The Most Interesting Man in Addis Ababa

The Most Interesting Man in Addis Ababa

A man who’s driven to create positive change

Amaha was the first person I met in Ethiopia. He picked me up from the airport one dewy night in mid-March when the roads were quiet and the air smelled like eucalyptus.

Amaha in Ganzila
Amaha in Ganzila

He taught me my first word in Amharic, amesegenalo, (thank you) and he patiently repeated it to me—a-me-se-ge-na-lo—for two weeks before I got it straight.

I met Amaha because he is imagine1day’s driver, but he has many talents aside from his mastery in the art of driving in Addis, a city with almost no traffic lights.

I got a taste of Amaha’s hidden passions during our first trip to the field. In the town of Ganzilla, the school principal spent at least ten minutes singing his praises.

Months ago, while the rest of the team was busy scrutinizing the new school’s construction and interviewing community leaders, Amaha was analyzing a six-year-old girl with a potbelly that dwarfed her small frame. Amaha understood that the village did not have a access to a clean water source nearby and was concerned for the health of the children in the village. He convinced Seid, our country director, to bring the pot bellied girl to a doctor in town who found no less than 35 parasites living in her tiny body. The doctor came back to the village with our team, identifying another 80 children with parasites. Today, thanks largely to Amaha’s caring for others, children in Ganzilla are taught basic hygiene and instructed on the importance of boiling water before they use it.

This is just one example of Amaha’s thoughtfulness. Although there are stretches when we can work for ten days straight, 10 to 12 hours a day, he somehow still finds time to manage several side projects. Here is a brief rundown of his many endeavors:

  1. In 2012, Amaha founded his own non-profit organization, called Sustainable Development, which distributes indigenous plants and fruit trees to low income families “to keep our country green, to keep our air clean, and to create local sources of food”. Since 2012, they’ve planted 6,820 trees. This year, his organization is planning on planting more than 70,000 in the Afar region alone.
  2. He collects books and runs a small library out of his home for children in his apartment complex.
  3. Last but not least, this March, Amaha started his own micro savings service. He has more than 100 clients whom he tracks down each day from all over the neighbourhood near our office to collect their daily savings. His clients are coffee girls, shoeshine boys and sales women. Ninty per cent of them are women and they contribute anywhere from five to 430 birr every day of the week. In July he opened bank accounts for all his clients, something none of them have ever had before.

“I started it because there is no culture of savings here,” says Amaha. “Some people can only afford to save a little bit each day, but the bank won’t accept a five birr or a 20 birr deposit. It’s too little,” he explains.

Amaha helps assemble desks and chairs to complete a school in Alsoe
Amaha helps assemble desks and chairs to complete a school in Alsoe

Thanks to his banking business, you can’t walk down the street with Amaha to grab a macchiato without running into someone he knows. He can tell you how the women living under the tarp lost her home, how many children the lady at the counter is supporting, and where Marcos the cab driver lives.

If all goes well, Amaha’s dream is rent a small storefront, buy an icemaker and a freezer, and start a local ice shop someday. But who knows, with this guy, anything is possible. His micro savings business seems to be treating him—and everyone else in the neighbourhood—pretty well.

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