By Henok Reta

“In the beginning I didn’t even know I was pregnant,” Tsehay Geberegziabher, 40, says when she begins telling her story about the hardships she experienced in the last 20 years.”

One day I was grinding grain—I remember it was a Friday when I suddenly started leaking fluid from the womb. I called my mother over to see what was happening. She told me it was normal at the beginning of labor and that I shouldn’t be afraid,” she continues. The labor came the next day and she was asked to take some rest in her bedroom by the older women of the village. They came in and put butter on her head so that she would feel better while giving birth. “I remember it was a serious pain. But for the women around me it was normal,” she says.

Because every woman had given birth at home no one told her to go to the health center. She thought that her case was no different and the idea that she needed medical attention never occurred to her until she met up with her older sister who arrived from far away to visit her. “She asked the women to let me go to a nearby health center after calling some men who can carry me,” she goes on telling her story. Finally, she arrived at the health post, which is far from her home, with the help of the men. According to her, she was between life and death. “I was unconscious and I was told that I was dying,” she says. Tsehay gave birth at the tender age of 17 and became a fistula patient afterwards.

In spite of the dreadful personal experience she had in the prime of life she confidently tells her story to people. The courageous woman is from Girdada, the Wukro province of the Tigray Regional State, which is some 1000 km north of Addis Ababa.

Her story has now been published in a book entitled “Practicing Faith: Four Stories from Ethiopia”. The book was launched two weeks ago at Hilton Addis Ababa by World Vision Ethiopia. In a chapter entitled “A New Life” one can see how she managed to overcome the odds. “The spiritual counseling helped me to forgive and forget. I learned to stop complaining to God, but rather to pray and tell him my thoughts and my problems and then leave the challenges to him,” she says.

For Margaret Schuler, national director, World Vision Ethiopia, this is an amazing story of people who primarily had a broken heart. According to Schuler, this was never an easy task. It was a successful partnership between faith leaders, the community and other partners. “In Ethiopia faith leaders have a special place amongst the communities and they are the ones who can stimulate  the kind of change people can follow,” Schuler says.

Ever since World Vision took in the concept of engaging faith leaders in the effort to improve the human condition almost a decade ago many lives have been touched by good works. The Interfaith Forum—Ethiopia in this regard- has played a crucial role in mobilizing members and leaders in their respective denominations. In a comprehensive slogan, “If leaders change, the people will follow”, faith leaders have been working hard in addressing various societal issues.

“Unlike other societies in the world, Ethiopians are considered to be secretive even to family members,” Archbishop Abune Gabriel, one of the founding fathers of the forum, says. And the most important person in the life of that person, who can share those secrets, can be the faith father. Especially, in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which he represents, many of the believers are closer to the priests who are known as ministers of God. In that regard, they can do much more since they are welcome to be involved in an individual’s life. “I confess: I’m responsible for the illness and deaths of the people I serve,” Father Asmare Moges, an Orthodox priest, who is featured in one part of the book entitled “A Faithful Person”, says.

In Awi Zone of the Amhara Regional State, Father Asmare serves as a faith father of more than 12 households. He is also head of the monastery attached to the church. He is a well-known and respected person. Since the time he was given training by World Vision and the Health Bureau he introduced himself to other knowledge areas that have nothing to do with the Bible. “It made us see that women and children were dying because of what we were telling the people,” he says. He further states that he used to know nothing about health issues. “It was my belief that Jesus’ mother, Mary, would intercede to help a woman give birth only if she delivered at home,” he says. As a result, he himself and other priests would console the families upon the death of the mother or the baby telling them that this is God’s will that it is not something anyone could have prevented. “It’s the reverse now. No woman shall deliver at home in the community I faithfully serve,” he says.

Similar to the story of Father Asmare, Aberra Golo, 40, evangelical minister at Gwangwa Kale Hiwot Church, in Borena Zone of the Oromia Regional State, realized the essence of planned life just a few years ago. “I used to think I would have many children because having more children is a symbol of pride and strength in my community,” he says. Once he was approached by a health extension worker who was campaigning for family planning and sanitation. “It was a waste of time to try to teach the society without the involvement of faith leaders,” Almetsehay Tamerat, health extension worker in the woreda, says. Aberra’s family is hailed as “a model family” in the woreda is now considered to be the happiest in the village that can give lessons to others. Moreover, his leadership in the church is used as an important tool to impact the attitude of the people. “I first thought family planning was against out faith. I searched the scriptures for verses that speak out clearly on the issue of family planning, but I couldn’t find any,” he says.

Ali Hussein, whose story is told under the chapter “A Messenger”, is a farmer and father of three kids. Ali spends part of his day volunteering in his community in Edja woreda, Agena town of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Regional State if he is not working on his farmland. “This attitude has never come easily,” he says. His story reveals that he used to be the head of a somewhat patriarchal family in which he does not support his wife of 13 years in chores and only wanted respect as head of the household. “We never meant any harm to our wives and daughters. It was just that we lacked awareness,” he says. Ali, who confesses that his previous actions were unwise and ill-mannered, is now struggling to impact the society. He would see his wife working all of the time inside and outside the house beyond taking care of the children. He saw her doing all the household tasks. “This is really a shame when I look back at things,” he says. As an administrator of five mosques and head of the local Idir (a unique local institution designed to help one another during mourning and funerals) Ali happily leads his life and works for the betterment of the community. “I never lose anything except benefit from those good deeds I do for others to get mental satisfaction and God’s blessing in return,” he concludes.

The four stories were enormously appreciated by the crowd which included ambassadors and invited guests. “It was really an exemplary deed that many countries in Africa should follow to bring about change in all aspects of life,” Rev. Johnson Mbillah (PhD), general advisor for program for Christian, Muslim Relations in Africa (PROCMURA), said. Patricia Haslach, US Ambassador to Ethiopia said that it is a huge success of the faith leaders who certainly have an undeniable role in changing a society because they are considered to be role models and catalysts in many societies. “Religion plays a critical role in Ethiopia’s social and political life,” she remarked in her keynote address. On behalf of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), which partnered with the World Vision in compiling the stories, she promised that the agency would strive to deliver on the promises it holds for the people in Ethiopia. Capitalizing on the efforts that have already been made, the fathers promise to help their followers out from the burdens and lead a better life. “We definitely look forward to be involved in more practices that would see the society free from burdens and get proper life,” Zerihun Degu (Pastor), secretary of the forum, says.

Source: The Reporter


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