Note from the webmaster, Palden Jenkins. When Abebe first contacted me I asked him for a short life-story, and he wrote a very moving piece which is reproduced below. I have slightly improved the English in it, to make it more readable.
Abebe Zewdu and his story
My name is Abebe Zewdu, I was born February 22/1986. I am the first son to my parents. I have three sisters and three brothers, and they are younger than me. One sister is in school, 13 years old. Two sisters and three brothers are married and 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 (Ethiopian wintertime, school holidays). After I had 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 my 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, like me, looked after their cattle with me. Once upon a time, while sleeping deeply that night on the mountain in the middle of the cattle, at midnight a perilous hyena came upon us and it stridently 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, very shrink! My friends tried to calm me but it was difficult to control my fear and panic – and they were just teenagers.
Second… It was almost when I was 17 years old, when I was 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 amidst the cattle. At midnight, an African tiger came to 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 did wake up and we 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 little 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.
School time. 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. He sent me at first to school to learn writing and reading only. 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 high 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. Mid-year we had holidays, so I got a chance to visit my family. When I went there I faced some very unbelievable incidents. My father had given my youngest sister to marriage at the age of eight. I was very distressed! I tried to convince him that it was illegal and it risked her life. I gave him lots of ideas but he couldn’t accept me. Finally he told me that he will not give me support to go to high school. I cried overnight, although I thought he wasn’t being frank and honest with me.
I had no an option but to go back to Lalibela, walking 74 km on foot. When I reached the area of Lalibela, I felt hypoglycemia [he was starving]. I slept under a shading tree. I woke up after I had rested for a few hours. I had a best friend called Abiy Girma in Lalibela. When I woke up from my hypoglycemia, I wrote a piece of paper to my friend and I gave it to a farmer who passed me on the way to Lalibela. Fortunately, Abiy brought me food, water and an umbrella immediately. I think that, if Abiy had not come to me, I would have died. I came up to Lalibela and stayed with Abiy’s family and I got more food then.
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. It is unforgettable in my life! This was when I was in grade 10 and it was the final examination period. I finished my support before finishing the three years and taking the exam.
After a year I went to my family again and I had a negotiation 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 finally let me to go to school. But he was not happy to help me with the necessary things for 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. I have the certificate from Amhara region. Amhara region has more than 30 million people. To me, the 300 birr was effectively like 600,000 birr for 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 gained 0.05 Ethiopia cent profit per newspaper. The newspapers were daily and weekly. They were for governmental organizations and non-governmental customers. 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 during that time. I went to university and then I gained a BSc nursing degree, and then I was tasked to go back to Lalibela after I had completed my study. I had an ambition to serve underprivileged people, to help my community as a professional.
Then I had an opportunity to be employed by Lasta Woreda health bureau as a nurse. They assigned me to work at Geter Meda health center (behind Asheton Mariam Mountain, 25km from Lalibela). I worked there 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 that community 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 work load: it was lots of 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 to hospital. And 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’s have no rights – to be honest, it is common in Africa. 3. Stigma and misperception about their problem.
The other cases that upset me were pneumonia – it is common for children, especially below five years old. There were no good medical supplies and the appropriate place for treatment and rehabilitation is in a health center. It is difficult to get intravenous medications like ceftrazone to treat critical pneumonia. So my responsibility was just to refer people to the hospital. One baby died on the way, when the family were 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 am a Masters of Public Health candidate! At the moment I am collecting the necessary data to fulfill my MPH program. My thesis is about the methods that are available for preventing pelvic organ prolapse.
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!