At Hanna’s Orphans Home, ‘Big Sister’ Cares for more than 200 Kids in Ethiopia

On 9/14/2010 10:14:38 AM Vince Crawley wrote

At last count, Hanna Teshome had 233 children. Three call her “mother.” The other 230 call her “Tete,” which is Amharic for “big sister,” and they live in more than two dozen rented homes throughout Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa.for “big sister,” and they live in more than two dozen rented homes

Nearly all of the children found their way to Hanna’s Orphans Home after their parents died of HIV/AIDS. A few have parents who are serving time in Ethiopian prisons. A few more have gravely ill parents unable to take care of them.

By living in rented homes instead of an orphanage, “they are living in the community,” Tete Hanna explained to visitors one recent August afternoon. “They will have a social life. They can say, ‘We have a house.’ I don’t want them to live in an institution.”

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The children’s ages range from 2 to 26, and they are fed, clothed, housed and educated primarily by donations.

The houses have televisions and usually a computer, and each home is run by a house mother. Older children take turns being house leaders, usually for two months at a time.

Nearly all the children attend school, and Hanna has an extensive library of textbooks. After classes her children gather in her school compound for homework, after-school games and socializing before making their way to their homes.

Older children attend university. As long as they keep their grades up they can stay with Hanna until they finish university or technical school, she said. So far more than 20 of Hanna’s children are graduates who’ve moved out to begin raising families of their own.

Hanna also is beginning to look into ways to care for the elderly.

Unlike many of Ethiopia’s orphans, Hanna’s children are not available for international adoption. Thousands of Ethiopian children are adopted internationally each year, (the U.S. Department of State reported 2,277 U.S. adoptions from Ethiopia for 2009), but not from Hanna’s Orphans Home. People have asked her, but Hanna said she’s firmly against it. “They have to be in their own country,” she insists of her children. “If anybody wants to help them, they can help us right here. They will stay here with their language and their culture. When they grow up they will help their own country.”

Hanna said her extensive family began almost two decades ago when she took in a child in need. She has three of her own. The others just kept showing up.

“When God created you or me or anyone, he planned something. We’re here for a purpose,” Hanna said. “The problem is to know what that purpose is.” Hanna said she counts herself lucky because she knows her purpose. As a young woman, she received a vision that the purpose of her life was to care for children who needed families, and she’s been following that path ever since.

That evening, as passengers lined up to board an overnight flight to Europe, at least nine Ethiopian infants were in the arms of their new adoptive parents, a ritual repeated night after night. Meanwhile, in homes scattered across the city, “big sister” Hanna’s children too were getting ready for bed in a unique family of their own.

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