When Abebech Gobena saw the woman and baby, she returned from the pilgrimage to the sanctuary of Gischen Mariam, about 300 miles north of Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia.
In 1980, Gobena was passing by an area that had recently been hit by a drought and the associated famine. There was a corpse along the way. Many are dead, some are dead, while others can still sit and ask for food.
“You couldn’t even walk because many of these hungry people were everywhere,” she said in a 2010 interview with CNN. She handed out the little things she had: a loaf of bread and a few liters of water.
Initially, Gobena thought the woman was asleep and saw her baby trying to breastfeed. Then she noticed that her mother was dead.
A nearby man was collecting the bodies. He told her she was waiting for her child to die.
Without thinking, Gobena picked up her baby, wrapped it in a cloth and took her back to Addis Ababa. She came back the next day with more food and water.
“One of the men who died by the road told me,’This is my child. She’s dying. I’m dead. Save my child,” she recalled. “It was a terrible famine. There were no authorities. The government at the time did not want the famine to be publicly known. So I had to smuggle the children pretending to be mine. did not.”
By the end of the year, she had 21 children living with her and her husband, Kebede Yikoster. Initially supportive, he finally gave her an ultimatum: he or his children.
Gobena left most of his and her possessions and took the children to live with her in a forest hut. She made money by selling jewelry to make money and then selling Injera bread and mead. Unable to pay for her child’s school fees, she found a tutor to visit the hut.
After accepting more children and fighting government bureaucracy in Ethiopia for years, she registered her organization, Abebech Gobena Children’s Care and Development Association, as a non-profit organization in 1986. I was able to raise funds and receive a grant.
She bought farmland outside Addis Ababa, where she and the orphans worked, and sold produce to fund the orphans. They also built dozens of toilets, public kitchens and water stations around the city.
Today, the Amharic acronym for Agoherma, the organization is one of the largest non-profit organizations in Ethiopia. In addition to the orphanage, we provide hundreds of children with free school, HIV / AIDS prevention and maternal health care. According to our own estimates, approximately 1.5 million Ethiopians have benefited from this service since 1980. They and many others call her a “mother.” Theresa in Africa. “
In June, Gobena became infected with Covid-19. She entered the intensive care unit at St. Paul’s Hospital in Addis Ababa and died on July 4. She was 85 years old. Agoherma spokesman Yitbarek Tekalign confirmed her death.
“Abebech Gobena was one of the most selfless and pure people I have ever met,” said Tedros Adhanom Gebreyes, director of the World Health Organization and former Ethiopian Minister of Health, in a statement. increase. “She not only helped many children survive, but also helped them succeed in life.”
Abebech Gobena Heye was born on October 20, 1935 in Shebel Aboba, a village north of Addis Ababa in Shewa at the time. That same month, Italian troops in Eritrea invaded Ethiopia and began the Second Ethiopian War. Her father, Gofe Heye, was a peasant who died in battle.
Gobena and her mother, Wosenville, lived with their grandparents. When she was ten, the family arranged to marry a much older man, but shortly after the ceremony she went home. Her family returned her to her husband, who left her locked up in the room at night.
Gobena managed to escape from the hole in the roof and went to Addis Ababa. There she found a family to take her. She went to school and later found a job as a quality control inspector at a coffee and grain export company. ..
The job gave her a stable middle-class life, but after establishing Agoherma she lived mostly in poverty. She had never been paid and her bedroom was connected to one of the orphanage dormitories.
Known to many as the Amharic Emaier, loosely interpreted as “wonderful mother,” Gobena did more than just raise her children under her responsibility. In addition to classroom education, she has definitely acquired marketable skills such as metalworking, embroidery, and more recently photography. She gave older children seed money to start their own business.
“There is no word to describe Emaye. She was all about me,” said Rahel Berhanu, a former Agoherma orphan, in an interview with the magazine Addis Standard. “After getting my diploma, I started working with her. She was a mother rather than a mother.”
Gobena may disagree, but did not leave anyone to survive immediately.
“I don’t have my own children, but I have a family of hundreds of thousands and I have no regrets,” she told The Times of London in 2004.