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Set against the Ethiopian abandoned children crisis, two orphan brothers are faced with the reality of never being adopted.

Days before his 18th birthday, Abel (Ethan Herisse, ​When They See Us​) finds himself about to age out of his orphanage and leave his younger brother, Kiya (Adonai Kelelom), behind. But when a prospective adopting couple threatens to break their relationship apart, the brothers wrestle with waiting for a dream that may never be fulfilled.

Director’s Vision

In 2018, I first visited Ethiopia on a missions trip with my church. During my stay in the orphanages, I befriended a 16-year old boy named Abel. As I spent time with him, I learned more about the abandoned children crisis in Ethiopia – where more than five million children are orphaned. His life inspired me to write a narrative film about his future. Like millions of other orphans, Abel will age out from his orphanage at 18, leave his younger brother behind, and live on the streets.

In 2019, alongside Orphan Care Ethiopia, I returned to Addis Ababa with several NYU students to begin production. Collaborating with local Ethiopian cast and crew, we filmed in the same orphanages I first visited in 2018, bringing the story back to its origins. I even reunited with Abel again.

Right now, on the other side of the world, five million Ethiopians between the ages of 0-18 remain orphaned. Ultimately, I want to dedicate this film to the children we’ll never forget, 7,000 miles away. Their plight is real, and their need is urgent.

To learn more about how ​The Other Side ​is working to promote local solutions in Ethiopia, please visit ​​.


The Abandoned Children Crisis

Since Ethiopian legislation banned foreign adoptions in January 2018, 5% of its entire population has remained orphaned. Due to poverty, HIV, chronic illness, and lack of female empowerment programs, there are 5 million vulnerable children ranging from infancy to 18 years of age. Hundreds of private orphanages have been forced to close due to lack of funding, resulting in millions of vulnerable children often living their entire lives on the streets. With too many children and not enough domestic adoptions, government orphanages find themselves overburdened and unable to provide basic and emotional needs.


Director Josh Leong
Josh Leong / Director, Writer

I think the most memorable part for me was arriving at the boys orphanage. I had first visited in 2018 on a missions trip, but I didn’t think I’d ever come back. So it was completely surreal to hop off the team van and see kids that I recognized. I remember asking around to see if Abel was still living there – the orphan boy I wrote the film about. And sure enough, he came out to meet us and I gave him a massive hug. Coming full circle was really emotional. Abel ended up slating for us while we filmed on the premises, and some of the older boys who were intrigued by the camera were constantly following us around. It was really touching.

Though at first our Ethiopian crew ate their lunch together, in the last days of production, they waved us over to join them. I followed along as each one of us washed our hands and sat around the basket: filled with fresh vegetables and meat and topped with injera, the staple sponge-like bread of Ethiopian food. After gathering around the meal, we began tearing at pieces of injera and munched away side by side. Though a week before we had been strangers, the communal meal ignited a sense of family and closeness — of respect and appreciation for one another. There was nothing more moving than to be welcomed into their close-knit community and culture.

Sofia Bara
Sofia Bara / Producer
Tom Ingwersen
Tom Ingwersen / Director of Photography

There obviously were a lot of memorable experiences from me falling with the camera in the middle of a crowded market to us learning about Ethiopia’s intricate culture from some locals. However, the most touching and vivid memories are from our interactions with the orphans. In the state funded orphanage a kid literally took me by the hand once we entered the premises and gave me a tour of where he lives, where he eats and finally also where they all sleep. We couldn‘t communicate past facial expressions, but it was extraordinary how despite the conditions, he could still be so proud of where he is from.