The Sheepherder

I recently visited with a group of international students for the US Education Without Borders program. The message I shared with them was heavy on philosophy, including the one pond, one pebble principle. Short version: dropping pebbles and letting the ripples travel where they may beats the heck out of trying to heave boulders into the ocean and accomplishing nothing—make a difference by influencing what you can, where you can.

When I was done the organizer, a Chinese gentleman, introduced me to a young man from Ethiopia. He took us to a conference room and told the two of us to get acquainted. What a fascinating young man-I wish I could relate all the stories he crammed into one short hour, but they would not come across the way he told them. So just a little…

Growing up, he was a sheepherder in the back country. Gone from home for a week at a time, just him and the animals, sleeping together in a cave at night for protection (“the animals ate the grass I gathered for bedding every night, and sometimes they would pee on me”…plenty of laughs!). He decided to learn as much as he could in every way he could to better himself.

He walked five miles to school where the only books were donated and you read anything you could get your hands on regardless of subject matter or level, just to be reading. He would read all night by candle light or if the moon was bright enough, sticking his foot in a bucket of cold water to help him stay awake. He religiously kept a journal to sharpen his writing skills and to track the journey that was unfolding.

He became the star student of his small rural school and found a sponsor who gave him a chance to go to the city to study in a better school. The city students bullied him, calling him a ‘stupid shepherd boy from the back country’ until he started consistently scoring at the top of the class.

He learned English with the help of a new friend who he taught his native language to in return. He eventually found his way into the Education Without Borders program.

The reason the young man shared his story was a lead-in to explain his “pebbles and pond” vision for his own life. His dream is to help others in the same situation follow the same path he has taken.

Once a sheepherder, always a sheepherder. Protect the herd first.

I’ll have no way of knowing how far the ripples from this little pebble will travel, and I don’t need to know. With his passion and his drive, I’m certain Wubetu will succeed. If I can be even a small part of his journey, I’m good with that. I plan on mentoring him in whatever way he can benefit. I’m pretty certain I will be the one getting the most out of the relationship, starting with what I hope will be a lasting friendship.


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