Connie Bisrat Brings Hope For Ethiopia

connie1.jpgThis month we honor a remarkable woman who has dedicated her life to serving orphans and the disabled in her native Ethiopia.

The country of Ethiopia is situated in one of the most volatile regions of the world.  Ethiopians have endured numerous wars with invaders and internal civil wars for centuries.  Even when the country has had a respite for peace, instabilities in the neighboring countries have made this country a haven for refugees from the troubled regions surrounding it.  In addition to the man-made calamities of war, the region has been plagued by drought and famine.  Although it is endowed with many natural resources, Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries on the planet.

Poverty in Tigrai (the northernmost region of Ethiopia) has been compounded for over a century by natural and man-made disasters. The people suffer from poverty and disease. AIDS is a pandemic in the region and its spread is very alarming; 5% of the 77 million population is living with the virus. Over 800,000 children are already orphaned by AIDS, and their relatives are afraid to care for them out of  fear of contracting the virus.  These children are shunned and left with no one to care for them.  The elderly who lose their supporting children to AIDS are driven into begging to survive. Youth in the region are giving in to self-destructive habits.


Connie Bisrat was born in Addis Ababa on January 3, 1959. While she was in high school, a military dictatorship came to the helm of power, dawning the darkest era of Ethiopian history. As a young teenager living in a girl’s hostel, Connie witnessed much bloodshed. After the director of the hostel left for Canada, she took over the running of the hostel while her country was in turmoil. She eventually managed to get to the United States on a student visa at a time when it was virtually impossible to leave Ethiopia. She wasn’t sure she would leave until the plane was in the air. She did not intend ever to return to her homeland, and settled down in New York in 1981.

After living and working as a New York City nanny for more than 20 years, Connie returned home with her husband Gebre M. Beyene (Gabe).  With the help of donations from friends, they created Hope Community Services, a local NGO (non-governmental organization) that serves orphans, the blind, destitute elderly and the disabled.  Connie and Gabe established an orphanage that serves children with and without HIV, and assists other community children – all from poor families.

The newly completed building has four independent floors, with a 75-person capacity.  Each floor is designed to house 25 children and a house parent.  Another building, currently under construction, will be able to house 125 more children.   Eventually a new orphanage exclusively for children with HIV will be built when funds are available.  (The intention was to house all the children in the same compound, but governmental regulations will not allow it).

The most enriching part of what Connie does is to see the children clean, fed, doing their homework, and happy.


Birhan is 7 years old.  After she lost her parents, she was cared for by an older sibling (a 14-year old sister).  Teenagers taking responsibility for their younger siblings is increasingly common in the region.  When Birhan came to Connie and Gabe, she was emaciated.  She is blooming now, very active and excelling in her studies.

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Embaba was 5 when Connie found her, HIV positive, covered in wounds on her head and body, legs and ears.  They were not prepared to care for a sick child, but when Connie saw her, she just had to take her in.  Embaba is now “beyond recognition”, having experienced a “total life change”.  One year later, this child is a typical, active 6 year-old, laughing, playing and going to school.  She would have died if she hadn’t joined the orphanage that gave her love and proper care.


Photo (youngest to oldest): EMBABA, FIKADU, BIRHAN, SENAI and KINDEYA


I had the pleasure of meeting Connie when my first daughter Amelia was a baby.  Amelia took to her immediately, and they enjoyed each other’s company immensely.  The hard work, the heart, the very presence of this woman is a gift to all children, especially now to the ones who need her the most.


Connie’s Wish List:

  • Seed money for income-generating projects. For the past 4 years, Connie and Gabe have depended on friends and friends of friends to keep the orphanage afloat.  Their goal is to make the orphanage self-supporting. They have received a donation for a cow shed (dairy farm), but they also want to set up a poultry farm.  This would produce food for the orphanage, and the surplus could be sold.  They also wish to build a private school which their children could use and which would be open (for an income-generating fee) to neighborhood children.
  • A Van. As their numbers continue to grow, their car that sits only 5 including the driver will be insufficient to transport all the children to their various appointments, and many of the children they care for require regular medical attention.
  • Funds to Complete Construction. The increased price of construction items and fuel prices have doubled in the last 4 years.  Their building plans are done, but one of the buildings remains incomplete.
  • Volunteers. All kinds of skilled and unskilled volunteers are needed.  Fluency in English is key to future success in the region, and anyone willing to teach English and play educational games with the children would be most welcome.  Medical professionals are needed both at the orphanage and in the local community.

New York City Relief ( is a 501(c)(3) organization that is the fiscal agent of Hope Community Services, Ethiopia.  They are located at 1181 East Broad St, Elizabeth, NJ 07201.  Their phone number is (800) 736-2773.  All funds donated go directly to the orphanage.  Checks should be designated: Ethiopia

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