A life in full circle: Abraham’s story

September 26, 2016
Written by Kieran McConville
Photo by Kieran McConville

The poignant story of how an inspiring act of kindness almost 30 years ago paved the way for many more.

“Why do you do what you do?” is a pretty standard question fielded by those in the humanitarian world. In return, we often hear a pretty standard set of answers, but Concern’s Abraham Asha has a particularly special one.

Concern doctor, meningitis in Ethiopia

A Concern doctor tends to patients infected by meningitis in Ethiopia in the late ’80s.

In 1988, he was enjoying student life at the University of Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, where he was pursuing a degree in demography. What he didn’t realize at the time was that some 300 miles South, his home village had been overrun by a serious outbreak of bacterial meningitis. “Many people were dying,” he explains. “People were falling down in the street and would die in as little as 24 hours.”

The dreadful news started to filter through to him and it was bad — very bad. “My parents were caring for some of my uncles and aunts who had become infected.” Soon the meningitis had stricken his father, mother, brother and two of his sisters. “It was terrible,” he recalls.

Abraham was in contact with another sister by phone, and it seemed the worst was inevitable. She told him that his parents were dying and it would only be a matter of hours.

Then, something amazing happened. Literally a life-changing event.

“They asked if she knew of anyone affected by Meningitis in the village. She took them to our house.”

“My sister, who was living in another village, was on the street near our home, when a car drove up and two “ferenge” (foreigners) jumped out,” says Abraham. “They asked if she knew of anyone affected by meningitis in the village. She took them to our house.”

Concern staff during meningitis outbreak in 1988-89

Concern staff outside of a temporary treatment center in Ethiopia during the meningitis outbreak of 1988-89.

The two aid workers were with Concern Worldwide (Concern wasn’t working in Abraham’s home area, but they had rushed in from another district after learning about the disastrous outbreak), which had set up a temporary treatment center about 18 miles away in Edo Boloso. They took all five members of Abraham’s family to the center, where they received intensive care over the next ten days.

Miraculously, all of them survived.

“It was like an angel from God,” says Abraham Asha. “My family benefited and was saved from certain death… and also many others in my village. The deaths were stopped.”

“It was very clear in my mind that Concern had saved my family.”

But the story doesn’t end there. As Abraham continued to pursue his studies, he often heard references to Concern Worldwide during visits home. “It was very clear in my mind that Concern had saved my family,” he recalls. “Ten years later, while I was studying for my Masters, I decided to visit the Concern office, where I met the Country Director (Carol Morgan). She encouraged me to apply for a job – and I did.”


Abraham Asha at Concern Ethiopia in 2016.

Today Abraham Asha is a member of the senior management team for Concern Ethiopia — helping lead the organization’s ongoing work of saving and improving lives. Last year alone, Concern directly impacted the lives of more than 400,000 people. Currently the team is responding to the worst food crisis in Ethiopia in 30 years.

“I feel like my time with Concern has been about paying back. When I face challenges in my job I think about what happened back in 1988 and it gives me energy. I am inspired.”

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