Abebe Zewdu, born 1986, is a professional nurse, currently working to gain his Masters in Public Health, who works to promote women’s health in northern Ethiopia.
He has long had a special interest in women’s health and empowerment, both of which are important social issues locally.
Since 2012 he has worked as a professional nurse in the rural areas around two government health centers in northern Ethiopia.
He has regularly encountered pelvic organ prolapse cases while serving as a nurse, and this experience is what drives him to set up a special clinic in Lalibela.
Here is a longer (and rather interesting) story of Abebe’s life:
Abebe Zewdu and his story
My name is Abebe Zewdu, I was born February 22nd 1986. I am the first son to my parents. I have three sisters and three brothers, and they are younger than me. Two sisters are in school, 14 and 17 years old. One sister and three brothers are married and they are farmers. I am the only person to have had a degree level education from my village.
I joined lower class when I was the age of 10. My first school was called Birko elementary school. I stayed for 3 years only in my village school because it went up to 3 grades only. Every winter, after completing school I helped my parents by looking after their cattle. The first I started to look after the cattle when I was 5 years old. But I was more mature and responsible after I started school, at age 10.
To look after the cattle, my father sent me to the forests far away our home for three months, from the end of June to the end of September (school holidays). Once I went away to the forest to look after the cattle I could not come back home. It was very far, and no one would look after my cattle if I went away. So I would stay there for three months.
My father brought provisions to me every four days. We, the keepers of cattle from various herds, slept on the grass field. I had two very difficult adventures when I looked after the cattle in the forest.
First… I had friends who looked after their cattle with me. Once upon a time, while sleeping deeply on the mountain in the middle of the cattle, at midnight a perilous hyena came upon us and it howled continuously (uuuuuuuuuu, uuuuuu, uuu). My friends were older than me. I was very young (7 years old). They were highly confident and weren’t afraid of that dangerous hyena. They said “Hello!!! Hello!!!! Stand up…!!! Stand up…..!!! Stand up….! Everyone get up to bring stones and throw at the hyena!”. The hyena was very panicky – it ran away. I was very shocked, and wanted to hide! My friends tried to calm me but it was difficult to control my fear and panic.
Second… It was when I was 17 years old, in grade 10. I went to the forest with my cattle as usual. We were three friends there and, again, we slept on the mountain amid the cattle. At midnight, an African tiger came upon us. We had some nice calves. The cattle were restless and then one of my friends woke up. He started earsplitting us to wake up. We woke up, and visited and assessed the cattle, to find out why they were disturbed.
Unfortunately, the tiger had already killed one of the best calves. It was dead. We tried to find the tiger and saw it up on the mountain with the help of the moonlight. It was a titanic and tall tiger! We made shrill noises and threw stones and it was gone. We slept again but, after a while, the tiger came back again to take the dead calf. It took the calf and went over to the hill. It was a very powerful and tough African tiger. The memory of this is unforgettable.
After I completed grade three, I went to Ayna elementary school, 54km from Lalibela, attending from the 4th to the 8th grades. My father did not give me permission to go to school because most of my classmates were not going to continue school. My friends were not happy about continuing school and felt it was tough to travel a long way away to learn. My father had no awareness of the value of school.
At first he sent me to school just to learn writing and reading. But my ambition was extraordinary and I was fully confident I could reach up to a higher level. My elementary teacher advised my father to give permission for me to progress to the next step.
After I completed elementary school with distinction, my father decided to have me back home, for me to get married and become a farmer. That was a very complicated time for me. I said, “My father, if you want to block me from my ambition and interest, if you prefer to dance during my wedding, this is unrealistic. To be honest and to tell you frankly I will not live with you and I will come to a decision to suicide myself, and you will regret this. So don’t think Abebe will give up his education”. My Father was very sad and got annoyed. My mother was nervous and she advised my father to send me to school for a further grade. Finally, he decided to do this and allowed to me to go back to school. I was glad for the time being.
