Cover Story

Ethiopia's new flowers

"Ethiopia's new flowers" Continued...

Issue: "Ethiopia's new flower," May 31, 2008

Disorder was evident even in clocks on the wall, each of which showed a different time. Doctors acknowledged that a lack of sterility leads to many infections. Limited budgets lead some nurses who drop an IV to use it anyway, even though the three-second rule for food dropped on floors-move fast and eat-should not be applied to IVs.

Ethiopians say that Black Lion was a better place when it opened four decades ago, but governmental priorities have changed in recent years. When officials from the president on down (or their family members) need operations, they regularly fly to other countries. The Ethiopian government pays its doctors only about $260 per month, so many graduates of Ethiopian medical schools leave the country, often heading to the United States.

What remains is the love of parents for their children. On that morning last month a baby was lying on a table in one ward. A botched spinal surgery had left him unable to move his legs. A visiting American put his hand on the baby's head and prayed for him. Then he asked the mother for the baby's name. "Exodus," she said. "I've been praying that Jesus would heal him." The American and the Ethiopian woman then prayed together.

Do Ethiopian hospitals have to be as bad as Black Lion? No. At the non-governmental Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital across town, young women come by the hundreds with a problem not seen in the United States: Each has a fistula, a hole between her birth passage and bladder or rectum. The hole develops over many days of obstructed labor, when the baby's head pushes against the mother's pelvis and cuts off the blood supply to delicate tissues, which then fall away. One common cause: pregnancy among very young mothers-sometimes at the time of their first ovulation.

With no doctor present to perform a C-section, the laboring mothers are left with a dead baby and a fistula, which leads to the leakage of urine and feces. By the time the women reach the Fistula Hospital, they've often been shunned by their families and communities. Sometimes they've lain on their sides so long, in a desperate attempt to control the leaking, that their muscles have atrophied.

But when the women arrive at the Fistula Hospital, they are surrounded by lush gardens. Clean wards house them, and nurse aides who are ex-patients themselves comfort them. The hospital maintains a farm outside of town for those it doesn't have room to admit right away. The hospital demonstrates the value it places on each patient in small ways as well: Each patient receives a colorful crocheted wrap made by volunteers from around the world.

Each patient also has access to Bible studies and a Walkman, for listening to Bible stories in any of 24 tribal languages. Each can learn about women such as Samuel's mom Hannah who wept about her barrenness and received God's comfort. And it's all because Christian doctors Reginald and Catherine Hamlin not only sympathized with the young women but showed true compassion by operating on hundreds and opening their hospital in 1974.

Ethiopia does not have a governmental versus Christian program dichotomy as sharp as that which the Bush faith-based initiative in the United States has opposed. Some programs combine government-provided commodities with love from dedicated non-governmental organizations, including Christian ones. For example, a joint program of SIM (Serving in Mission) and Mission to the World (part of the Presbyterian Church in America) distributes the anti-retroviral drugs provided for free by PEPFAR, the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief.

The SIM/MTW program also provides food, rent subsidies, and school expenses to 400 beleaguered families. One of the HIV-positive recipients, Gebeyanesh Shigute, 42, welcomed visitors to the two-room house near the top of a muddy hill where she and her 2-year-old granddaughter live: Her husband is dead and her daughter is "away," a term suggesting spiritual as well as physical distance. There's no toilet, and outside the house sits a yellow bucket of water for washing and a blue bucket for drinking water.

Another recipient, Lemelem Gereyoharisa, 40, lives just down the hill behind pieces of metal welded together to make up the first story of the home, which displays a portrait of Jesus and Mary; mud, cardboard, and metal on the sides make up the second story, accessible through a rope ladder. That upstairs room is a bedroom for her two sons and two daughters, who without the SIM/MTW program would be orphans, probably homeless ones.

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