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December 9, 2004

An Update of Sr. Tibebe's HAPSCO Program

Living Room Dialogue with Negash Abdurahman

Thirteen people attended this dialogue at the CIL office on the Hiwot HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care and Support Organization known as HAPCSO. Sr. Tibebe Maco, the founder and spirit behind this five-year-old program, was honored last year by CIL for this outstanding means of addressing the AIDS pandemic in her city. In the presentation, Negash showed slides from his visit there in the spring of 2004 and described the program and the people involved.

The program operates in the Hiwot area of Addis Ababa, a district known as a lepers' area because there is a leper hospital there. Many of the residents are immigrants transitioning from the countryside. Trash dumps are located there, and most residents of this capital city of five million never venture into the area. In the program there are 2,000 patients, 350 orphans, 20 on staff and many volunteers.

The name of the organization, HAPSCO, tells of the services rendered to victims of HIV/AIDS.

  • Prevention. Education takes place in schools, through street theater and circuses and through billboards. It consists of information about the disease, the encouragement of abstinence and monogamy and provides an understanding of the use of condoms. Billboard signs bear such messages as: "I'm careful. Are you?" "You must value your life. I value my life. Do you?" "Fellow human beings take care of one another. Volunteer. Help one another." One way of reaching women who have been forced into prostitution is through traditional "coffee ceremonies."
  • Care. Those who are sick receive assistance at home, where volunteers provide comfort, cleanliness and first aid. Only basic medicines, such as aspirin are available. Volunteers are trained. Local people care for one another. Orphans stay in their own homes whenever possible. Neighbors watch over them.
  • Support - Necessities for those who are ill are provided as well as food, housing and school fees for orphans. Staff and volunteers receive support in groups to relieve the stress of their work. Money from the United States was used to construct a training center. The program has only one automobile.

A group from UCLA Berkley is doing a study to consider the possibility of replication. So much depends on the personality, dedication and wisdom of Sr. Tibebe. Money cannot pay for those qualities, but perhaps someone can be found with similar qualities and the concept of local communities caring for one another can be built upon.

Sr.Tibebe is often likened to Mother Theresa of Calcutta. The Sr. attached to her name indicates that she is a nurse, not a vowed religious. Sr. Tibebe initiated HAPCSO after having worked in a Norwegian medical service program. She was inspired by the Burial Societies, a long-standing institution in Ethiopian culture in which neighbors (often from both Muslim and Christian backgrounds) care for families who lose loved ones. As she saw the devastation of AIDS in the society, Sr.Tibebe thought, "Don't wait til they die. Care for them while they are alive."

Some comments of participants focused on the program and the person were:

  • It's amazing that people are willing to volunteer to care for one another, and it is so good that the young orphans stay in their own homes and neighborhoods.
  • This was an immersion into another world-one of AIDS, in the midst of global politics this was personalized
  • This shows that one person can move a mountain. Sr. Tibebe is very centered; she has amazing courage and energy. This is a calling; she is very spiritual.


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