For most of his childhood, Samuel Liben sifted through refuse, desperate to find food for his family. The work was hard and dangerous, but with no father left at home, Samuel had little choice. He struggled against swarms of other workers, as well as dogs, donkeys, and scavenger birds big enough to bite his fingers off. This was life as he knew it from the age of five; the son of two lepers living in Korah, the garbage dump of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
At the age of 12, Samuel and another boy tried to escape their hunger by joining the Ethiopian Army. Rejected for service due to their youth and poor physical condition, they returned to the trash dump, searching for food and hiding from older dump workers who might abuse and exploit them.
One day, Samuel saw a group of men approaching the dump. Instead of carrying guns and sticks, these men came empty-handed, offering only a smile and wave. Samuel had always been an outcast wherever he went so he was overwhelmed at the friendly attention these men gave him. One member of the group, an American, introduced himself. To Samuel’s amazement, this man shook Samuel’s hand and hugged him.
At that moment, Samuel began to think maybe his life mattered and he was important after all. The man held Samuel’s hand as he was shown the terrible conditions of the dump. Over time, he helped Samuel find God.
One story from the Bible that stood out to Samuel was of Jesus touching and healing the leper in the Gospel of Matthew. As the son of two lepers and member of a large leper community, Jesus’ compassion was amazing. Samuel took initiative to reach out to his own community, serving and bringing hope to those afflicted with HIV and leprosy, children scavenging food from the garbage, and other desperate people.
He formalized his effort and created Great Hope Ethiopia in the capital Addis Ababa. It was at this point that International Samaritan met with Samuel and committed to finding ways to serve his community. Because of love and generosity, good things have happened.