that I knew instantly that my life had changed forever and there was an endless amount of love and patience I had never imagined before.
During this same time I had been meeting secretly with the youths from the Kara tribe about our mission to end Mingi. We had to meet in “Dibba”, the bush, a secret place. It was always terrifying. We were breaking all the rules by meeting for a social issue without the knowledge of the elders. In my tribe, young people have no ‘voice’. The elders of our tribe alone have all the power to decide what we do as a society. I had a list of all of the recent children killed in our villages, 26 that we knew of. I told my peers “As a young generation this is our time. We should stand together and pledge to save the Mingi children.”
We all stood together that day and took six oaths:
1. If I am ever called for Mingi meeting anytime, I will attend.
2. I shall never allow any Mingi kids to be killed in my family or in my village.
3. I shall never let my girlfriend get pregnant.
4. I shall always help and save declared Mingi children in Kara society.
5. As part of our young generation, I take full responsibility to teach our elders and community to save and protect Mingi children and slowly bring an end to Mingi.
6. I believe Mingi is a Blessing, not a curse.
In 2008 we learned about a Mingi child and that the elders had already planned to kill. Haylo, the mother, refused to let Bale, her daughter, go with the elders and fled to the other side of the river. Immediately, I instructed some of my group members to go and to speak with Haylo and see if she would allow us to save Bale. This was the moment we were preparing for! After speaking with some of the most powerful elders, they agreed to wait an extra day before they took action. I rented a car from Jinka because I knew we did not have much time, together with two members of our group, Gudi and Ari, we set out to rescue Bale. She was so beautiful, and the same age as my daughter. As soon as I saw her face I was once again overcome with joy and love. We rescued Bale, took her directly to our own house, bathed her and fed her. She was so hungry! Gido and I cared for her as our own daughter.
Our rescue of Bale was very unique among our people. Everyone was so amazed that we saved a ‘sentenced child’, but we continued to reassure everyone that Bale was in fact a Blessing. She loved to be hugged, she was so quiet and relaxed. Bale and Regina were both almost two years old, and they loved to laugh and play together.
Our neighbor and good friend, Zeritu, came to my house and said “Lale, this is God’s work! I want to serve these children and be part of this project”. I told her to join us, and she became our first “Mamma”, to help Gido with the baby girls. Zeritu is now our lead Nanny, guiding nine other nannies in her footsteps as “Mammas” to our children!
We were very motivated by saving this one precious life and we knew we had to do more and more. Gude and Ari returned to Dus village to get more information about Mingi children and, before the month was over, we saved three more Kara children and two Hamar children. Each baby so vulnerable, so defenseless, yet each one so full of joy, so unique, and so spirited in their own way.
Our home was becoming very crowded. We decided to rent a small house, and from then our blessings continued to multiply! We are now a family of over 40 children! We have 10 Nannies, (Zeritu is the lead Nanny), a nurse and an entire staff to help care for our children.
When I arrive home now, all of the children run towards me, smiling with their entire faces and bodies! They jump up and down and grab at my hands, cheering all together yet in one voice “Aba Aba!” (Amharic for “Dad!”) My heart instantly melts! Most of the children want to share something special, show me their most recent homework or test score, some ask “How are you doing, Aba?”, and others just want to play with me like their very best friend has come home again! There are no words to express my pride and my joy! The Mammas tell me “when they see you, Lale, they all show their true happiness.”
No matter what kind of a day I have had, those beaming faces bring back that same joy and excitement I experienced in June of 2007 when I first saw my own daughter for the first time, as well as that same sense of responsibility and wanting to protect each and every one of them from any pain or sadness in their lives.
I am thankful every day for this opportunity. As far as we have come I cannot help but worry, as every father does, about the future. As our children grow, their needs must be met with more food, bigger beds, larger clothes and shoes, as well as the continued opportunity for a great education. The older children know that they are Mingi, and that they are also blessed. They understand the necessity of education to help all people understand the value and importance of each life. They will be the answer for the deep rooted poverty in the Omo Valley, the struggle for women’s rights and equality. I know they will resolve tribal conflict and bring great leadership to our community and they will help make our world a better place!
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