When Seblewengel moved back to her home country of Ethiopia, it was for one specific purpose: to help children. Today, she is fostering three preteen boys through a new, Holt-supported foster care program in Ethiopia — and hopes to soon make them a permanent part of her family through domestic adoption.
Seblewengel Telele lived and worked in the United States, a marketing professional with a big U.S. company. But every time she went home to Ethiopia to visit her family, she would see young children living on the streets — on their own, without a family.
“It was heart-aching,” Seblewengel says. So she decided to do something drastic.
In her time traveling between the U.S. and Ethiopia, Seblewengel met a missionary couple who worked for an organization that helps orphaned and vulnerable children in a small lakeside town in Central Ethiopia. She moved there permanently and for five years volunteered in their mission to help children.
But she wanted to do more… Something personal that would have an even more lasting impact on children. That’s when she learned about Holt’s partner orphanage in Addis Ababa, SeleEnat Charitable Organization.
Holt’s Partner Orphanage in Ethiopia
Children at SeleEnat receive education, nutrition, medical care, child protection measures and social work support, thanks in large part to Holt sponsors and donors. Many of the children who live here have lost their parents due to illnesses such as HIV, or some parents have placed their children at SeleEnat due to poverty — in hopes that here, their child’s basic needs will be met. For these children, reuniting with their family is always the first goal. But for children who have no family to reunite with, SeleEnat aims to provide the best care possible as they seek for them a permanent family.
Although, no matter how well an orphanage cares for children, it can never make up for the nurturing, attentive care that only a family can give.
Seblewengel knew this, and wanted to help children in Ethiopia by making them a part of her family.
Becoming a Foster Mom in Ethiopia
When she first reached out to SeleEnat in 2018, there was no legalized framework for domestic adoption in Ethiopia. So instead, she decided to do the next best thing and become a foster parent.
At the time, foster care was also a newer initiative in Ethiopia — and with Holt’s support, SeleEnat was in the beginning phases of developing a training for foster parents that would support a new, formalized foster care program. Seblewengel became their very first foster parent.
She planned to foster two children from the orphanage. But SeleEnat encouraged her to consider three children — because they had three very special, specific children in mind for her…
Eight-year-old Yonas, 7-year-old Abel and 6-year-old Jemal were inseparable. Although not biologically related, these boys had bonded as brothers, and their social workers knew they would thrive in a home with a family. They loved playing soccer together, and were never apart.
Yonas, the oldest, is affectionate and friendly. He enjoys helping around the house and especially likes to cook! Abel is witty, chatty, independent and quick to see the bright side of every situation. And Jemal is energetic, imaginative and welcoming — always eager to meet and play with those around him.
“Despite her plan to have two children,” Kalkidan Teshar, the program director at SeleEnat, says of Seblewengel, “she was thrilled when she ended up with three children.”
So Seblewengel bought a house, enrolled the boys in school, and welcomed them into her family.
Transitioning to Life in a Family
After spending most of their lives in an orphanage, Yonas, Abel and Jemal took some time adjusting to life in a family.
“Since the children had been in SeleEnat for a long period time, they had built a strong attachment with the children in it, staff and environment as their home,” Kalkidan says. “This meant there were some predicted transition difficulties when they moved in with their mother.”
At first, the boys recoiled with any correction from their foster mother, saying they’d rather go back to live in the orphanage. They also struggled to adapt to new and different food, their new living environment and with what it meant to be part of a family.
But through this time, Seblewengel was patient and loving. Later, Jemal shared that her encouragement of them to share openly about their concerns and questions, and the daily help she gave them, helped him and his brothers get through this difficult time.
A time of transition is typical for any child whether they join a family domestically or internationally, even if the conditions are much better than what they experienced in an orphanage. Although for a child who stays in their home country and culture — who maintains their same language, food and surroundings — the transition tends to be smoother.
“The transition to the new home was very emotional for the children as well as for me,” Seblewengel says. “However, with the support of my family, friends and most of all working closely with the orphanage, I was able to understand the children in a better way to move forward.”
And as they moved forward as a family, life became easier for them all.
The Benefits of Foster Care for Children
“Compared to group home or institution care, family-based foster care offers children a more stable living experience,” Kalkidan says. In a foster family, children learn important social skills and grow deep relationships with their foster parents — all things that prepare them for living with a permanent family someday, too. For younger children who have never had a stable bond with a caregiver, foster care also helps them reach developmental milestones and develop the healthy emotional attachments that will be so critical for later relationships in life — attachments that are harder to develop with rotating caregivers in orphanages.
“Ultimately, the long-term hope for children in foster care is to get the opportunity of living a happy life by finding a caring parent who supports and encourages them every step of the way.”Kalkidan Teshar, program director at SeleEnat
With support from Holt, SeleEnat’s foster care program has continued to grow in the five years since Seblewengel helped initiate the program. Today, they hold robust trainings for foster parents, counseling and preparation for fostered children, and help provide foster families with the educational support, medical resources and more to help the children in their care thrive.
“Ultimately, the long-term hope for children in foster care is to get the opportunity of living a happy life by finding a caring parent who supports and encourages them every step of the way,” Kalkidan says. Foster care, in Ethiopia and around the world, is ideally a temporary solution, with the end goal of a child reunifying with their birth family or joining a permanent, loving family through adoption.
A Permanent Family
For Seblewengel, Yonas, Abel and Jemal, permanency was always the hope — and now it is finally coming to fruition.
Today, the boys are 13, 12 and 11 and thriving as brothers and with their mother. While they’ve moved twice since uniting with Seblewengel in 2018, they are now back in Addis Ababa, and attending the same school as their old friends from the orphanage! This has proved to be an ideal situation for them, where they can stay connected with their past, while thriving with all the nurturing care and love that Seblewengel has to give them.
While she is technically still their foster mother, from the beginning, adopting the boys was her greatest hope. Today, Seblewengel has begun the official domestic adoption process — now developed in Ethiopia — and hopes to become their legal, permanent parent soon.
Holt Ethiopia hopes that this family is the first of many to be united through foster care and domestic adoption. Because every child deserves a family of their own — just as Yonas, Abel and Jemal now have with Seblewengel.
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