Amlaku is the youngest of 4 children. His mother died when he was an infant, and he was basically raised by his sister, Ayal, who was 7 when their mother died. Inspired by another boy in the village who had somehow managed to get an education - there was no school in the village at this time - he ran away, up to the town of Lalibela, some 8 kms from his village, determined to get educated. He was 12 at the time. He managed to get into school, starting way behind other kids of the same age, but caught up rapidly. He lived on the streets, doing odd jobs to earn money for food and schooling. When his father came up to the town to look for him, in order to take him home, he hid! He did his homework sitting under a street light.
When we met back in June of 2009, he had been sub-contracted by one of the guides to the eleven 800 year old carved rock churches of Lalibela (you can Google these, well worth seeing) to accompany me 45 kms out of town to see an even older church, in this instance a church built, not carved, in a cave. It was as we left this extraordinary place that he said to me 'Please Sir, I want to go to University'. That's where our story started.
As we travelled together in 2015, he told me a little more of this story. He is a young man with a strong Christian faith. The night before we met, he had prayed that God would provide for him a way to move forward. Unbeknown to me on the day we met, he had reached a point in his schooling where he could no longer go to school for half the day and work for the other half. To do his final year, he needed to study full time, and there was no way he could do that, because it would mean he couldn't earn money for his food, school fees, etc. He was stuck, and that is when I believe God crossed our paths, either that or it was the most extraordinary coincidence! He had never asked anyone else for help. The only reason I knew about the Church in the Cave was that I had met someone back here in New Zealand a few weeks before my trip who, on hearing that I was going to Lalibela, said to me 'Oh, I have been there, you must make sure to go to the Church in the Cave'.
Today, his family consists of Yaregal, his father, who is around 70, Malkamu, his brother, who has recently married and is an extremely good farmer, the 3 (4?) children of another sister, who died a couple of years ago, and his sister Ayal, who keeps the home running. She has a small child of her own too, so she has a big job.
Nowadays, Amlaku mostly lives in Lalibela. Despite all of the good work he has been doing in the village over the past few years, none of this actually earns him an income. So, in order to provide for himself, he studied tourism (a huge growth area in Ethiopia) for 18 months at a local College, and was certificated in November 2016. This qualification will equip him to provide guiding services to the many tourists and pilgrims who come to see the ancient churches of Lalibela. His dream is to have his own Tourist Company one day. He does however continue to visit the village very frequently, working with the local farmers as they adopt the more modern techniques he has been teaching them. The whole community has committed to his new farming techniques, and the vastly improved crops they are getting now testify to the value of his input. He is also training farmers in neighbouring villages in the same techniques.