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Honoring heroes

SOS Villages celebrates caregivers’ decades of service to Ethiopia’s children

On a sunny afternoon on September 23, 2023, amidst the tranquil surroundings of Bisrate Gabriel Children’s Village, an emotionally moving ceremony unfolded. Mothers who had devoted their lives to raising orphaned and vulnerable children in the face of immense hardship were being honored for their resilience and compassion.

As gold rings were placed on weathered hands that had spent decades nurturing young lives, profound stories of courage in the midst of conflict were shared.

Among those honored was Tariq Abraha, a 65-year-old retiree being honored for dedicating a remarkable 37 years of service to SOS Mekelle village. Tariq had raised 42 children over her tenure, embracing each one with the same unconditional love regardless of their background. In her acceptance speech, eyes gleaming with pride, Tariq recounted the difficulties of her early years caring for the children. “I faced initial difficulties in raising the children, but the encouragement of my co-workers at SOS Mekelle instilled in me bravery and determination,” recalled Tariq Abraha, expressing her gratitude.

Yet through it all, the encouragement of her community instilled in her the bravery and determination to persevere. “My love for the children grew so deep that I couldn’t imagine a life without a child by my side,” Tariq said passionately. Tariq also shed light on the challenges faced during the war, saying, “We endured food shortages and lived in constant fear for the safety of the children whenever jets flew overhead.”

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Plagued by recurring famine, civil unrest and a disadvantaged socioeconomic landscape that has disrupted family structures and exacerbated hardships for children throughout its modern history, Ethiopia has long struggled with high rates of orphanhood and child vulnerability—circumstances that first prompted the founding of SOS Children’s Villages in the Horn of Africa nation in 1973, as it responded to the massive humanitarian crisis unleashed by the deadly famine that struck the region and left countless young lives exposed to risks without the stability of parental care and protection.

SOS Children’s Villages in Ethiopia, established in response to the 1973 famine, has provided essential services such as childcare, protection, family strengthening, health, and education to children who have lost or are at risk of losing parental care. The organization has been actively involved in offering life-saving humanitarian assistance to individuals affected by conflicts and drought, with a particular focus on women and children. SOS Children’s Villages operates in seven regional states across Ethiopia, including Tigray, Addis Ababa, Amhara, Harari, Oromia, Sidama, and Somali.

Frehiwot Gebregizabher, a director at SOS Children’s Villages Ethiopia, reflected on the organization’s ongoing commitment to vulnerable youth. While initially responding to the devastating 1973 famine, she noted that SOS has since cared for children orphaned or at risk due to various challenges across the diverse regions of the country. “Our roots may be in that crisis, but through the selfless dedication of our caregivers who devote their lives fully, we’ve extended support well beyond that time of crisis,” Frehiwot stated. She paid tribute to the mothers at SOS villages who provide loving homes and nurture young lives, empowering orphaned children regardless of the difficulties that led them to require care.

The anniversary celebration at Bisrate Gabriel Children’s Village was a reminder of how far the organization has come since its early days of response to crisis, according to Frehiwot. As the guests observed the happy children running around the secure facilities, it provided a glimpse into the vibrant community that has been established. SOS Villages aim not only to meet children’s basic needs, but create an environment for healthy development through family-like support structures. The mothers and caregivers honored have played an instrumental role in nurturing well-adjusted youth despite hardships in their backgrounds.

One of the mothers honored that day for her selfless dedication was Winshet Newai, who has spent the past 16 years shaping lives at this very village in Addis Ababa. During her tenure, she raised nineteen children and is currently caring for eight more. “A deep love for children led me to apply for a position at SOS when an opportunity arose. Through training in child psychology and care, I was equipped to provide the best support,” Winshet reflected on her journey. “Being placed in Addis Ababa alongside other trained women was my heartfelt request, and I have now served here for sixteen years,” she proudly stated. “Receiving the gold ring award, a lifelong dream, fills me with immense happiness,” Winshet expressed. Her story exemplifies the impact individuals can have by committing themselves to nurturing vulnerable children within the caring environment provided by SOS Villages.

One of the speakers at the event was Mekonon Mezsgebe, who had first-hand experience of the life-changing work done by SOS Villages. He grew up in the SOS Children’s Orphanage in Addis Ababa after losing his parents at a young age. Through the loving support of caregivers like Winshet, Mekonnen was given opportunities to pursue his education and reach his full potential. He is now an official serving in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, a testament to how the village empowered him to overcome adversity. In his speech, Mekonon proudly testified to the organization’s profoundly positive impact. “All the children who have grown up in SOS villages, myself included, are living proof of the influence of our caregivers,” he stated.

The anniversary celebration highlighted both the challenges that SOS Villages have addressed over decades of service, as well as the triumphs of resilience embodied by inspiring individuals like Winshet and Tariq. As the mothers and children embraced at the event’s conclusion, it was clear how their family-like community has become a source of strength, hope and vision for a better future.

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