STRENGTHEN FAMILIES - 21 December 2023

‘It is painful if you cannot feed your children’


On a busy street in Iteya, a town in southeastern Ethiopia, Tsehay, 37, runs a small restaurant. The restaurant is one of three businesses that Tsehay owns, and she has big plans for the future. Many customers stop by to have a meal or drink a cup of coffee. Tsehay is known in the area for her tasty dishes and homemade injera, a traditional Ethiopian flatbread.  

Tsehay has come a long way since the father of her three children left the family to move to another city and hasn’t financially supported the family ever since.

“The past was very difficult. I could not feed my children properly,” Tsehay says. “If I gave them breakfast, there were times when I could not feed them for the rest of the day. I did not have the means to provide them with three meals a day.”

The mother of three was barely able to sustain her family. She did not have money to set up a business, because she could not afford to buy teff, which is the main ingredient of injera. Instead, she washed people’s clothes or cleaned their homes for a few Ethiopian birr. “These tasks were very labour intensive and paid very little. It was not enough. The financial problems were affecting my children,” Tsehay says.

Multi-dimensional child poverty in Ethiopia

According to UNICEF, 36 million out of a total of 41 million children in Ethiopia are multi-dimensionally poor. Children who are multidimensionally poor are severely deprived in at least two child wellbeing dimensions, including access to water, education, housing, health care, healthy diet and protection from harmful practices. Multidimensional poverty afflicts children more commonly and intensely than adults and the effects often last a lifetime.

While access to public education is free in Ethiopia, many families cannot afford sending their children to school due to additional costs like learning materials, uniforms, and transportation. It is estimated that more than 50% of Ethiopian children, aged 5-17 years, are deprived in education.

“The financial problems were affecting my children. For some time, they could not go to school. Now they are back in school, but their ages do not match the grades they are in. The fact that I could not properly care for them, affected my mental health. It is very painful if you cannot feed your children,” says Tsehay, unable to hide the sadness in her voice about this period in her life.

Preventing families from breaking down

SOS Children’s Village in Ethiopia aims to strengthen families like Tsehay’s through livelihood support, parenting workshops and covering the costs of education and other social services to ensure that they have the necessary support to provide their children with the strong bonds they need for a healthy development.

Through the community outreach program, Tsehay was approached by SOS Children’s Villages in Iteya. She attended different trainings in how to earn and save money, and how to protect and care for her children.

“The commitment and energy of the staff in the childcare and protection trainings were really motivating,” Tsehay says. “They showed me that if they can care for their children and look after their education, I can do that too. It really changed my thoughts from being hopeless to becoming someone who is successfully doing a job.”  

She also received support in the form of 100kg teff, so that she could set up the baking businesses and restaurant that she successfully runs today. “The 100kg of teff were a turning point. I saw real change in my home when I was able to start saving money. The condition of my house used to be worse than the food situation. We did not have a single chair and only one mattress for all of us. I still keep the mattress to remind myself of these difficult times. Now, I can afford everything for my children.”

A role model in the community

The mother of three is not only taking care of her children and running three successful businesses, but she is also actively engaged in her community, teaching others about child protection, hygiene and how to earn and save money.

“Now that I am in a different situation, I want to support others to end their misery. I have been there and experienced these challenges myself,” she says. “When I was replacing my household materials, I gave the old ones to other mothers in need. I also teach them about the importance of saving money. I always tell them it’s not about how much money you get in, but about how much you are able to save.”

Tsehay’s sons are very proud of their mum and see how much she works to be able to provide them with a stable home. “My mum works very hard so I can go to school. I love her a lot. Sometimes she works too much, she should slow down and get some rest. Our home has become so much better. We even have a TV now and I can choose which channels to watch,” says her 10-year-old son Anbassa happily. 

Tsehay now feels confident to be able to stand on her own feet: “I feel like I don’t need the support of SOS Children’s Villages anymore, because I have changed already, my children are back in school and I have a plan for the future. I am confident that I will materialize that plan for myself.”  

“I have faced many challenges in my life. I wish for my children to be successful in their education so that they can be independent without the worries I had.”


*Name changed to protect the identity of the child.

*Text by Christine Stolz, Photos by Petterik Wiggers

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