One family’s resilience keeps them together through life changing adversity

*TW: Suicide, sexual abuse, war. This story contains content that some may find upsetting. 

Struggling with severe poverty and poor health since birth, Telhem*, 21, faced daunting uncertainties in her early life but timely support from the SOS Children’s Villages Family Strengthening Programme helped to address her family’s needs and prevent further hardship.

Experiencing adversity from a young age, Telhem, who lives with her mother, Teken* and younger sister, Alem*, grew up battling feelings of fear and shame.

“At that time, we depended on other people to survive,” says Teken.

The children were young, and I had no way to earn a living. They had no beds, no clothes, no food, no education and no medication. That was a difficult time for us all."

The turning point

Telhem and her family were in poor health and at their lowest emotionally and financially when The Family Strengthening Programme came into their lives in 2016.

The Family Strengthening Programme offers tailor-made services to meet the unique needs of each family, addressing circumstances affecting their well-being and preventing unnecessary breakdowns while safeguarding children from losing parental care.

The first step taken to support Telhem’s family was to enroll her and her sister in school.

Additionally, on weekends, Telhem and her sister began participating in an intensive life skills training program designed to increase the well-being of children and young people.

Subsequently, the family strengthening team successfully advocated for the government to allocate a piece of land to the family to build their own home.

Telhem’s mother, Teken, also underwent a series of training sessions, launching a small business selling fruits, local cereals, and vegetables.

Reflecting on their progress, she remarks, “We started making strides. I earned between 150 to 200 Ethiopian birr per day (equivalent to £3) and saved 110 birr (about £2) per month.”

Unforeseen struggles

Everything seemed to be looking up for the family until Telhem was sexually assaulted while walking home from school.

This caused Telhem to go into what she describes as a ‘dark place’.

“I suffered from major depression and anxiety after that,” she says. “I was extremely sad, and I wanted to commit suicide.”

“My mother and Alem stood by me, but I could not speak to them without yelling. We were fighting all the time. I was so angry.”

Things would continue to get worse for the family when a brutal civil war broke out in the Tigray Region.

“We lost hope,” says Teken.

SOS Children’s Villages didn’t give up on us. They provided emotional and financial support as well as food whenever possible."

The war would go on to last for two years, leaving hundreds of thousands dead and millions displaced.

Continued support

“Now that peace has returned, I have reopened my business and Alem is going to school,” says Teken.

Although leaving a lasting impact on the family, with the support of medication and regular therapy sessions with an SOS Children’s Villages counsellor, Telhem has also managed to come out the other side of the dark place she was in.

SOS Children’s Villages picked me up when I fell and helped to wipe my tears."

The only time Alem joins the conversation, she talks about the youth who abused her sister. They were never caught, and this deeply pains her. The lingering feeling of injustice has pushed her to make changes to her career plans.

“My plan was to study natural science before, but I have changed my mind,’ she says. ‘I want to become a lawyer. I want to support sexual abuse survivors like my sister. I will fight hard for justice for those who cannot speak for themselves.”

A brighter future

Residing in Mekelle, Tigray’s capital, Telhem now works as a hairstylist in the mornings and attends a catering class in the afternoons.

Telhem has also rediscovered her passion for dancing and loves to dance to traditional Ethiopian music, turning the little space between the beds in their one-room house into a dance floor.

With a brighter future ahead, she now dreams of opening her own beauty salon.

“I’ve learned a lot from my struggles,” she reflects. “Now, I’m confident I can support my family.”

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