The Story of Abraham: A Son of Ethiopia from Common River

Aleta Wondo, ETHIOPIA

July 2010

Common River hosted eight medical students and their doctor professor from the University of Texas medical school in Aleta Wondo for 2 weeks this summer. Each morning the students walked to the government Health Center to conduct a free medical clinic.One morning as they worked their way through the huge crowd, a student named Matt, noticed a boy lying in the tall grass just inside the clinic gates. Matt picked up the child and carried him into the clinic. His temperature was 106.5 degrees. He was unconscious and had less than an hour left to live. When they removed his clothes, his body was completely covered in ants. They quickly washed him and gave him an IV and a load of antibiotics. When he came back to life, after spending a few nights at the clinic, he told us his story.

Here is what we learned. . .

Abraham is ten years old. When he was 4 years old his mother died and his father re-married. His new stepmother rejected him and his 3 younger siblings and kicked them out onto the street. As Abraham could walk, he started walking over the mountains from Hagar Salam making his way to the nearest town, Aleta Wondo, around 30 kilometers away. He found a job as a tea boy at a local tea house. He prepared tea, served customers, collected money and closed up the shop seven days week in exchange for a place to stay and one loaf of bread and one cup of tea per day. He slept in the dark shop by himself at night.

Afraid of hyenas that howled each night, Abraham put chairs together to sleep on, just to get off the floor. The shop owner abused his indentured servant. If he broke a glass he was beaten. If he spilled tea he was beaten. If he made a math error he was beaten. His head bears the scars of many beatings over the past six years.In June, Abraham fell ill and was unable to work. The shop owner kicked him out and hired another boy. Abraham had heard about a free clinic at the health center run by American volunteers, while he was serving tea. He decided to go there and made it just inside the gates when he collapsed from weakness. The next thing he recalls is getting spoon-fed by American volunteers at the clinic.

When Abraham was strong enough to be discharged from the clinic, Common River took him to their compound. He stayed with Tsegaye Bekele in one of Common River’s guest huts for two weeks. There he was fed, clothed and enrolled in the Common River School.

One of the cooks at Common River noticed how well he bonded with her children. She wanted him to have a family life so she took him into her home. He loved having a family again. Common River supplied the family with a bed so that Abraham and his new “brothers and sisters” could sleep together in a bed, off of the mud floor.When we asked him if he wants to find his younger siblings, Abraham falls silent. He feels a bit of survival guilt and certainly wants to find his younger siblings whom he misses terribly. Yet, he is nervous and afraid of what he may find out. He is also afraid that he will be brought back to his previous life or that his father may take him away. There is not a trace of paperwork to document his existence, so it is difficult to legally process an adoption or foster care.

Given his 6 years experience collecting money at the teahouse. Abraham is thriving as a 1st grader. He excels at math. He loves school, sports and playing with the other children. He never had time to study or play before. He is incredibly helpful with the Common River staff and guests. He is a master at starting the fires each night in the guest huts.On his own volition Abraham sweeps the hut floors, hauls water, collects firewood, helps in the kitchen, serves food and picks fresh flowers for the guests. He conducts a full coffee ceremony on his own, from roasting the coffee beans, to pounding them, to boiling the coffee water, to serving it and to cleaning the cups. The coffee cups do rattle when he passes someone a coffee cup, as has a great deal of nervous tension locked inside of him. He is also aware of medicinal herbs and plants, which he says he learned from his father. He has started planting herbs in Common River’s traditional medicinal garden.

We are grateful to have met such a resilient boy who demonstrates the power of the human survival instinct. He is also the most loving and happiest child alive. Even though deprived of motherly love since the age of four, and abused by a boss for six years, he is not hardened, bitter or afraid.

His dream is to become a doctor because he wants to save lives just like the doctors who saved his life. We have no doubt that Abraham will meet his goals and Common River will do its best to help him attain them. Common River’s vision is to have him attend Harvard Medical School someday.


Donna Sillan

Director & Founder

Common River

About this Blog Posting: I created this blog post and added it to my blog because I thought it was such a compelling story.

When Donna Sillan returned from her most recent trip to Ethiopia, she told me the continuing saga of building the school in Aleta Wondo and the story of saving the life of Abraham. I asked Donna to write up the story and send it to me along with any photos she took on the trip.

I put her words and pictures together. This blog posting is the result.

Jim Sugar

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