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SELAM story

Last year, SELAM celebrated its 35th anniversary. Over recent years, countless children and young people received the opportunity to complete a traineeship and thus take control over their own life. We are excited to see what challenges lie ahead in the coming years. But how and why was SELAM established in the first place?

Prehistory SELAM

In 1962, David and Marie-Luise Röschli and their four children visited Ethiopia, and moved there permanently in 1975. During this time, they adopted six Ethiopian siblings from a neighbouring family. After the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie, the family of 12 returned to Switzerland. You can read about the entire lead-up to SELAM's foundation in the books of Marie-Luise Röschli . 


Who founded SELAM?

SELAM wasn't set up by a single founder, but an entire family of founders. Zahai Röschli (herself an orphan), the oldest adopted daughter of Marie-Luise and David Röschli, grew up in Ethiopia. Because of the famine in Northern Ethiopia in 1983/84, Zahai Röschli decided to move back to Ethiopia in the spring of 1985 and set up a children's home in Addis Abeba. Her parents, family and friends supported her in this endeavour. Marie-Luise and David Röschli re-emigrated to Ethiopia in 1989 in order to support Zahai in person.

Sadly, Marie-Luise and David Röschli are no longer with us.

Here you can see which members of the founding family are still actively involved with SELAM.

How was SELAM set up?

The construction of the children's home was soon followed by that of a school and a clinic, and the launch of various agricultural projects. The question of what would come next for the children once they completed their school education moved Marie-Luise and David Röschli to establish a vocational training centre. The children were thus given the opportunity to complete a vocational training course focusing on manual skills directly at SELAM. People with practical skills are important to the country's development. And so SELAM has continued to grow over the past 35 years, yet the vision hasn't changed – helping children, young people and the local community to live an independent existence.


The history and development of SELAM has been greatly shaped by trust, friendship and hard work. Find out more about SELAM's key milestones.


30'000m2 land

In 1984, the Ethiopian government put out a televised broadcast asking people abroad to help Ethiopia. And so shortly thereafter, Zahai returned to Ethiopia to get a better picture of the situation. After visiting the refugee camps, it was clear to her that she now had to take action.  She negotiated with the Ethiopian government and received 30,000 m2 of land for the construction of a children's home. David, Zahai's father, drew up all the plans for the necessary infrastructure.

The first children

Once back in Switzerland, Zahai told her friends and acquaintances about her project. Within a very short time, she received a large quantity of clothes, food and construction materials. In May 1985, the first fully loaded shipping container was sent to Ethiopia. On 16 July 1986, the first 19 boys and 13 girls moved into the SELAM children's home. By the end of the year, the number had grown to 69 children.

Die ersten Kinder

The first school

At this time, the state schools were overcrowded and so the decision was made for SELAM to set up its own school. David drew up the plans for a school house with four classrooms for all the SELAM children. By 1988, 343 children from the children's village and surrounding area were already being educated at the SELAM school.

Die erste Schule

The Vocational Training Center

In 1989, David and Marie-Luise Röschli decided to re-emigrate to Ethiopia in order to take on the construction of a vocational training centre and other projects, including a clinic. For this purpose, the government granted them 400,000 m2 of land. All the plans for the workshops, offices, dormitories and cafeteria were drawn up under David's supervision. In 1991, the time had come – the first 18 trainees began their locksmithing course. Additional traineeships were being planned in the fields of Electrical Engineering, Vehicle Mechanics, Agriculture and Housekeeping. 

Das Berufsbildungszentrum

Beginning of community support

During the severe famine, SELAM regularly distributed food and clothing to the families of former soldiers and to refugees. The clinic, which was co-funded by the Swiss government, was completed in 1988. And over the course of approx. 1,000 consultations, people living within and outside the SELAM children's village receive medical treatment. 

Beginn der Nachbarschaftshilfe

A second site in Hawassa

In early 2007, David and Marie-Luise Röschli handed over the directorship of SELAM to Markus and Corinne Büchler and moved to Hawassa (Southern Ethiopia) in order to set up a second vocational training centre in collaboration with the Dutch aid organization Dorcas : Selam Awassa Business Group PLC (SABG). At SELAM Awassa, people can complete traineeships in Housekeeping, Metalwork and Mechanical Engineering.
CZ_Übergabe Markus Büchler an Zenebe und

Under Ethiopian management

As the result of a new law for NGOs (non-governmental organisations), an Ethiopian SELAM association was set up in late 2009. Its governing board assumed strategic responsibility. On 29 June 2010, Markus Büchler handed over the management of SELAM to Zenebe Tesfaye, so that SELAM's operations were now fully under Ethiopian control. Shortly thereafter, SELAM's founder, Zahai Röschli, was elected to the national governing board. In 2015, Zenebe Tesfaye was succeeded as director by Shewangezaw Lulie, who then passed on the role to the current director, Solomon Chali, in 2018. 

Äthiopische Leitung

A third site in Dire Dawa

In October 2019, an additional training workshop was set up in Dire Dawa in Eastern Ethiopia under the management of Ashenafi Berhanu. This site was also established with the assistance of SELAM's partner organisation, Dorcas . Here, the focus is currently on traineeships in Metalwork and Production, both to meet the site's own needs and to manufacture well-established SELAM products such as brick presses and wheelbarrows.

Dire Dawa

SELAM Elshadai Wukro 

On 1 August 2021, the process of integrating the Wukro Children Project into the SELAM Charity Switzerland got under way. Managed by Ethiopians, the Elshadai Wukro children's village has been receiving support from a Swiss team of volunteers for over 10 years now. The project has grown extensively in recent years. To foster healthy further development, the team has decided on a course of project integration. Monika Gilgen, from the Wukro project team of volunteers, has become a member of the board of SELAM Charity Switzerland.  To find out more about the Wukro Children Project, please see our blog post or visit the Wukro Children Project website .



Today, SELAM still works in accordance with its original vision

– to enable people in Ethiopia to live an independent existence – and continues each day to help people in need. 

In recent years, SELAM has established valuable partnerships with a wide variety of organisations, agencies and companies, which have also helped SELAM continue to develop.

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