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Feature: Gojo: Providing shelter, relief to patients when they most need both

To Dr. Selamnesh, facilitating the transportation of patients back home after a successful stay in the shelter is “a big triumph”, a blessing and something to be proud of

Etenesh Abera

Addis Abeba, 6 December, 2019 – Born in 1991, Dr.Selamnesh Tsige, a Pediatrician and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics & Child Health at Addis Abeba University’s Tikur Anbessa Specialized Hospital, is the founder and president of Gojo Accommodation and Temporary Shelter for Patients in Need (Gojo). The shelter, licensed in 2015, started out as an informal feeding program.

Initially, Dr. Selamnesh and her friends operated inside the Tikur Anbessa Specialized Hospital compound providing meals to up to 70 patients once a week. Soon after, mobilizing support from the Defense Construction Enterprise, Dr. Selamnesh was able to get an entire complex built in the compound of Teklehaimanot Health Center close to the hospital. This shelter has accommodated and supported 76,650 patients who have come from all over the country, providing light breakfast everyday and lunch three times a week, including holiday lunches. Gojo also covers the transportation cost of patients who have completed their treatment or have long appointments.

Mohammed-Hussein Hassen, Shashew Muche and Sherif Abdurahman (respectively) are united in their gratefulness to all that Gojo does to help them

Sintayehu Woreku from Debre Elias in Amhara region’s Gojam zone talks about her experience with Gojo. “I knew about Gojo in 2017 when I was taking care of my mother who was battling cervical cancer at the Black Lion Hospital,’’ she tells Addis Standard. She had thought her mother’s treatment at Tikur Anbessa Hospital would be over in two to three weeks and they’d be back home soon. But it went on for a whole year depleting their resources. “After we ran out of money, we started sleeping under the stairs of a building in the hospital,” recalls Sintayehu describing the level of misery they were going through for her mother’s treatment. That is when they heard about Gojo from the hospital’s social workers and went there seeking shelter. Her mother was taking chemotherapy every 21 days for eight rounds, which made trips home to recover between treatments unaffordable, and so they stayed in the shelter.

Sintayehu’s story of the harsh conditions patients coming from afar face in many hospitals in Addis Abeba is all too common. With no relatives in the city and not a lot of money on their hands, many patients either discontinue their treatment to be able to afford to go back home, or start begging on the streets of Addis Abeba. To Sintayehu, Gojo’s support made all the difference. 

Although Sintayehu was not able to save her mother’s life, she is now helping the center as a volunteer. “After my mom finished her treatment, we went back home but my mom passed away a while later. I, then, decided to come back to the shelter and serve as a volunteer”, Sintayehu recalls. According to her back when she started working at the shelter, there were no volunteers, organizers and cleaners, so she started working as an organizer, a cleaner and patient support staff after discussing it with the founders. “It is a privilege for me to work at this shelter which became my heaven after 17 days of sleeping under the stairs and starving. The challenges I went through help me to understand the patients,” says Sintayehu who, after 8 months of volunteering, now works as a receptionist and cleaner at the shelter.

Shashew Muche’s story is similar to Sintayehu’s in that she was helpless due to a medical treatment when Gojo came to her rescue. Shashew was diagnosed with breast cancer and has been staying in Gojo since May of 2019. “Before I joined Gojo, I was in a very harsh condition. I didn’t have anyone to help me and everything was a problem. I didn’t have food or a place to sleep. If this shelter wasn’t here, I would not have finished my treatment because my money ran out as soon as I arrived in Addis Abeba. I have no words to thank the founders of this shelter” she says.

In Dr. Selamnesh’s shelter, 52 patients along with just as many immediate family members are accommodated at any one time with meals and a bed to sleep on. To patients like Shashew, this is as essential as the treatment they come to receive all the way to Addis Abeba.

Caught up unprepared

For many patients, the problem starts when they realize the money they have cannot cover the months-long wait during which several tests and procedures are carried out. Many are caught up unprepared. Mohammed-Hussein Hassen who is from Bale told Addis Standard he started staying in Gojo since October of 2019. “I am in this shelter with my little brother. We were staying under the stairs in the hospital without any food and clothes. The money we had in our pockets wasn’t enough for such a long time. My brother’s legs started to swell because of the cold after a while. Gojo was a heaven for us. I wish it will be expanded and shelter a lot of patients in need.” His sentiment is one that is universally shared among the patients.

Many patients who are now sheltered at Gojo were suffering the double harsh conditions of being cancer patients and sleeping in the streets of Addis Abeba

Sherif Abdurahman who is in Gojo with his seven year old son says he prays for the people responsible for Gojo. “I heard [my son] has cancer after we came to Addis Abeba from Jimma. Gojo is like heaven for us. I personally don’t have words to thank them. I will pray for them to be blessed and more.”

To Dr. Selamnesh, facilitating the transportation of patients back home after a successful stay in the shelter is “a big triumph”, a blessing and something to be proud of. Her work depends as much on volunteers as it does on determination. Individuals and community members from various parts of the city of Addis provide the center with essential assistance such as food and clothing, especially during holidays, when most patients are not able to travel home to celebrate. AS

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