By Dereje Gonfa @DerejeGonfa
Addis Abeba – The Covid-19 global pandemic has worsened the social, economic, and health inequality that disproportionately affects some communities worse than others, especially those who live in rural areas where healthcare coverage is relatively low. In countries like Ethiopia, the problem is worse. Most of the country’s best health centers suffer from lack of proper medical equipment and medicine.
However, a few are taking commendable steps to make a difference by contributing money, time, and effort. Sister Obse Lubo, is a humanitarian, courageous nurse who struggles to save the lives of the marginalized people in rural parts of the West Wollega zone of the Oromia region.
Obse was born and raised in a small-town Nejo. After she attended her primary and part of high school in Nejo she moved to the United States and graduated with a nursing degree (Bachelor of Science in Nursing) from the University of St. Catherine’s in Minnesota.
Currently, she is working as a Registered Nurse at Stanford University Medical Center in California. She says that her passion for nursing emanates from lived experiences growing up in a place where death due to preventable and treatable diseases is common. “I was hopeful that one day I would return to Oromia to help my people with my profession,” she said.
“The say I couldn’t save a life”
Obse recalls the incident where recalls decided to begin volunteerism as “The day I couldn’t save a Life of a young girl, who died of Cerebral Malaria for no other reason than a lack of access and medication.” When she was in Nursing school she visited Nejo Hospital and observed the lack of resources that the hospital was facing. Two years after beginning her Nursing career in 2009, she has traveled to Nejo once a year with a group of volunteer doctors and nurses from California to provide basic healthcare to the community in need.
“During my medical mission trip, seeing an 11-year-old girl die of malaria due to lack of basic supplies shocked me”Sister Obse Lubo
Currently, Nejo Hospital is the only hospital that serves over 500,000 patients, with limited resources. However, Obse’s medical team has saved the lives of many women and children. “During my medical mission trip, seeing an 11-year-old girl die of malaria due to lack of basic supplies shocked me,” she said.
Most hospitals in Oromia lack basic resources to care for their patients. This made Obse decide to continue the volunteer work to help alleviate the health care needs in Oromia.
Over the past 12 years, since 2009, Obse and her team have made Eight rounds of visits to Nejo hospital providing Medical and surgical care for the community in need. To name a few, the team performed; hundreds of cataract surgery, cleft lip surgeries, and Fistula surgeries screened and treated kids who have congenital heart disease, and educated health professionals and communities on disease prevention and intervention.
In 2017/2018 Obse collaborated with organizations in Ethiopia and the USA to work with Internally Displaced Oromo people (IDPs) from the Somali region and help them resettle in Bishoftu/Mojo areas.
Most recently Obse and her team of Rotarians from California and Addis Abeba worked on a global grant to establish the first-ever Oxygen Production center in Nejo, to serve over 2.5 million in Western Oromia and Benishangul Gumuz region.
Obse’s passion for helping her community developed and she founded a non-profit organization called “East Africa Medical Relief Foundation”.
While she was on a medical trip in Oromia in 2013; she witnessed a devastating situation, where a doctor had to choose who gets to be on oxygen between an 11 years old boy with an Asthma attack and a 55 years old man who was actively bleeding and needs surgery to save his life.
The hospital only had enough oxygen for one patient to use at that time. The young boy was taken off the oxygen until the 55 years old man had his surgery. Sadly, the boy passed away after a few hours.
Obse’s life goal at that moment became the elimination of these choices by obtaining a reliable oxygen generator for the hospital. “At that time, I didn’t know what to say or do, but I promised myself and prayed to God that I’ll try my hardest to prevent or reduce people dying, especially young children due to lack of oxygen,” she said.
Oxygen supply is very scarce in Ethiopia; many hospitals in the rural areas run out of oxygen, possibly for weeks or more. The lack of adequate oxygen supply threatens the lives and health of many people; however, the situation has improved around Nejo thanks to Sr. Obse and an aid organization.
The Breathing for life, an Oxygen Generator Plant project, was made possible by a global grant Rotarian International, Rotary Club in Castro Valley (California) led fundraising efforts and granted the funds. A host club in Ethiopia, Finot Rotary in Addis Abeba, an organization called ‘Assist International’, the Oromia Health Bureau, the Federal Ministry of Health, and others are supporting the project’s success. Currently, the charity is working on significantly improving the quality of health care in Western Oromia by eliminating doctors’ discretion in choosing which patients get access to life-saving oxygen.
Since September 2020 the Oxygen Generator plant in Nejo is serving about 16 hospitals and more than 10 Health centers in the Western Oromia region and two hospitals in the neighboring Benishangul region. It is providing a more reliable source of medical-grade oxygen at a lower cost and shorter distance. It has reduced the number of deaths due to these treatable health conditions. Above all, the Oxygen plant was set up during the pandemic and saved a lot of patients’ lives from Covid-19.
Today the Nejo Oxygen Center is operating with the ability to produce over 1800 cylinders of oxygen per month, which is being distributed across the region.
In volunteerism work, sometimes some people lose hope when things don’t move easily as expected and the situation begins to deteriorate. Being a woman has its own challenges, which is also true for Obse, who had to do traveling to Oromia while being pregnant or with children besides her full-time work and many family responsibilities. Yet Obse believes that to bring change, one needs to be patient and stick with their vision of what they are passionate about. “A lost hope does not lead to big dreams and positive changes. It takes persistence, perseverance, and never giving up in order to bring change. When a door closes, another one opens,” says Obse.
“I get a sense of fulfillment from helping others. It’s about making a difference no matter how small it may seem, inspiring others, and being a light”Sister Obse Lubo
Due to this, she has never backed down in her attempts to reach the community. Every challenge she has faced so far has made her stronger. “I am a strong and proud Oromo woman, someone who sets a goal and does not lose sight of it until it is achieved.”
“I am someone who sets an eye on a goal and does not lose sight of it unless it is achieved.”
To her, Success is defined as making a positive difference in other people’s lives and walking one’s own path. “I get a sense of fulfillment from helping others. It’s about making a difference no matter how small it may seem, inspiring others, and being a light,” Obse explains.
She considers herself a person thriving to leave a mark in the lives of many people in Oromia and Ethiopia. She has received multiple awards and recognition from various organizations as a result of her passion and commitment. Yet still, she believes that the best award for her is saving one soul from a preventable and treatable disease.
“My award is the lives saved through what we are doing in Oromia and being able to continue doing it. There is no better reward than restoring a vision for a blind person, no award can equate to putting a smile on a sick patient’s face,” she said passionately telling what satisfies her.
Being able to make a difference in someone’s life is her pride. Obse and her team save at least one life during every mission trip to Oromia. It is not easy to do what they are doing to contribute to the vision of saving a generation.
A bright future
At one of the cataract surgery campaigns at Nejo hospital, Obse saw a young 18-year-old boy seeing his father for the first time. The boy has been blind since he was two years old. His vision was restored following successful cataract surgery on both eyes, and he was able to see his father and his surroundings. Watching both father and his son’s reactions was incredibly emotional for Obse.
Because of that, she remains strong and focuses on voluntary work in health care. Today she has another plan to build a diagnostic and imaging center in Nejo- so patients from all over Western Oromia could benefit from it. Currently, a fully equipped diagnostic and Imaging Center is found only in the capital Addis Abeba. Besides trying her best, she also advises others to follow their dreams, to be fearless, brave, passionate about life/things, set a goal and strive to achieve them, and be self-confident.
“We are problem solvers, empathetic, and have a great potential to generate a positive social change in our respective communities,” Obse concludes. AS