People call her Mother Teresa of Africa. She has no children of her own but she has a family of about 450,000 people. Like Mother Teresa, catering traditional food items to big hotels like Sheraton.

This Ethiopian heart of gold lady is Abebech Gobena. A month after she was born in the village of Shebel, her father was killed by Italians invading Ethiopia. She was brought up by grandparents and married at ten but ran away to Addis Ababa. Although life in the city was not found simple to Dr. Abebech she didn’t give up. Instead she started to challenge life strongly. She was employed in different companies and established a family for the second time. Though, she has not her own child, she was leading a decent family life.

Then in 1973 she went on a pilgrimage to the church of Gishen Mariam in Wollo province, north of the capital. It was a time of drought, civil war and famine. She had a loaf of bread and five liters of holy water, which she distributed to victims. Then she saw a woman with a child at her breast. She thought the woman was asleep and tried to wake her, but the woman was dead. She took the child and another orphan home to Addis Ababa. By the end of the year, she was caring for 21 orphans.

Her husband and relatives thought her mad. The family, they said, had too little income to look after so many. She had two options, to throw away the children and continue her decent married life or renew her commitment to safeguard the helpless kids and abandon her marriage. Though, it seems challenging Abebech had decided to abandon her marriage and continued the lofty effort that she had started. She moved out with the children into a poultry house where she built a bed of mud. To keep the children alive, she sold her jewelries and made and sold ‘injera’, bread and other foods.

Gradually she got help and, in 1986 her orphanage was registered by the government. The Abebech Gobena Orphanage and School now has more than 200 resident and over 482 non-resident pupils, the government providing some teachers. AGOS pays school fees for over 1,000 children from poor families at other schools. Over 1,800 benefit from a child-sponsorship scheme. Over 2,000 malnourished children and mothers receive food.

Dr. Abebech aims as general manager is to make needy children into productive and responsible citizens so they can support themselves and contribute to society. They learn sewing, knitting and weaving, metalwork, plumbing, electricity, photography and silkscreen printing. She reunites orphans with relatives when possible.

The humanitarian activity that was started in a poultry house by two orphaned children has immensely grown up and involved in many community development activities.

Life sometimes won’t go as the way we planned. It might drive a little bit as we want and somehow change the direction. But then when it changes the direction we don’t have to be surprised or get puzzled rather we have to take it as it is. Take it as an opportunity to create something bright.

There are moments in life where things become hard. But that thing will be much harder when it comes to kids. Dr. Abebech Gobena has noticed this early and keep those needy kids productive and responsible citizens. Being such a heart of gold person like her will need our courage a lot, but when we are giving love the love we receive will be even much more than that. In that case we have to learn to live for others too not only for ourselves.

Eden Binega is a journalist and mentor in Center for Creative Leadership. She used to be a host in 105.3 AFRO FM radio Station and a reporter in Mazarot magazine.