A Lost Daughter’s Return

By Laura Alsum   |  Photos by Donna Atola, Kenya Field Communications Specialist

With unwavering support from her mother and Hope Center, a young woman overcomes her addictions and gives back to her community.

Kenean and her mother Esther.

“If it weren’t for the Hope Center, I wouldn’t be here,” says Kenean Birhanu, who was previously a sponsored child at a Hope Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

As a child, Kenean loved everything about the Hope Center: the food, her friends, loving Child Champions who felt like family, and summer movie nights, which were her favorite.

She cherished her sponsor, Greta, and the letters and prayers of encouragement she received. She excelled in school and looked forward to music class and biology the most.

But at the age of 17, Kenean’s world turned upside down.

Finding Comfort in the Wrong Places

Kenean’s parents suddenly divorced, and with her father failing to pay child support, her mother Esther was left as the sole provider for her and her younger sister and brother.

As a single mother living in poverty, Esther could no longer afford their basic necessities.

They had no choice – Kenean had to start working. As a teenager, Kenean became exhausted from balancing a job and school, and she fell into a depression as the pressure of supporting her family mounted.

She craved an escape and found this in a group of friends she met at a skate park.

Kenean’s new friends introduced her to a new form of release: drugs and alcohol. Soon, she was fully addicted. Kenean quit work and school and left home to live with these friends.

Even though she had to hustle to pay for food and rent, she enjoyed the freedom of only taking care of herself. She would visit her family from time to time but didn’t care that her mother was constantly crying about her and worrying herself sick. Kenean didn’t care about much of anything, in fact.

A Long Road Ahead

Although Esther knew what her daughter was doing was wrong, she was never judgmental toward Kenean and told her that she could always come back and recover from her addictions. But when Kenean didn’t, Esther realized she needed to stage an intervention.

Kenean now volunteers at a Hope Center where she teaches a computer and graphic design class.

Esther eventually brought Kenean to a recovery clinic in a hospital. Kenean at first resisted, thinking it was a place for “crazy” people, but when she saw the desperation in her mother’s eyes, she decided to give it a try and signed the paperwork to receive treatment.

The next two months were some of the hardest for Kenean and her family. She hated the hospital. She was forced to take medicine, and when she tried to escape, she was beaten. Her friends came to visit her and brought drugs, and she started peddling them to others at the hospital, so she was kicked out.

The doctor told her mother that she was a lost cause. People at Esther’s church even prayed for Kenean’s death because she was such a bad influence in the community, and they saw the end of her life as the only solution.

But her mother never gave up on her. She knew God gave her this child for a reason.

After Kenean was released from the recovery program, Esther planned for Kenean to live with her aunt so she would be away from the bad influences and friends that started her on her path to addiction. This was a short-lived arrangement, however, since Kenean just found new friends who were also into drugs and alcohol.

So she returned home only to fall right back into her old ways, despite Esther’s cries and pleas.

Resilient Love

During this time, Kenean’s former Child Champion, Frehiwot, called Kenean consistently to check in on her and let her know that the people at the Hope Center loved her unconditionally. Kenean ignored Frehiwot every time she called.

Kenean watches as her mother prepares coffee in a traditional ceremony.

But Frehiwot didn’t give up. She needed Kenean to know the value that she had as a child of God.

One day, Kenean realized how tired she was – tired of being addicted and making her mother sad, of disappointing her brother and sister and community.

Kenean says what happened after that was a miracle: She just stopped. She stopped abusing drugs and alcohol. She stopped hanging out with her enabling friends. She stopped running from her problems and her heartache.

After a long, hard year, and with God’s grace and the support of her mother and mentors like Frehiwot, Kenean made a full recovery. She has now been clean for three years.

Hope, Healing, and Giving Back

The Hope Center was truly a source of hope for Kenean, as Child Champions helped her pass her high school graduation exam and provided half of her college tuition funds. She always loved computers and received her degree in information technology a year ago.

Now, Kenean works as a freelancer, teaching kids coding and website design. She also volunteers at the Hope Center where she teaches a computer and graphic design class.

The children at the Hope Center constantly amaze Kenean – they are so free and eager to learn.

Her wish for them is that they will be strong and have faith in God, that they’ll understand that even when things may seem bad, they can get better. You don’t have to be in the bad place forever. There is always hope.

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