Ethiopia is a beautiful land of beautiful people. It is also a land of orphans.
It is not uncommon to find families consisting only of children. This is one such family - five siblings all orphaned by HIV/AIDS. The four girls and one boy had seen their parents taken by the disease a couple of years before. Equipped with a tenacious resiliency, they decided to forge ahead together to keep living in the family home in Addis Ababa...five fingers of a hand working in concert to push, punch, grapple, and choke life’s adversities.
The concrete-blocked, metal-roofed building invites you across its threshold with five gleaming smiles and five pairs of open arms. This abode had seen its fair share of tragedy, the loss of parents compounded by the recent death of one of the remaining children who was struck down by a car. Yet, despite the overwhelming calamity heaped upon these precious children, there emitted a great sense of peace and joy from this humble dwelling. Believers all, the children radiated this peace from their spirits within, a peace that surpasses understanding.
On the mantle is a family photo in which the images of absent members were graphically inserted to compose a whole. It was a poignant reminder of the need to frequently capture pictures of gatherings for future posterity and remembrance.
The second oldest girl disappears into a back room and shortly re-emerges with a burner capped with an iron bowl. She grabs a few handfuls of raw coffee beans and, after lighting the contraption, proceeds to carefully roast them slowly over the flame. She stirs through them with a graceful sweeping motion to ensure that they are cooked evenly. The aroma of blackening coffee beans filled the small room as the children flit around.
After cooling, the coffee is patiently hand ground with mortar and pestle and then steeped in water that is boiled using the same crude apparatus. It is a beautiful and poetic process where the partaking of the grounds’ elixir comes a distant second to its tender preparation and presentation by this young orphaned girl. Three cups of coffee are ritually poured for each guest, each holding purpose and meaning according to Ethiopian custom.
The children begin to sing. The eldest daughter takes the lead with a soft melody extolling God’s loving faithfulness. She closes her eyes and raises her head to heaven as she sings with a voice of such sweetness that words can’t aptly describe. Her sisters and brothers join in with a hauntingly-beautiful chorus that melts hearts. It is as if time has paused and a glorious window to heaven has opened right there in the living room.
A light rain begins to pitter-patter on the tin roof above our heads. Starting as a gentle drumming it soon reachs its crescendo with a frenzied tympanic array of thumping beats. Still, the singing continues slowly, deeply, harmoniously. The juxtaposition of the angelic aria below and the percussion above creates a surreal moment that captures minds and spirits. The smell of fresh coffee continues to hang in the thickening air.
Here, five orphaned children are beating the odds, not only healing and surviving, but bringing others into the very presence of God through their worship and example. Here’ angels were dancing on the rooftop as God’s cherished children sang for Him underneath it, piercing it.
Child-headed households are extremely common in Africa. While these siblings are beating the odds, their circumstances are obviously not ideal. Through local churches in Ethiopia, World Orphans works to help child-headed households find foster parents or to find a church-based children's home for them to grow up in.