The name Abebech Gobena will definitely strike some chords in the heart of Ethiopians. Ethiopia faced what most term to be its worst famine in 1980, thousands died of hunger and thirst. This period saw a devout Christian woman, who was on her way for a pilgrimage in the North-Eastern part of the country go against all odds to begin the oldest orphanage in Ethiopia.
As she traveled, she came across a dead woman with her baby lying in her arms, almost dead as well. Instead of letting the baby be carried away with her mother by the chauffeurs transporting the dead, she picked up the child and took her home to Addis Ababa.
In just over a year, her whole life had been transformed as she had taken home a total of 21 children. Adding to this she traveled to the countryside with the aim of solving the water problem killing thousands. On her way back she came home with another child, she picked from the arms of her dead father. At this point her family thought she was going crazy, it was so bad her husband gave her the option of picking between the children and her family.
This was not the first time Gobena would show her resilience. As an eleven-year-old girl, she was meant to be married off according to Ethiopian tradition. She ran away from home instead to settle in Addis Ababa. She began working on basic education, got a job, and soon remarried.
Her foundation, AGOHELMA, has done more than just raise children in orphanages, it has provided HIV/AIDS sensitization and prevention activities, formal and informal education, women empowerment, etc. Over 150 orphans are being cared for at the orphanage and more than 1.5 million people have benefited in one way or another from what Gobena has done over the years.