By Simon Edwards |

Nathanael Hailemariam wants to use his blossoming football career to kick off a major New Zealand aid project in Ethiopia.

Known as Nati to fellow players in The Phoenix Youth squad, he was born in war-torn Sudan before coming to Auckland as a two-year-old.

Though raised in Kiwi culture, his father Andualen, a technical engineer, and mother Asrat Belay, a mental health nurse, made sure he knew something about their home nation, Ethiopia.  Nati said they would talk about their family’s humble beginnings and how tough it was for many people just to survive on the Horn of Africa.

But Nati told Fairfax it wasn’t until the family visited Ethiopia when he was 14 that the extent of those hardships really hit him.

“It opened my eyes.

“I didn’t really understand the poverty until I saw it first hand.

“When you have a child pulling on your shirt asking for money, desperate….It’s something you don’t want to see, but that’s the world.”

Back in New Zealand, a determination to do something to help Ethiopians grew in him.

They were feelings he shared with Debbie Mair, a trainer at Lower Hutt City Football Club that he moved from Auckland to play for.

Mair is also Director of Special Projects at Hutt City Rotary and helped Nati get involved with RYLA2013, the Rotary Youth Leadership Award programme for 18-24 year olds.

With his confidence he could make a difference boosted, Nati became a youth ambassador for Rotary Hutt City and, as Mair puts it, “enthused us oldies” with what he wanted to do.

In the last 18 months he has spoken to other Rotary clubs and built a case for sending a study mission to Ethiopia to scope out  the best way a New Zealand-sponsored aid initiative might work there.  Hutt resident and District Governor of Rotary District 9940, Simon Manning, confirmed recently the District would join the Hutt City club and jointly fund the $10,000 needed for the trip.

Hugh Oakley-Brown, an ex-SAS soldier and a member of Rotary’s Whangarei Sunrise Club, and others may also go on the scoping mission they’re calling Ethiopia 2015 – Be A Gift to the World. They leave in six weeks.

“Rotarians all over New Zealand are aware of what we’re doing,” Mair says.

United Nations Development Programmes Administrator and former Prime Minister Helen Clark has been extremely helpful, she says, offering advice and putting them in contract with useful people in Addis Ababa.

Nati says a New Zealand-sponsored project might well be around improving water supply in one of more districts.

Water-borne disease is the number one cause of infant mortality in Ethiopia. About 300,000 children under the age of five die every year in Ethiopia—the majority due to diseases transmitted through unsafe water.

It is estimated that over 80 per cent of Ethiopians lack a source of safe water.

“For us, there’s usually a tap handy.  For people there they might walk three hours or more, and then it has to be carried back.

“One of my sisters drank their water.  She was in hospital for two months on a drip.

“That feeling I had for my sister…everyone in Africa is feeling like that.  We have to try and change it.”

Football is huge in

Ethiopia and when he visits Nati Hailemariam intends running coaching clinics as a way of establishing rapport with locals.  The Phoenix is donating boots, balls and other gear he will take over.  There are also some rugby balls but Nati is not sure what the locals will make of those.

Griffins has donated three huge pallet-loads of plain biscuits.

Nati and Debbie Mair are putting a plea out to the Hutt Valley community.  From schools and pupils’ families, they would like pencils, rulers and erasers.  Give those things to a child in a village in Ethiopia and you will get a smile “as if you’ve giving them a million dollars,” Nati says.

He’ll be making a video diary of his trip, and one aim is to foster ongoing links between Wellington/Hutt and Ethiopia schools.

Money is also needed to freight by ship the donated biscuits, football gear and other materials.

This can be done by visiting the Facebook event –

Ethiopia 2015 – be a gift to the world, where there are bank account details. A GiveaLittle page is being set up and you can also email Debbie

Source: The Dominion Post

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