Abebech Gobena: A profile in compassion
08 March 2009
by Tewedros Ayele
Abebech Gobena’s life is testament to the fact that a woman’s truth cannot be bought or sold. Indeed, if she holds her ground, the world can change.
Ms. Gobena is the founder of Ethiopia’s oldest orphanage, and her accomplishments stem from an act of faith. She was on a pilgrimage to Gishen Mariam in the Wollo region of Ethiopia, an important site in the Ethiopian Orthodox faith. The area was famine stricken, and on her way back home she found a baby lying next to her dead mother, at a feeding centre.
She picked up the baby and brought her home. She subsequently brought a second baby home, who was lying next to his dead father. In one year’s time, she brought home 21 children. This simple act of love grew.
She increasingly brought home more children and raised them using her own resources. Her husband soon divorced her and her husband’s family disowned her. As you listen to her tell her story, she describes the reasoning behind the divorce as her “unusual actions”.
In retrospect, it’s hard to call bringing a baby home, who would have died, unusual. Would it not be more unusual to not bring the baby home? Once you let love inform your actions, the difficult part becomes stopping it. Where do you draw the line between one too many and not enough?
Abebech Gobena’s life shows what happens when you do not stop the love. The number of children soon became 200, and in 1988 Ms. Gobena received a permit to raise the children as orphans. Her unusual actions have grown into six different branches of the Abebech Gobena Children’s Care and Development organization, with over 12,000 children under her care.
Love is revolutionary. We often constrain it to very narrow dimensions and separate it from our work. However, when individuals integrate it in all they do, the world changes. This takes commitment.
When asked about commitment, Abebech replied: “Commitment is everything to me. The first thing I did to start with was to commit myself fully. My vision would have gone nowhere without commitment."
"I had no idea as to how to proceed," she continues, "but I was sure that the only way forward was to work hard with the children in order to be self-supportive. During those six years, I sold all my gold ornaments. I tore all my dresses and re-sewed them into children's sizes. I didn’t have any sewing machine in those days. I stayed twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week with them.”
Abebech Gobena also teaches us what happens when your commitment, as defined by faith, is uncompromising. In modern times, many commit to money and personal success. However, commitment to a greater good outside of yourself is what the world needs right now.
Natural disasters and wars serve as a reminder that greed is killing us. It’s women like Abebech Gobena who will save us.