In 2015, 158 children were reunited with their families through the work of No Ordinary Love Ministries (NOLM). The mission of NOLM is “to bless and serve people living in extreme poverty in Ethiopia, and beyond,” and one of the ways they live this out is through reuniting separated children with their families.

One such family is that of a young girl named Tesfanesh. Wanting to help support her parents, she agreed to travel from her village to the capital to find employment. After only a week in Addis Ababa, Tesfanesh ran away, unable to endure the demands of her new employers. Thankfully, a kind woman found Tesfanesh and brought her to the police station for help, and she was then taken to a local orphanage and joined the estimated 8,620 children who find themselves living in orphanages throughout Ethiopia. She was only 11 years old. She would remain there for the next four years.

Driven by the belief that children grow best in families and thrive in community, and by the desire for those they serve to “experience the tangible love of God through acts of justice and mercy,” in 2015 NOLM began a positive working relationship with government orphanages, The Child Justice Project, and local authorities to reunite children with their families. Through this partnership, children are referred to NOLM’s Emmanuel House, where the restorative process of reunification can begin and God’s tangible love is felt. Able to house 30 children, the Emmanuel House provides temporary holistic care including shelter, education, medical care, and psychosocial and spiritual support to help the children prepare to be reunited with their families. The average length of stay for a child is three months and the average age of children residing at the home is 12, but NOLM has referred children of all ages.

The staff at NOLM understands that each child’s situation is complex, and therefore they have developed a process to help assure that the reunification is successful. This process includes

  1. Holistic support and initial assessment to discover the children’s family backgrounds and how they found their way to Addis, as well as providing the support needed to be successfully reunited with their families.
  2. Pre-reunification family assessment to verify the location of the child’s family, determine if the family is willing to welcome the child back, and assess if it is in the best interests of the child to return home.
  3. Preparation for reunification including goodbye parties for the children at the Emmanuel House to reassure the children that the NOLM staff and other children love him/her and that he/she will be greatly missed. Edossa Tefera, NOLM Program Director, explains that it is also “the way [NOLM] initiates the other children to long for their turn to have such kind of goodbye party and go to their family.”
  4. Family reunification and community sensitization. While each reunion is unique, Edossa Tefera describes a typical reunification: “Once we arrive, we will let the child and family express their emotion before we start our paperwork. When everyone is calm, we use this opportunity to teach the family, neighbors and all people collected there to celebrate. We tell them the problem attached with sending children to big cities and warn them to take care in the future. Then we will do the paper work and finish.” NOLM will continue to follow up with the reunified children through phone calls and in-person visits to ensure that the children and their families are adjusting well.

When the orphanage referred Tesfanesh to Emmanuel House, her reunification process began. She shared how much she longed to be back home with her parents and siblings. Through her initial assessment, and with the aid of the local authorities, NOLM was able to contact her parents and inform them that she was alive and well and would be able to return home soon. According to NOLM, “When we initially contacted [her family] on the phone . . . they didn’t believe the news because they had exhaustively looked for her and were almost sure that she wasn’t alive. Tesfanesh’s return was a miracle, not only for her family, but for the whole town and whoever knew about her story. When they saw her in person, most people were lost for words. They stared at her with amazement . . . their eyes filled with tears.” Psalm 68:6 states that “God sets the lonely in families.” In the case of Tesfanesh, God, through the collaborative work of NOLM, set a lost and lonely child back into the arms of her loving family and community.

Stories like that of Tesfanesh allow us to see how restoration can be achieved when families, communities, ministries, and local authorities work together and live out the belief that children grow best in families and thrive in community. You can read more stories of family reunification in NOLM’s reflections.

To learn more about the importance of family, take advantage of the Faith to Action Initiative’s resources including Children, Orphanages, and Families and From Faith to Action: Strengthening Family and Community Care for Orphans and Vulnerable Children in Sub-Saharan Africa.