Then I came to Lalibela to attend the high school. Life became more difficult because my family was unable to help me. After some time I was forced to give up school for one year – I could not learn without food and shelter. Believe it or not, I was three days without food and with only water to drink. This was an unforgettable experience! This was when I was in grade 10, during the final examination period. I had finished my support before finishing the three years and taking the exam.
After a year I went back to my family again and I had a talk with my father, to persuade him to help me complete grade ten. I was unable to stop learning. My father was disappointed, since he wanted to convert me to farming. He was unable to support me but finally he let me go back to school.
I appealed to Lalibela high school. I wrote like this: “I am not getting food and unable to pay house rent and I won’t be able to attend my school. If you are able to help me please permit to me to learn without uniform, because I do not have money to buy uniform”. Our director was very good person. He permitted to me to not buy uniform and he helped me with some money. I learned without uniform from grade 9-12.
I tried writing poems, novels and other arts. I participated with amateur journalists. I won the Amhara region young people’s poet prize in 2006. I won a 300 birr award at the time. To me, the 300 birr was effectively like 600,000 birr at that time. This money was very helpful to my education. After I won the competition the amateur association gave me another chance.
The association was commissioned to distribute government newspapers. The newspapers were Addis Zemen, Addis Zemen magazine (Amharic journal) and Ethiopia Herald newspaper (English edition). I earned 0.05 Ethiopian cents profit per newspaper. The newspapers were daily and weekly. The newspaper is governmental but, to be honest, the government office did not give me the money on time.
After I struggled with this very difficult life I passed the national examination successfully. My family was very happy at that time. I went to university and then I gained a BSc nursing degree. Then I was tasked to go back to Lalibela after completing my studies. I had an ambition to serve underprivileged people, to help my community as a professional.
I was employed by Lasta Woreda health bureau, as a nurse. They assigned me to the Geter Meda health center (25km from Lalibela). I worked there for one year and two months. I applied to change workplace to Shumsheha health center (close to Lalibela airport, 23 km from Lalibela).
I worked for eighteen months for Shumsheha as a doctor. I was working 24 hours a day as an on-duty consultant. I worked in the outpatient department and MCH. The challenge was not so much the workload: it was many of the cases that upset me. 70% of cases were communicable diseases like HIV, TB, pneumonia and intestinal infections. The other cases were prolapsed womb, HTN, malaria, asthma and urethral infections.
The most difficult cases were prolapsed womb. It was painful and touched my heart. I was providing the only cleanup available, and inserted the uterus back in place again, and I gave antibiotics to cover patients for the time being.
I advised the women to drive to hospital, but they complained that they did not have the funds to go there. They did not want to go to hospital either. They pressured me to manage their problem myself, but that was impracticable.
The women were just not travelling to the hospital. There are many reasons: 1. there is no treatment for prolapsed of womb care in Lalibela hospital – people had to travel to Bahirdar or Addis Ababa to expel the prolapsed womb. 2. Women were unable to afford healthcare services because all the money was controlled by their husbands. Women have no rights – to be honest, it is too common in Africa. 3. Stigma and misperception about their problem.
The other cases that upset me involved pneumonia. It is common for children, especially below five years old. There were no good medical supplies and the appropriate place for treatment. So my responsibility was just to refer people to the hospital. One baby died on the way, while the family was taking him to Lalibela hospital with a referral paper from me. I was very disappointed! It is very difficult to treat serious illnesses of children at a low level health center, and it is painful to lose a single child.
After I had worked for three years, I went back to Addis Ababa, where I was employed at the Ethiopian national blood bank as a phlebotomist nurse. While there I did more studying. Now, I have a Masters of Public Health degree! My thesis was about the utilisation of long-acting contraceptives and barriers for family planning in the Lasta district.
It is my hope and intention to establish a prolapsed womb clinic in Lalibela. My initial idea is to invite voluntary specialists, and to deal with these problems free for women. If I may say, this is what I feel I am here to do.
It is difficult to succeed in this because I have a shortage of money to start this project. So this is why we are building this website. I want to play my part in society with this project: the world is not treating women fairly. But women have to be treated well, because they are our mothers and sisters. If you keep a woman healthy, you keep the whole family healthy.
This is a very limited essay about my life and my future vision, in very short!