Africa’s ‘Sister’ Abebech Gobena has died at the age of 85.

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Abebech Gobena spotted the woman and her baby while returning from a pilgrimage to the holy site of Gishen Mariam, about 300 miles north of Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.

It was 1980 and Ms. Gobena was passing through an area that had recently suffered from drought and accompanying famine. There were corpses along the way – many dead, some dying, some still wanting to sit and eat.

“There were so many of these hungry people scattered all over the place that you can’t even walk,” he said. 2010 interview with CNN. He handed out what he had – a loaf of bread, a few liters of water.

At first Miss Gobena thought the woman was asleep and watched the baby try to suckle her breast. Then he realized that his mother was dead.

A man was collecting bodies nearby. She said she was waiting for her daughter to die.

Without further thought, Ms. Gobena took the baby, wrapped it in a cloth, and took it to Addis Ababa. He returned the next day with more food and water.

“One of the men who died on the side of the road said to me, ‘This is my child. He’s dying. I’m dying. Please save my child,” he recalled. “It was a terrible famine. There were no authorities. The government at the time did not want the famine to become public. So I had to pretend the kids were mine and smuggle them out.”

By the end of the year, she and her husband, Kebede Yikoster, had 21 children living together. Supportive at first, he eventually gave her an ultimatum: he or the kids.

Miss Gobena left him and most of his possessions in a cottage in the woods, taking the children with him. She sold her jewelry to raise money, then earned income by selling injera bread and mead. Unable to pay the children’s school fees, he found a teacher to visit the cottage.

He recruited more children and managed to register his organization in 1986 after years of struggling with government bureaucracy in Ethiopia — Abebech Gobena Child Care and Development Association – as a non-profit organization, it raises money and accepts grants.

Outside of Addis Ababa, he bought farmland where he worked with orphans and sold the produce to finance the orphanage. They also built dozens of toilets, public kitchens and water points around the city.

Known today by its acronym in Amharic, Agohelma, the organization is one of the largest non-profit organizations in Ethiopia. Alongside its orphanage, it provides hundreds of children with free schooling, HIV/AIDS prevention and maternal health services – by his own estimate, nearly 1.5 million Ethiopians have benefited from its services since 1980. They and others call her “Mother”. Teresa of Africa.”

In June, Ms. Gobena contracted Covid-19. in Addis Ababa, where he died on 4 July. He entered the intensive care unit at St. Paul’s Hospital. He was 85 years old. Agohelma’s spokesperson confirmed Yitbarek Tekalign’s death.

“Abebech Gobena was one of the most selfless and pure-hearted people I have ever met,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, director-general of the World Health Organization and former Ethiopian health minister. “He has helped many children not only survive but succeed in life.”

Abebech Gobena Heye was born on October 20, 1935, in Shebel Abo, a village in the north of Addis Ababa, then Shewa State. That same month, Italian forces in Eritrea invaded Ethiopia, starting the Second Italo-Ethiopian War. His father, Gofe Heye, was a farmer who died in the conflict.

Ms. Gobena and her mother, Wosene Biru, went to live with her grandparents. When she was 10, her parents arranged for her to marry a man much older than her, but she rushed home right after the ceremony. Her family returned it to her husband, who locked her in a room at night.

Ms. Gobena managed to escape through a hole in the roof and went to Addis Ababa, where she found a family to take her with. He went to school and later got a job as a quality control inspector for a coffee and grain exporting company. .

The job provided him with a stable, middle-class life, but after founding Agohelma he lived almost in poverty. He received no salary and his bedroom was attached to one of the orphanage dormitories.

Known by many as Enamel, which is an Amharic word that translates as “Wonderful Mother,” Ms. Gobena did not raise children under her sole responsibility. Alongside their classroom training, it allowed them to learn marketable skills such as metalworking, embroidery and more recently photography. He gave seed money to older children to start their own businesses.

“I have no words to describe Enamel; She was my everything,” said Rahel Berhanu, a former orphan of Agohelma. An interview with Addis Standard magazine. I started working with him after I got my diploma. She was a mother above all mothers.”

Miss Gobena, though she disagreed, did not immediately leave anyone alive.

“I don’t have children of my own,” he told The Times of London in 2004, “but I have a family of hundreds of thousands and I have absolutely no regrets.”

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