A single father in Ethiopia overcomes self-doubt to give his children quality care

Tuesday, June 25, 2024
Ethiopia single father

Zewde, 42, was not sure how good of a single parent he would be after his wife of 19 years died suddenly. He doubted his ability to earn a living and nurture his family at the same time. Despite many struggles, the father of a daughter and four sons has managed to keep his family together. 


He says taking good care of his five children is the best tribute he can give to his late wife. 


“I have replaced their mother,” says Zewde. “I cook for them and scald my fingers in the fire, and I have no time to socialize with my friends anymore – but that is okay.  I will always put my family first. I try to follow in my wife’s footsteps, remembering her dedication and how well she cared for our children. I fall way short, though; I am not able to do it like she did.” 


Zewde, 42, is a farmer in Tulu Moye in the Oromia Region of Ethiopia, an area rich in wheat farming. He grows his own food - maize, vegetables, beans, and wheat on land he leases from neighbours. He sells the excess harvest for income. 


The father of five says that even when his wife was alive, their income was barely enough. Sometimes, the children could not go to school because of his inability to cover the costs of tuition and supplies, delaying their education despite their advancing age. At 20 years old, his eldest daughter is only in grade nine. The 19-year-old is in grade eight, and the youngest, at 11 years old, is in grade two. 


Farming is hard work, and with production dramatically reduced by unpredictable weather, harvests are not what they used to be. Yet the prices of fertilizers, inputs, and land rent keep rising. 


Feeling overwhelmed


For Zewde, carrying his children’s emotional and physical needs alone feels overwhelming. He says even a donkey, a renowned beast of burden, would find it difficult.   


“The donkeys and cars on the road cannot carry the weight I am carrying around,” he says. “Supporting a family is a very heavy burden.


“I face countless daily issues like the price of onions, cooking oil, sugar, and other essentials. In the end, I run out of money, only to find that I cannot afford charcoal to cook. Being responsible for the household is very difficult.” 


Not alone


The good news is that Zewde is not really “alone.”  


In 2018, the family was enlisted to receive support from the SOS Children’s Villages Family Strengthening Program. His wife was registered as the primary caregiver, a title Zewde now carries.  


The children are in school with education support from the program. Occasionally, when there is a pressing need, the family receives hygiene kits and food parcels. 


The SOS Family Strengthening Program is tailored to address the individual needs of each family. Zewde’s need to improve his parenting skills has been addressed with training on how to nurture his children, develop routines, and implement consistent discipline. 


To cushion him from financial stress, the single father joined the Village and Savings Loan Association (VSLA), which encouraged him to develop a culture of saving while giving him access to money he could use to meet his children’s needs.  


The Family Strengthening Program addresses factors that threaten family life, preventing child-family separation while promoting a stable environment essential for the development and wellbeing of children.   


“SOS Children’s Villages support,” Zewde says, “has been vital for the family’s survival.”  


“If I were to pass away like their mother did, no one, not even my father, would manage to provide a home for my children. They would be like puppies divided amongst relatives, and they would lose their education. There is no one who could support this family like SOS Children’s Villages does.”


The widowed father reminisces on his life as a young boy and attributes his poor quality of life to a lack of education. He argues that his parents should have sent him to school instead of leaving him to herd livestock. 


By intentionally keeping his children in school, Zewde is breaking a cycle of generational poverty.


“I plan to educate my children to the maximum level possible until they achieve something for themselves,” says Zewde.  


“I expect the older children will support this family and their younger siblings once they settle into their jobs. These children brought my wife and I great satisfaction and joy; their success is very important to me. I am not an educated man, but I will consider myself successful if they are successful.”  


Zewde is not entirely cut off from social life. He has three friends who often come to his house to visit him. They plough the fields together and take care of each other’s wellbeing. One of the men has four children. He says Zewde is a role model for the men in the community. They feel he is doing a good job as a father.


When asked whether his friends hint that he should marry again, Zewde says there is pressure from different quarters, but he tells them, “Not yet.” 


“My wife fell sick at night, and I rushed her to a health centre nearby,” he continues unprompted.  


“The doctor tried to save her in what seemed like five minutes… “Zewde turns his head to look at a large, framed photo of his wife sitting on the shelf surrounded by bright plastic flowers, “then she was gone.” His eyes are sad. It is clear he is still mourning. 


“My relationship with my kids is great,” Zewde adds after a moment of silence. “We laugh, eat and drink coffee together. And they are doing well at school. One thing I know is that an outsider will not be good for this family.  


“I have put in a lot of hard work here, and I will not allow anyone to take that for granted. I would rather support my children with short-term help. What I fear the most is for someone to mistreat them. They enjoyed the love of their mother, and they loved her. I want to keep that memory. Like trees have leaves, they have me, and I have them, and we have each other.” 

Canadians wishing to help vulnerable children are encouraged to sponsor a child, sponsor an SOS Village or make a one-time donation. Your support will change the lives of orphaned, abandoned and other vulnerable children. Please help today.