Ethiopian woman returned home to help the poor

April 30th, 2009 | by addis portal |

If you want to be happy within your heart, do for others. Being unwanted, unloved, uncared-for, forgotten by everybody, I think that is a much greater hunger, a much greater poverty than the person who has nothing to eat. — Mother Teresa

As are so many of these columns, this one was generated by a call from a reader. In this instance, Olga Howe of San Luis Obispo wanted to know if I was interested in a goodstory (always), and if she could bring by an annual visitor to the Central Coast fora chat (of course).

Following our conversation, two questions arise: Ever meet a saint? Not in the canonized sense, but more in the venerable manner of Mother Teresa?


The Tribune – Tsige-Roman Gobezie is helping people in her native country of Ethiopia. Photo Jayson Mellom 4-22-09

If not, meet Tsige-Roman Gobezie, Olga’s friend through the Orthodox Church of the Annunciation in Santa Maria.

To know Tsige (pronounced “Siggy”), it’s helpful to understand just a few things about her homeland, Ethiopia. With 60 million people, the country is the third most populous nation in Africa. It’s old, real old, and is thought to be where the first humans lived. It’s also one of the poorest places on earth.

Tsige was born in Adwa, although she won’t say when “because my age is the only secret I have,” she laughs.

Warring factions of Marxists split her homeland and toppled Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974 and the conquerors went on to reign for the next 17 years.

Fed up with communist rule, Tsige left Adwa in 1981 and studied pharmacology at the University ofBeirut and later continued her education in the United States.

“I was working in Los Angeles and wanted to work in a smaller town,” she says in a voice that’s a delightful mixture of low tones and lilts. She saw an ad for a pharmacist opening in Santa Barbara County in 1985 and moved to Santa Maria to take the job and buy a home.

Following the fall of Marxist rule in 1991, the Ethiopian government offered incentives for expatriates to come home and help rebuild the ravaged country.

Tsige took them up on the offer in 2000 and went home. “The poverty was heart-breaking.” There are three groups most in need following the civil war, she adds: orphans, handicapped and the destitute elderly.

“You know all of them need help,” she says, sitting with a straight back and looking directly ahead. Although churches and aid groups help the children and handicapped a little, the elderly with no family have no safety net and will simply lie down and starve to death.

She returned to the States, sold her home and returned to her homeland in 2004.

The government gave her 21?2 acres of rocky ground on which she built a house. She put a fence around her acres and planted shade and fruit trees; within a year the yard was bearing fruit and is now like a jungle because of its location next to a river.

Twelve elderly folks between the ages of 65 and 90 moved into her home — the Gobezie Goshu Home for the Elderly — in April 2005. She now houses and feeds anywhere from 18 to 28 people, although she has enough mattresses to shelter 60 people. Sponsors of individuals help defray expenses of $30 a month per person.

If that weren’t enough, Tsige realized that youngsters were being left alone all day, sometimes without food from 5 a.m. to 8 p.m., while their parents worked. “So I decided to send them to kindergarten in 2005.”

Starting with just four kids, she now has sponsors for 460 youngsters in seven different kindergartens. Again, sponsors donate $50 a year per child, which covers tuition, books, lunch and uniforms.

“This is the life I’ve chosen to live,” she explains simply. “It makes me very happy. I wish I had done this earlier in life.”

Is Mother Teresa walking the earth as an Ethiopian?

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