Saskatchewan

Regina student says 'life is worth living' with tribute to friend who died by suicide

Life has not been the same for Belan Tsegaye since her best friend took his own life, and it’s a pain she doesn’t want others to feel. She hopes to bring the topic of suicide out into the light with a tribute video to her friend, Kaleab Schmidt.

Kaleab Schmidt was 14-years-old when he took his own life

Kaleab Schmidt was 14 years old when he took his life last year. Now his friends have taken part in a tribute video that honours his memory and urges others not to make the same choice. (Submitted by Belan Tsegaye)

Life has not been the same for Belan Tsegaye since her best friend took his own life. It's a pain she doesn't want others to feel.

Suicide is a topic that can be brushed under the rug, Tsegaye said, but she wants to bring it into the light with a tribute video to her friend, Kaleab Schmidt.

"Everybody teaches everybody how to love each other but when are we going to learn to love ourselves?" the15-year-old Regina student asked.

Her video is meant not only to honour Schmidt's life, but to reach others who face mental health struggles.

"I know how it feels to feel down, and depressed. I would want to at least change one person's perspective on life."

Schmidt and his younger sister were adopted and came to Canada from Ethiopia in 2011. Tsegaye said she and her family went to the airport to greet the newcomers, as part of the Ethiopian community.

The pair grew closer over the years, going on camping trips and talking most nights.

"To me, Kaleab was not just a best friend, he was basically like a brother, where I felt like if I had anything wrong, if I had any issues, I knew I could always count on him," she said.  

A picture of Kaleab Schmidt before he came to Canada from Ethiopia in 2011 is among the photos in the tribute video his friends made for him. (Submitted by Belan Tsegaye)

They chatted the night before Schmidt's death, with Schmidt telling Tsegaye repeatedly that he loved her and asking her to keep talking with him.

She promised they would talk again, but told him she had a project to finish for school.

On May 1, 2018, she learned that 14-year-old Schmidt had killed himself. It tore a hole through her.

"I haven't been the same," she said. "I just feel empty and it's just hard to find motivation."

Regina student Belan Tsegaye mourns at her friend's grave. She says her mission is now to remind people that life is worth living. (Submitted by Belan Tsegaye)

For the one-year anniversary of his death, Tsegaye invited Schmidt's friends, football teammates and anyone else close to him to share their memories for a tribute video.

One by one, friends shared their memories of Schmidt and how his death had impacted them.

His mother Sandra Barker-Schmidt noted her son "touched so many lives" in his short time on earth.

"We miss and love him so much."

Tsegaye said she had hoped the video would reach a couple hundred people.

Instead, her jaw dropped as she saw the video pick up 7,000 views in a day.

She hopes the video inspires people to stay strong.

"Unfortunately Kaleab wasn't able to stay strong any more. But as much of a grief it is, it's a lesson," she said.

"Because I can teach people, with this video I created, that life is worth living. I keep telling myself that. 'Life is worth living. Life is worth living.' "

About the Author

Janani Whitfield spent 10 years working in the newspaper industry in Alberta before joining CBC Saskatchewan as a web writer in 2017. Contact her at janani.whitfield@cbc.ca or on Twitter, @WhitfieldJanani.

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