ETHIOPIA: Tragedy We Can Prevent

In Segag, a small village in the Somali Zone of Ethiopia’s Federal Republic, people live in mud huts. This village has about 3000 residents; almost all their livelihoods depend on livestock and seasonal farming. People farm in the rainy season and herd camels and goats. They drink milk and sell animals in exchange for sorghum and maize. The infrastructure is almost nonexistent: A truck that comes once a month is the only means of transportation, and there is no electricity or telephone service. Besides, there are no schools, clinics, or even skilled medical professionals. We fled to this village after the war in Somalia. Life was difficult and dreadful. In 1998, my mother died in this village. Her death could have been prevented.

Faiza was in labor for five days. Since there was no clinic in Segag, the birth took place at home, and home was a mud hut which had dirty floors and no running water. The unskilled traditional midwife who was attending her told me that the child was not positioned head-first in the birth canal. People argued about what to do; some suggested trying a traditional herbal leaf which they thought could stop the bleeding while others suggested traditional and ritual healings. Also, some advised transporting her to Degeh Bur city, a journey which could take days because of the road conditions.

The village managed to have a truck come in and transport her to the city. On her way, she gave birth to a baby girl. As the baby girl emerged, blood gushed out. I was terrified. Seeing the blood pour from my mother left a scar in my heart and today I still feel the pain and the agony. There was no doctor or medical professionals, and nobody knew what to do. That night, Faiza passed away. Because of the childbirth complications the baby girl also died after two weeks. Even today, fourteen years later, maternal mortality is widespread throughout that region.

According to the World Health Organization, Ethiopia has a maternal mortality rate of 673/100,000. This is so because only 6% of women have access to skilled attendance at birth. The literacy rate of the country is 23% for women who are above 15 years of age. To compare this figure to a more affluent country, according to the US Department of Health and Human Services and the Center for Disease Control and Health, the US has a maternal mortality rate of 8/100,000. In Ethiopia, lack of education contributes to the structural burden of women’s poor health, lack of family planning, inadequate nutritional knowledge, and early marriage for girls. Women’s social condition is horrific, and there are no government social programs which provide schools, clinics, road services, or even clean water.

All of these problems are caused by a single factor and it is negligence. The government should have built clinics in the villages and provided health services for its citizens. In Ethiopia, the government is oppressive and does not provide for the basic needs of its people. The government must take action and build clinics, establish schools, and build roads that connect Segag to other cities in the country. I believe the lives of the thousands of women like my mother can be saved if women are educated and their social conditions are improved. In the villages, small things like clinics, schools, and clean water are nonexistent. Services like prenatal care are important here in the western countries but are rare or absent in parts of the Ogden regions. I believe maternal mortality can be drastically reduced if the government provides for its civilians, paying special attention to women and improving their social condition.

When I witnessed this tragedy, it left a dark spot in my heart and that will never go away. The pain of this experience is vividly fixed in my mind. When I look back to my teens, where I didn’t have a loving mother and a caregiver, it breaks my heart. No child deserves to grow up without a mother.

As a young child who lost her mother and as a young woman who sees the systems and circumstances that endanger women’s lives, I believe improving women’s social condition is a high priority. The Ethiopian government needs to establish clinics, train medical professionals, and provide access to education, clean water, and sanitary living conditions. The bleeding after birth could have been stopped and my mother’s life could have been saved if there had been a trained medical worker, a government-established clinic, and a good road to the city.

Even today, the women of Segag face these impossible circumstances. However, I believe that the tragedy of maternal mortality can be diminished if the Ethiopian government has the desire and will to address these problems. Clinics must be opened and women in Segag must be educated in order to prevent tragedies like the one that ripped my family apart and left me to spend my childhood without the physical caring and emotional connection of a loving mother. There is no program or project that is more important than creating awareness of these conditions through the catastrophe of my own story.

Topic Health
Comment on this Editorial


Im also from Ethiopia, Anything that I can do help, please let me know. I was part of Humanitarian called village of Hope that was teaching womans how to take care of their children. Im not share of what I can do financial wise but I do know how get people where they need to be.

Hello Shumba,

I am Wendy Stebbins from Chicago, Illinois USA but I have an NGO in Livingstone, Zambia where I help street orphans and vulnerable children.

I read the article by Hudda on ETHIOPIAN PREGNANT WOMEN AS WELL AS YOUR RESPONSE with interest. You say you have not the finances to help but I have learned it is not all about finances especially at that level. Yes, the Government needs to change but we know in reality the chances of that happen anytime soon is slim to nothing. Therefore, in my mind becomes, what is the littlest something I can do actively that starts the process of change in a real way. Not just words. Not JUST telling women to think positively. It is pretty impossible to think positively when their daily life is such that it is. But what DOES bring about hope is the next one little thing that can be done in the right direction. What popped into my head, which may be way way off, is: how about getting 2-3 girls (they can even be school girls) who act as a team to overlook one pregnant woman through her process. To bring her fresh water, bathe her, teach her a song to sing, wash her clothes, or whatever, It is small but it is necessary and it is something that is manageable now, even with conditions as they are. I do not know. THen you could have several little groups of 2-3 girls who are responsible for one pregnant woman. The hard part would be to find one person to oversee this who you can trust to be responsible and follow through. Habits and new ideas are hard to implement at first. They are uncomfortable at first so give up. That's why there are so few classical pianists in the world. Haha. Anyhow, this may not work but it is an idea I hope that will add as a springboard to your imagination because you sound like the kind of person who could begin the next sustainable step with these women.

