Washingtonians of the Year 2011: Fatima and Ibrahim Savage

Home and Hope for Montgomery’s Neediest Kids

By: Leslie Milk

Photograph by Jeff Elkins.

After arriving in the US in 1986, Fatima Savage began sending money to her native Sierra Leone to help children escape that war-torn country. In 2010, she and her husband, Ibrahim, saw a TV plea for foster parents and realized there were children in the US who needed saving, too. They were soon licensed as foster parents and began opening their Silver Spring home to children. Before long, they had accepted 11 kids, ages 2 through 14. Unlike many foster families, they made room for brothers and sisters so they wouldn’t be separated. At one point, that meant welcoming a family of four.

Last June, the Savages became foster parents to three siblings, two of whom have autism. Those two, ages nine and ten, had been abandoned, according to Agnes Leshner, director of Montgomery County Child Welfare Services. Both were nonverbal, had never been to school, and needed 24-hour supervision. “Without this support and love, these children might have been placed in an institution,” Leshner says. “Mr. and Mrs. Savage exhibit tremendous love, warmth, and flexibility.” Now the children are enrolled in public school and learning to modify their behavior. They’ve been on family trips to the beach and an amusement park.

When the Savages started fostering, space in their house was tight. Fatima had been a single mother when she met Ibrahim. Her three older children, now grown, slept on the floor to free up space for kids in need. Now the two young children Fatima and Ibrahim have together are involved. This Halloween, the couple wasn’t sure the kids with autism could manage the hubbub. Ibrahim Savage, age nine, came up with costume ideas and inspired the family to let all take part.

Says Fatima: “Every kid deserves a home and somebody to love them.”

This article appears in the January 2012 issue of The Washingtonian.