For years, Belachew Girma has been using laughter as a form of therapy to help children and adults overcome various forms of handicaps and illness.
The 44-year-old has travelled the world to share his knowledge and experience with thousands of people attending his workshops and lectures. Belachew himself says it is laughter that saved his life from disaster.
His spendthrift years as a nightclub owner had come to an end after a series of disasters: he lost his wife to Aids, had his home and business go up in flames and was a victim of a flash flood.
“Psycholigally, I became tortured. I was looking into an abyss, I was told I only had seven years to live,” he calmly explained from his first floor office outside the centre of Addis.
There was a moment of silence, then, he burst out into a trademark laugh as if switching on light. Only there is nothing mechanical about Belachew’s laughter. It ripples out of his muscle-toned chest and creates a ripple effect with his trainees sitting politely around the small room.
“But, one day, I read a book a psychology book to train a dog, called “Why Worry?” It says “Break the worrying habits before it breaks you.”And there was a chapter called “Self-initiation system”.
In Amharic there is a saying which, translated says “If I’m not going to motivate myself, who is going to motivate me?” So, I started putting this into practice. There is also a saying in the Bible, verse 17:22, which goes: “A joyous heart is the best medicine. So, I believe that this psychology book and the Bible helped me to start laughing without reasoning (sic.).”
That was almost ten years ago, and Belachew claims he has never looked back. He gave up a heavy smoking habit and started a rigorous training programme based around running that gives him the stamina to laugh non-stop.
“I had a release in life. It gave me motivation, physical strength….my breathing system and even my skin-colour changed. This is an all-body work-out.”
Belachew’s contagious energy has helped create a national laughter day in Ethiopia, the only one of its kind.
Its tenth edition will be on 29 October 2012. He himself has set an almost-impossible barrier to break: a three-hour nonstop laughing record, set at the Genius Impossibility Challenger Competition in 2007.
Unfortunately, it seems no Guiness Book of Records official was there to officialise the feat.