Ubuntu (I am who I am because of who we are together)


Wendy Stebbins Founder/CEO I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

dear sister going through your article I felt that you and women in your village are facing many problems, but one thing to take note of that there you people need to unite internally rather than looking for external help!! I am from India, (still fighting with hunger issues! )so what to point out your country. I am just an emerging future politician and can just suggest you that all you need is just one reason to bring about a change. Hence unite with those women and form a small organisation with people having same thoughts, look out for issues and their solutions. come forward and bang these problems out of your lives!!!

stay blessed!! God be with you!


I just read your response to the Ethiopean woman Hudda and am delighted to read someone with my vision of how to approach large difficult problems. SMall, small, small. It doesn't always take money and you can't beat people at their own game. I like your idea of doing an internal small change. Though it doesn't get noticed at first, it is a start, and grows and when the time is right they have the strength to move to bigger possibilities. There is power in starting small and building a quiet strong underbelly of changes.

Thank you.


WENDY Stebbins Chicago, Illinois USA I have an NGO and work with street orphans in Livingstone, Zambia.

Wendy Stebbins Founder/CEO I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.

I went through your article. I am planning for a blogazine for women which will help women discuss and be aware of such areas which require intervention and focused work.

Email: Twitter: Rons1212 Skype: ronita.roy.ghosh

I WEEP FOR MY ETHIOPIAN GIRL BY MOSES KIMANTHI A few decades ago a bouncing baby girl was born She was good news for the family of many more Fantaye was and is still her maiden name given She was the most beautiful child of all the many I weep for my Ethiopian girl, her name is Fantaye

Fantaye could not knock grade one door as expected All kinds of excuses were made by her parents indeed The struggle was there till time flew like it had wings To everybody’s surprise she entered grade one at ten I weep for my Ethiopian girl, her name is Fantaye

Fantaye, you were destined not to attend any school But you fought bravely to keep yourself above the water Little did you know the sweet grapes would turn sour Your parents hatched evil plans to axe you from school I weep for my Ethiopian girl, her name is Fantaye

First it was the domestic chores ending at midnight Secondly it was the numberless suitors frequenting Thirdly it was the discouragements you received all over Fourthly it was the large amount of dowry paid for you I weep for my Ethiopian girl, her name is Fantaye

Fantaye you did well at school despite all these The sky was your limit but fate had it otherwise Teachers praised you as you always stayed at the top You beat all the pupils including the boys with much ease I weep for my Ethiopian girl, her name is Fantaye

Disaster befell at the end of your grade four class You were married early and by parents’ sole will You were never consulted but you were just “sold” off You married a man you never fell in love with even a day I weep for my Ethiopian girl, her name is Fantaye

A few decades now have passed I look at you my love You have many children, close to a whole football team Your physical appearance leads you to look like a grandma The world of early and forced marriage has given you age I weep for my Ethiopian girl, her name is Fantaye

I weep, yes I weep tears of blood flow down my cheeks I am in agony when I see my beloved child, my Fantaye Her life has been dismantled by her parents and society The unforgivable sins have they committed so to speak I weep for my Ethiopian girl, her name is Fantaye

My dear girl you married into a large polygamous family With numberless wives and children to crown the family There is fighting and arguments and the like in your home Word ‘peace’ is not found in the dictionary of your home I weep for my Ethiopian girl, her name is Fantaye

But Fantaye take heart where there is will there is way The Ministry has adult education programme on your way Once a brilliant child always a brilliant personality is yours Run today before the sun goes down and enroll, it’s yours I weep for my Ethiopian girl, her name is Fantaye

Listen you Kebeles, Zones, Woredas and Regional States My girl was spoiled in the broad day light as it states You were witnesses of early and forced marriage of my girl What did you do, what did you do to save my beloved girl? I weep for my Ethiopian girl, her name is Fantaye

I pen off because I am flabbergasted by the state of my girl God may hold us responsible for the fate of my poor girl Let us all be the voice of our Ethiopian girls lest they suffer Let’s not make poor destiny for our girl-children in this era I weep for my Ethiopian girl, her name is Fantaye

ETHIOPIAN VOCABULARY: Kebeles – Smallest administrative units like villages. Woredas – Still administrative units like districts but bigger than Kebeles. Zones – These are administrative units which are bigger than Woredas, something like provinces. State Regions – Ethiopia follows federal government system consisting of several States.

NOTES: When I was teaching Higher Diploma Programme in Begimidir College of Teacher Education, in Debre Tabor, Amhara State in Ethiopia, I came to know that the Ethiopian girl-child is in trouble. The theme of this poem is early {before age} and forced {without consent} marriages, something which is taking place in the country. It is a warning to those who are practicing such things. Girl child education remains at stake if this country allows our girls to marry off at a tender age and without their consent. M.K.

Hello again, Hudda,

I just read the article in the WP Visionary Leader section and thought of you. I hope you will read it. It is called MOTHERS MATTER and tells how one lady in a poor viilage handled helping those pregnant women in a situation much like your women.

While this may not work for you exactly, hopefully it will be a springboard to a new idea that will come out of you that will help.



Wendy Stebbins Founder/CEO I AM ONE IN A MILLION Non-Profit Organization focused on helping street orphans and vulnerable children in Livingstone, Zambia Africa.