Team Wellington striker Nathanael Haliemariam acknowledges he is one of the lucky few to escape from cruel poverty in Africa.
“I am one of the lucky ones to get out of Africa and get the opportunities I did in life. When you go see some of the kids on the street over there who have nothing, it kills me.”
His visits to Ethiopia have motivated him to “give something back” to the region. He actively participates in feasibility projects organised through the Hutt City Rotary Club. He hopes his work will create better outcomes for kids over there.
“In the short term, it would be great to get as much kids off the street and food into their stomach. In the long term, it’s a matter of providing opportunities for kids to express themselves through education or sport.”
Despite his hopes, he is fully aware of the challenges ahead.
“At the moment- partly due to the political climate- there are very little pathways for children. It’s very difficult, but you’ve just got to remind yourself of all the ones that are struggling- that keeps you going.”
He would love to continue helping out with aid efforts in the future.
“Getting yourself involved is an amazing feeling. Obviously for me there is an emotional attachment given where I come from. If more people get involved in this kind of work, the world could be a much better place one day.”
Born in Sudan to Ethiopian parents, Haliemariam’s family relocated to Aotearoa when he was one-year old. Not surprisingly, the Ethiopian Kiwi took a liking to long-distance running as a kid.
In fact, as far as he was concerned, football was a clear second to a sport that has put Ethiopia on the global sporting map.
“I didn’t really like football growing up. I was actually more of a runner, obviously being Ethiopian we love to run I guess!”
As he grew older, his passion for football developed. He can vividly recall watching his favourite players growing up.
“I used to watch Romário a lot, he was an unbelievable striker. Then after him, it was Ronaldo. I loved the way they could take on players, hold the ball up and finish- they just had the full package. They played a big role in my football development.”
Haliemariam’s talents were recognised at an early age. After representing St Peters First XI, he was selected for Eastern Suburbs in his final year at college. Haliemariam would go on to represent the Phoenix Reserves, Auckland City and German club Rielasingen prior to joining Team Wellington.
So what attracted him to Team Wellington?
“I spoke to a lot of coaches and players about the environment (at Team Wellington) and I was really impressed. The coaching philosophy was also really important for me and I was quite intrigued by José’s approach having known him from my time at Auckland City Youth and Central United.”
He feels his performances could be better after joining the club half way through the season.
“As a striker- in terms of goals- I know I can do better having only scored three goals so far for the club. I’ve just got to keep grinding away to ensure I improve.”
Haliemariam has set himself clear goals for the remainder of the season.
“I’ve set myself the goal of starting our remaining games. I would also like to help Team Wellington win the national and Oceanic League. I was fortunate enough to go to the FIFA Club World Cup with Auckland City and I’d love to do that again.”
If there is one thing for sure, Haliemariam does not lack ambition. He has set his sights firmly on making the All Whites.
“I’d love to make the national team over the next one or two years. I know I’ve got a lot of work to do but that is something I am willing to do.”
If his determination is anything to go by, you wouldn’t want to bet against the lean striker going the distance and achieving his ultimate dream.