Stories of Transformation

Zafu and Melesech

Excerpts from an interview by Alexandra Chen, June 2010

Born in the countryside outside of Zeway, Zafu and Melesech grew up as farmers’ children knowing little about their father except that he had many wives. Thus their mother shouldered their upbringing, providing Melesech, whose left leg was amputated at a young age, with strong encouragement and support.

In 2005, their mother died due to complications from tetanus. Eleven-year-old Melesech, now solely responsible for her 5-year-old brother, was not able to stay in school. She and Zafu moved to Zeway where she hoped to find work and support Zafu to continue his studies.
They lived briefly in their aunt’s shed, so measly that it was soon destroyed in a rainstorm. They became homeless, their pleas for help ignored by every member of their extended family.

Three years later, with the help of the Austin Churches, Food for the Hungry (FH) set up separate funding for “Children as Heads of the Household” (CHH), and in October 2009 FH enrolled both Zafu and Melesech in the Zeway Partnership.

Through the Partnership, they are getting all of their needs met: physical, intellectual, emotional, and spiritual. They are watched over by two FH social workers: Tigist and Fitr who love and care deeply for Zafu and Melesech.

Zafu: Sometimes, I think he’s (Fitr) like the Dad I never had. The FH leaders made me realize that God has a plan for me… and now He is my moral compass for making the right decisions…. especially when I’m angry or afraid.
Melesech nods: It took a while for me to accept, especially because I was so despairing, so angry… what had we done to deserve this fate? I felt God had forgotten us. But now I know that our hope, our joy and our purpose is in God and God only… I thank Him every day for having mercy on us through FH.

Melekete and Denebe

Excerpts from an Interview by Alexandra Chen, June 2010

Left alone after their parents’ death, Melekete (14) and Denebe (10) lived in a mud hut in a hopeless existence choosing between food and school daily. They wept bitterly and uncontrollably when the team from Austin first visited them.

Since then, the Zeway Partnership has helped to provide them a future and a hope. Food, clothing, shelter, schooling and job training have been secured for them.

Each day we wake up with renewed hope and confidence in our future. We also have… a freedom we never had before. – Melekete

The sisters attend a grief and loss peer support group in which they are healing from their own pain. Melekete is now helping other orphans find healing by visiting them and caring for them when they are sick.

Ultimately, Melekete dreams about becoming a doctor:

“so I can help all those other children who are in desperate situations. Not all of them are as lucky as we are.”

You can hear the full story of Melekete and Denebe by watching this short video.

The Tuthill Family

Sometimes the biggest transformations start the smallest.

In 2008, when Baker Tuthill was 4 years old, he received a tiny card at church in Austin. The card showed a thin Ethiopian boy named Ibsa, and described his unstable living conditions as an orphan in Zeway. He looked and sounded very sad and hopeless. Baker’s heart connected with Ibsa’s plight, and he decided to pray for Ibsa every night with his parents.

Three years later, Baker’s mom and dad found themselves on a plane to a strange new place, moved to action by the concern of their own small son. His passion had become theirs. Baker had sent them off to Ethiopia with a colorful picture he made for Ibsa, and included a photo of himself, but his parents warned him that with so many children to visit, they might not actually get to meet this particular one.

On the last day of their time in Zeway, during a huge “play day” hosted by Food for the Hungry, the Tuthills recognized Ibsa playing soccer with a group of boys. Now a healthy teenager in stable housing, Ibsa was going to school and receiving career training through the partnership. They hugged him, told him they had been praying for him for years, and thanked God for allowing them to actually meet this special stranger whom their son loved so much from afar. When the Tuthills presented Baker’s picture to Ibsa, the young man thanked them and disappeared for a while. Just before the Austin team left Zeway, Ibsa returned with a gift for Baker: a new photo of himself, perhaps the only one he had. And in this new picture, Ibsa is smiling.


One of our most recent transformation stories involves a young man named Chala. He is 17 years old and is the eldest of 4 children. Both of his parents died several years ago and he has been living with his 3 younger siblings (Genet, Tariku, and Mohammed) since their passing. They are a tight knit family that sticks together and watches our for each other.

All four children are part of the Partnership program in Zeway. Through the program, they have been provided with all their basic needs (food, shelter, clothing, etc.). Not having to worry about where their next meal will come from has allowed them to stay committed to school and their education. Chala has taken his education very seriously and has worked hard to excel in his studies. His hard work has paid off as he recently passed the college entrance examines and will be attending University in the fall of this year. The Partnership will be offering him a scholarship to ensure nothing keeps him from being able to pursue this opportunity.

What an amazing thing Chala has accomplished. He has overcome the loss of his parents, carried the responsibility of raising his siblings, and stayed focused on his education. We pray that Chala would be an example for other orphans in Zeway to overcome their struggles.