Foster parents open their homes to Jimma’s abandoned children

Maza Haile Selassie and her husband Abebe Zida took in their foster daughter after the girl’s mother gave birth at a hospital and fled.

It is a daily occurrence in Jimma, Ethiopia’s largest southwestern city. Unmarried mothers, many of them teenagers, abandon their babies at a rate of two to three a day in Jimma, government statistics show.

But a foster care programme supported by SOS Children’s Villages Ethiopia has so far placed more than a hundred children across Ethiopia with parents like Maza and Abebe.

“I love children,” says Maza, 51, whose adult biological daughter has special needs. “We wanted another child, especially so our daughter would have a sister or brother.”

‘They consider us their parents’

Weliya Abbagelan and her husband, Teshome Mamo, heard about the high number of abandoned children in their community, and they wanted to help. “Children are not meant to be abandoned or thrown away,” says Teshome. “Someone needs to care for them.” 

The couple became one of the first foster families in the Ethiopian city of Jimma. In 2012, they opened their home to Meti* who was three years old at the time. Later they took in Hawi*, their niece, after Weliya’s sister passed away. 

“I love how we all laugh together,” says Weliya, “and I love that they consider us their parents.”

Maza sits at small table with her foster child, Marcia*, now three years old, and watches as she builds a puzzle.

“She’s so smart,” says Maza. “I want my daughter to get a good education so she can support herself and be self-reliant. I’d like her to become a doctor so she can help others, like I try to help others.”

SOS Children’s Villages Ethiopia is one of a number of organisations working with the government to set up foster care programmes in Ethiopia, a relatively new model of care for the country. Since 2015, SOS Children’s Villages Ethiopia has helped place about 150 children with foster families, a number it hopes to increase to 2,000 within five years.


Marcia* with her foster mother Maza.


The need is particularly great in Jimma where many young people come to study and find work. The cultural taboo of having a child out of wedlock leads many young mothers to abandon their newborns, says Ebisa Jaleta, programme director at SOS Children’s Village Jimma.

“Babies are abandoned at hospitals. They are left at police stations. They are put on the side of the road,” says Mr Jaleta. “They are even placed outside the fence of our SOS Children’s Village. We find them and report it to police.”

First-time parents receive a blessing

Tadele Ferede and his wife, Bogalech Bosen, always wanted to become parents. Unable to conceive, the couple decided to become foster parents. They registered with the child welfare agency, and SOS Children’s Villages Jimma screened and later prepared the family for the next big step.

“We were very happy when we got a son,” says Tadele, who works as a gardener. “We gave him his name, which means ‘blessings to the family’”.

“When I see my son, I’m so glad,” he says. “When I come home and he greets me, I feel I’m a father, I have a child, and that makes me very happy.”


SOS works with the child welfare office to identify and place children with foster parents. The families receives support from SOS, such as parenting classes and a nominal food and medical allowance. An SOS caregiver, usually an SOS mother or aunt, mentors the family and routinely visits.

Marcia’s foster father, Abebe, 63, who works as a guard, says with the guidance of the SOS caregiver and additional support the little girl has flourished. “I am very happy because the child has benefited from our care,” he says. “I am definitely very happy.”

*Names of children changed to protect privacy.

Photos by Jakob Fuhr. 

Our work in Ethiopia

SOS Children’s Villages Ethiopia works with local groups to support families who are at risk of breaking down. If, in spite of all assistance, children cannot live with their families, they can find a new home in an SOS family.

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