A Journey through Giving
Helen Gebregiorgis was born in Tigray, Ethiopia in a small town named Shire. At the age of two, her father and pregnant mother fled the war-torn Ethiopia in the early 80s. Along with many others fleeing the war, they made the treacherous journey in hopes of reaching Sudan, where many displaced Ethiopians sought refuge. Often under constant airstrikes, this courageous group hid in the day and traveled by night and it was during that journey that her mother gave birth to Helen’s younger sister, Yordanos. The family of four arrived safely in Sudan after a long and frightful migration.
With the process of coming to America being difficult and unattainable for most, many Ethiopians at that time settled into refugee camps in Sudan. In the eight years it took to come to America, Helen’s family had grown by two more siblings: her brother, Daniel and sister, Jerusalem. In 1990 the family finally arrived in America and settled in North Dakota. News of a large and close-knit Ethiopian community in Seattle, WA inspired the family to move to Seattle where they have resided ever since.
Shortly after their relocation to Seattle and only two years after arriving in America, Helen’s father suffered a heart attack at the age of 62 and Helen’s mother suddenly found herself widowed with four young children. With her mother working multiple jobs to support her young children who were often left home alone to fend for themselves, the responsibility fell onto Helen to care for and look after her siblings as the eldest.
Making a Difference
"Hospitals and clinics are very limited within this area. Not only is medical services limited for families, but medication is very limited for Mothers and their children."
— Helen Gebregiorgis, Executive Director, Founder
Being a single mother of three proved to be a big challenge, but Helen readily embraced the struggle and worked hard to provide her children the stability she didn’t have growing up. With the help of her mother, siblings and friends, Helen’s children were surrounded by love, joy, and laughter with many family trips and sleepovers.
In the early morning June 12, 2010 during a sleepover like countless sleepovers before, a fire broke out in Helen’s apartment and claimed the lives of all her three children: 13-year-old Joseph, 6-year-old Nisreen, and 5-years old Yaseen, as well as that of her youngest sister, twenty-two-year-old Jerusalem and 7-year-old niece Nyella. As the deadliest fire in Seattle in decades, the sudden and tragic loss of young, beautiful lives was hard to fathom not only in Seattle but through-out nation as well. The Ethiopian community rallied around Helen and her family to provide support.
There are no words that can adequately describe a mother’s loss of a child, much less the horrific, sudden experience of losing all three at once and along with a sister and a niece. It is unimaginable losses such as these that defy sense and test one’s faith in God, and yet, in the darkest moments of her life, Helen remarkably turned to God and reaffirmed her faith in Him.
It has been almost nine years since that fateful day, and it is through the power of prayer and the continued support of community that Helen and her family have been able to live one day at a time. Unsurprisingly, Helen’s nurturing instincts became her most healing source as she sought solace in working with other children through her charity work; she dedicated her time to visiting hospitals and schools, gathering supplies and clothes for those in need and volunteering at Boys and Girls Club. And in 2014 in what can only be described as a miracle, Helen gave birth to twin boys, Josiah and Elias.
Through her involvement in her community, Helen stayed informed about circumstances back home in Ethiopia in which access to medical care plagued the country she left at the age of two. Learning that the mortality rate for mothers and children in Ethiopia is one of the highest in the world resonated with her and her loss. Determined to save as many mothers and children as possible, Helen started The Five Angels not-for-profit medical clinic named in honor of the children and family members she lost.
The Five Angels venture is an ambitious project to build more clinics in the most remote areas where access to medical care is almost non-existent. It is with faith in God and the help of donors and volunteers that Helen hopes to turn her family’ tragedy into a lifelong mission of honoring their memories and making an everlasting positive impact in her home country. It is also a personal way for Helen to connect her late children with the country they never got the chance to see.