Ethiopia is a country of great beauty – and the Yetebon region is especially beautiful with the Gurage Mountains surrounding us, the brilliant blue sky above us and the scenes of daily life and activity around us.
While the greatest asset is the beauty of the Ethiopian people our hearts are most captivated by the children and their charming smiles, long curly eyelashes and continual hugs.
Today our vision team began working with the 256 kindergarten (KG) kids. As the day began the students arrived and formed lines outside in the playground and sang several songs in English. They were orderly dismissed and as they filed into the ‘dining room’ they were each given a bowl of liquid breakfast. The dining room is a large square room with no furniture but with parallel lines painted on the floor two feet apart; the kids sat on the lines and drank their breakfast. When they were dismissed they once again filed out, rinsed their cups in basins of water, and gave them to a couple of the students who washed them with soapy water, rinsed and left them to air dry.
As the students filed into their classrooms we set up our supplies and began our vision screening. We have a wonderful Ethiopian nurse/translator (Beza) working with us and without her help it would have been almost impossible to explain the process to the students. We completed exams on 180 students and at least 30% of them were diagnosed and treated for trachoma. As we enjoy the beauty of this area and the people it breaks our hearts to confirm what we expected – that the incidence of trachoma is high; the devastating effect and eventual blindness caused by trachoma will prevent many of these special people from enjoying the beauty we see each day – the mountains, the sky, the activities – and most of all the smiles of their children and grandchildren. I cannot imagine living as many do on the sides of these mountains – or walking the rock-strewn path without vision.
Trachoma is a bacterial eye infection that is spread by close personal contact similar to conjunctivitis. Flies that cling to the exudate that continually weeps from the eyes and noses of an infected person also spread the disease. Because people live in close proximity to their animals there is a continual close breeding ground for the flies. Repeated infections eventually cause scarring and blindness.
The problem is severe and the solution multifaceted; it’s hard not to feel overwhelmed. However, trachoma has been eradicated in many areas of the world, and our goal is to be an advocate for the people, and especially the children of the Yetebon region.
This is just one more small way we can work to improve the lives of these special people. Once again I am reminded of the blessings and privileges we so often take for granted; here we can remove ourselves from so many distractions of our fast paced life and simply enjoy the beauty and the people. But while we enjoy the simplicity and beauty we must remember that for the people that live here life is difficult.
May we do all we can to share our resources, our knowledge, our hope, our love and our faith as we share our lives and work together to solve some of these challenges. Trachoma can be eradicated here – we just need to ‘do it’.
This is Kathy with an update on Kufa, the 12 year old boy Becky had mentioned several blogs ago. You need to know the details of his story to better understand the poverty of this area, the challenges that families face just to survive and the accidents that can change lives forever.
Kufa lives in Maiko, a small village many miles from here. There are many tribes in Ethiopia and Kufa belongs to the Oromiya tribe. About a year ago, his father died. Kufa said he had been sick for a long time. Shortly after his death, Kufa’s mother gave birth to a baby – a son who would never know his father. Kufa’s baby brother is named Rometu. With the death of her husband, Kufa’s mother now had no income and no way of feeding herself and Kufa – she is nursing little Rometu. She is in poor health. They have neighbors who give them corn and they have a cow that provides them with milk. Kufa’s uncle lives nearby. He has 6 children of his own but tries to support Kufa, his mother and brother. Life was not easy, but Kufa attended school (4th grade), enjoyed playing soccer with his friends and he was happy – a typical 12 year old boy!
Then came that fateful day two weeks ago when Kufa fell off his uncle’s new donkey. No one thought his arm was broken but it became painful the next day. His uncle took him to the local tribal doctor – a “medicine man,” a “traditionalist” who treats with herbs. This “doctor” has no formal education. He put a splint on Kufa’s arm and wrapped it – very, very tightly. That tight wrapping did not allow for the swelling that occurred due to the fracture. The circulation in his arm became impaired. Within days his hand turned dark. Infection had set in. His uncle took him to the hospital in Butajira and he was transferred to Project Mercy Hospital. Gangrene had set in and his arm could not be saved. It was amputated just below the elbow.
Our team met Kufa when we made hospital rounds the morning after our arrival. He sat alone in his room. His mother did not have the 25 birr ($1.25) to pay for the transportation to visit him and his uncle had to return home to his own family. Our hearts broke for this adorable boy who was holding up the stump of his arm so the dressing could be changed.
Kufa spent time with our team as his amputation healed. He was bored and liked to roam around the hospital looking for things to do. We got to know and love this young boy. He is shy but friendly. He is very intelligent. He has accepted his new disability with such maturity. In his mind nothing had changed – he was anxious to return home, go back to school and play soccer again with his friends.
Back home in Maiko, Kufa’s mother cried when she learned his arm had been amputated. She knew there would be bills to pay for his medicine and surgery. Even Project Mercy Hospital is not free and she has no income. Besides her two sons, she had one other valuable possession – their cow. She found a man who was willing to rent the cow for one year. She agreed. She received 300 birr ($15) for the cow. She would get it back in one year but during that time they will have no milk to drink – only water.
At the hospital, Kufa is ready to go home. The stump of his arm needs to be kept clean and bandaged but it is healing well. I met Kufa’s mother, uncle and baby brother when they came to pick him up. Their smiles, their happiness and the love they shared was so evident. Once again, they were together as a family.
Through an interpreter, Kufa’s mother and uncle said Kufa needs a better life. His mother has nothing and now even their cow is gone. It is difficult to feed a growing boy. His uncle struggles to support his own family. But there was no other place for Kufa to go. He did return home that day – Friday, February 13.
So what is Kufa’s future? At this time no one is certain. He has such potential but the opportunities available for him in our country are nonexistent here. So for now, he is at home with a mother who loves him but struggles just to survive.
The bill at Project Mercy Hospital for Kufa’s surgery and medications came to 1,050 Birr ($52). That is so much money for someone who has nothing. From renting the cow and with some help from the uncle, they have managed to pay 400 Birr, leaving a balance of 650 Birr ($32). I am so very happy to report that Gundersen Global Partners will pay the remainder of that balance.
We are all hoping that Kufa has wonderful life. We want him to grow up to be strong and healthy. We want him to do all the things with one arm that the rest of us will be doing with two. We want him to be happy. He has made an impression on us and we will never forget him.
Dear Gundersen Volunteers
I seriously don’t even know where to start; I just want you to know how thankful and grateful I am for getting to know people like you. You are the most generous, inspiring, optimistic hard-working and dedicated people alive.
There is a lot to learn from you guys especially your willingness to help our people and helping the medical staff, updating them in how to use the instruments that they use and to take care of it. It really means a lot. I really enjoyed every moment we spend together both as a colloquia and in person. I had a lot of fun and good memories through my stay with you. Thank you for sharing with us your knowledge and your experiences with the surgical team, vision team, podiatric team. God bless you for all the good things you did and may the Almighty be with you in your next journey.