Helmut Kutin Award winners 2015

Merlina Sabela from the Phillipines

On a cold and rainy November day in 2013 Merlina Sabela got up at 05:00 as usual to prepare breakfast for her nine children. Two hours later they were huddled together in the ceiling of their house while Typhoon Yolanda raged around them and flood water rushed through the rooms beneath.

Nanay Merlina, as she is affectionately known, made the escape hole in the ceiling herself. But her commitment to and love for her children go far beyond her courageous behaviour during Typhoon Yolanda. If anything, it only highlighted the special qualities of this former day care teacher who has raised 21 children during her 16 years at SOS Children’s Village Tacloban in the Phillipines.

With the sound of the howling wind and the pounding rain in their ears, Merlina encouraged her children to stay calm and prayed with them. When the rain finally stopped, she was the first to leave the ceiling with her oldest son, Nestor, to make sure it was safe for everyone to go down.

While Merlina never cried during their ordeal, she did cry when her children left without her to find temporary shelter in SOS Children’s Village Calbayog. The heartbreak only inspired her to work extra hard to clean and fix her house. It was no surprise that hers was the first to be ready for her children to return. Upon their return Merlina helped them overcome their trauma by speaking to each individually about their experience and assuring them that life will return to normal. She paid special attention to Chloe, a younger girl, who was particularly affected by the disaster.

Abebech Kibret from Ethiopia

“Yes, yes, yes! Aunt Abebech is coming to us!” is the excited cry often heard when children hear Abebech will be standing in for their SOS mothers on their days off or when they take annual leave.

The reasons are numerous why Abebech, or Abi as she is affectionately called, is the children’s favourite aunt. She makes time to play with them, listen to them and understands their problems. “Abebech’s ceaselessly sweet gestures make the children and youth feel cared for and protected,” is how the mutual love and respect between her and the young people is described. She doesn’t discriminate between her SOS Children’s Village family and her biological family. This is evident from the regular phone calls and visits from former SOS Children’s Village young people to whom she is still a mother figure.

She teaches young mothers how to take care of their babies and gives example in playing the mother role according to Ethiopian culture. Because the children and young people share their problems with Abebech, she is their voice in difficult situations. The story of Saba illustrates this.

Saba fell in love and decided to get married at a very young age. She dropped out of school andmisbehaved to such an extent that the SOS Children’s Village management considered disciplinary action. Abebech stepped in and convinced Saba to continue her education and insisted that she be given a second chance. Saba completed grade 12 and continued to qualify as a kindergarten teacher. She now teaches at a private school.

Isaac Adowk from Malakal

Armed soldiers, a crocodile infested river, rocket-propelled grenade fire and a 200 km long journey, mostly on foot. These are just some of the things Isaac Adowk (28) braved to save 33 children from SOS Children’s Village Malakal in South Sudan.‚Äč

Isaac was Youth Leader in Malakal when fighting broke out between anti-goverment forces and pro-government troops in December 2013. In mid-February 2014 Isaac took advantage of a lull in the fighting and evacuated 41 children, youth, mothers and aunts to the United Nations Mission in South Sudan. But increased tension made further evacuations impossible. During heavy fighting on 18 February 2014 that Isaac and 33 children were separated from the rest of the village. They were forced to flee across the Nile, swimming and with small boats. Some children and youth were taken by relatives, but Isaac was left with 23 children, of whom the youngest was two years old. As they embarked on their long journey to safety, Isaac faced many problems like finding food and safe places to sleep, while the smaller children cried for their mothers.

The dangers they faced included being killed or wounded, girls could have fallen victim to sexual abuse or rape and boys could have been taken and recruited by armed forces. More than two weeks after they set off, the group safely reached the small town of Palouch, from where they were evacuated to the new emergency SOS Children’s Village in Juba.

Even before the conflict started, Isaac proved himself to be an outstanding leader. He supports SOS Children’s Village mothers in their homes, helps young people with the transition from the village to the youth facility and sometimes acts as Village Director. He is respected by the youth, who listen to his advice and guidance.


We congratulate the winners!