Fresh opportunities in Ethiopia

When Yetaynesh and Getanet first brought their son to SIM’s Hidden Abilities day centre in Bahir Dar, they scarcely dared to hope. Their son was 18 months old, yet he was not able to stand up or walk due to effects of cerebral palsy.

When Meheret was born, hospital staff had told them,”He will die, so why waste your money on him?” (Getanet was asking them to take his baby, who was having difficulty breathing, to the incubator room, and admission to this facility at the hospital cost 30 Ethiopian Birr – about a dollar). But the father persisted and his son was admitted. Over several days Meheret’s condition improved enough for his parents to take him home.

But their son did not develop like other children. When those the same age learned to walk and run, he sat, with one leg bent back. Something was not right, so Yetaynesh returned to the hospital, to be told, “Your son will not walk. Just sit him somewhere and feed him.” Crushed, they were sent home.

In addition, there’s a taboo around physical disability in the culture — the belief is that it indicates generational sin and reflects badly on a family in society. Such children are usually hidden away in the family home. Yetaynesh and Getanet felt helpless about their son.

But Yetaynesh would not accept the situation and she journeyed to the bright and welcoming Hidden Abilities centre, where they received a lifeline. Over the coming months, carrying out the therapy programme, Meheret’s condition began to improve. The difference was obvious.

“Now my child can walk and play with other children. When we walk with other people, to see my child also walk, brings me joy”, says Getanet. A tragedy of the widespread ignorance about the therapies which can unlock a child’s potential, is that early intervention could have huge positive results in a short time, whereas delay can lead to more permanent disabilities requiring years of therapy.

From New Zealand to Bahir Dar:

Now this free centre in Bahir Dar, the place where the Blue Nile River begins its long journey through Ethiopia, Sudan and Egypt, is waiting for cross-cultural workers George and Mia Lee* to go back and serve. They can only return to Bahir Dar when civil war in the north of the country has settled down.

Before they met, George and Mia had been in Ethiopia separately on short-term trips. George, with a background in dietetics and rehab, worked in Urban Ministries in Addis Ababa with Meryl Ashworth. Mia, a doctor, did her medical elective in Ethiopia. Then they moved to Ethiopia in 2017 as missionaries, learning language and starting to work with an unreached Muslim community — a distinctive ethnic group of around 3000 people in and around Bahir Dar, that they call “the Lake Tana people”. This couple’s desire is to continue working with this community and other unreached people groups.

Hidden Abilities was started in 2014 by a Canadian couple, then taken on by Tim and Diane Fellows, who are soon to retire. They were looking for someone to take over responsibility for the centre and found George and Mia, who were on the spot and had the right skills.

But covid intervened and this young family returned to New Zealand to raise awareness and funds, and to look for others to go and be involved. As well as a physiotherapist needed to work with them longterm, they also hope to recruit other professionals short-term.

There’s a severe lack of registered physiotherapists in Ethiopia, but the centre has three Ethiopian case workers with social work and nursing backgrounds, who are being up-skilled in physical therapies. Each morning, as senior worker Tigist prays, she asks God to use her hands to bring healing to the children.

Word is spreading and families now come from all walks of life; the centre helps with transport costs and food aid where necessary, and provides educational support for those who are able to go to school. This centre is unique in Ethiopia, and has reopened after its covid shutdown. It needs financial support. To donate, email Michelle  or go to our website and quote project 092936.

— Tim Coleman & Zoë Cromwell

The centre needs a physiotherapist to make a long-term commitment. Also speech and occupational therapists to go short-term to help train local staff; they wouldn’t need language training. Is God calling you to join the Hidden Abilities team?

Pray for:

• An end to hostilities in northern Ethiopia

• Therapists to answer the call to serve at the centre

(*Names changed)