Over a year ago, I made my way to Africa for the first time. I came to Ethiopia as a contractor for a 15-week volunteer experience to manage the construction of a school in the rural Oromia village of Ekodaga. At the time, I was a Masters International student readying myself to enter the Peace Corps.
My work was with the Tesfa Foundation, founded in 2004 to provide early childhood education to disadvantaged communities in Ethiopia, where only 3% of children age 4-6 are in school. The foundation’s mission has expanded since then, however. They could build classrooms, but to enable children to learn involved much more. It involves empowering the mothers; it involves making communities stronger; and of course, it involves healthcare.
The experience living and working within the Ekodaga community completely changed my life plans. Before the trip was over, I arranged to meet with the foundation’s founder and director Dana Roskey to discuss my future in grassroots development and to leave my Peace Corps plans behind.
The local drink house was without power, yet chilled Meta beers were somehow still on hand. Over a swaying candle flame, Dana and I discussed development philosophy, the organization’s expansion into health care, and an employment position that I hadn’t dared to hope would ever exist. Unbelievably, I would be given the freedom to create my own position, one based in building schools and healthcare programming for underserved communities. It was a daunting task; one that would take a sincere commitment. But I was dedicated, whole-heartedly, as a full-time volunteer.
Following a summer of fundraising in the States, I returned to Ethiopia to manage the development of Tesfa’s healthcare program. During the last four months, I have met and worked with Ethiopian doctors, community leaders, village elders, health administrators, and government officials in creating Ethiopia’s first mobile health care program. The Tesfa Foundation Mobile Clinic and Community Health Extension Worker Program will reach at least 10,000 individuals, with primary healthcare, maternal and child healthcare, public health education, nutritional programs, de-worming programs, vaccinations, and the prevention and basic treatment of malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS. In addition, the Tesfa Foundation, in partnership with USAID, will train and deploy community health extension workers within each school community.
In preparation for the construction of Tesfa’s eighth school, I moved into the small village community of Kololo in early February. The kindergarten and primary school will serve over 500 of the village’s young children, and provide a needed educational stepping stone for the village children to enter the region’s secondary school. With luck, I will be assigning our first community health workers in Tesfa school communities just as the Kololo school is completed. And by the end of the summer rainy season, we will begin the mobile healthcare program.
The work is difficult. The hours are many. But the process is enjoyable thanks to the Tesfa team of local Ethiopians who share the same fervor for assisting those less fortunate than themselves. The future is filled with promise.
Cien Keilty-Lucas is finishing the requirements for his MPH and will graduate in May.