On one of my last days in Ethiopia as a fellow with the International Reporting Project we visited Project Mercy, a not-for-profit relief and development agency that provides services to help alleviate human suffering and overcome systemic poverty in Southern Ethiopia. The visit ended up being one of the most enlightening moments of our entire trip.

In order to combat Ethiopia’s high maternal and newborn mortality rates, Project Mercy opened a “Lie and Wait” home for rural woman to come to stay before delivering their child at a nearby hospital. In a country in which an estimated 90% of women deliver at home with little or no trained birth assistance, a Lie and Wait house ensures women from the far away, remote villages will come to wait to stay and deliver at a hospital with a trained midwife or doctor. Lie and Wait houses have saved many lives of both mother and child.

Many of these expectant mothers walk miles on foot on various terrains and topographies to reach a Lie and Wait house. At Project Mercy in the Yetebon community of Southern Ethiopia, pregnant women can walk hours through rugged, mountainous terrain to reach the Lie and Wait home. It is a true test of endurance to walk on foot carrying almost a full term baby.

Yetebon community Ethiopia

Reaching the Yetebon community on rough gravel roads that end when they hit the mountains where most of the population live.

Yetebon community Ethiopia

Most of the community are farmers.

Yetebon community Ethiopia

Yetebon community Ethiopia

Many people live beyond the farmland and high up in the mountains in the distance.

Yetebon community Ethiopia

Yetebon community Ethiopia

The Pink two room building is the Lie and Wait house that is directly across from the hospital where the expectant mother will deliver her child.

Yetebon community Ethiopia

Here is the hospital across the street where the mother will deliver when she is ready.

Yetebon community Ethiopia

The Lie and Wait home is constructed like a traditional Ethiopian home without the modern comforts that they don’t have.

Yetebon community Ethiopia

Inside we meet a mother and her expectant daughter. They walked two hours on foot to reach the Lie and Wait house. Her mother delivered all 8 children at home with no help.

Ethiopia has one of the highest maternal death rates in the world. Although child under five  deaths are improving, newborn mortality rates remain high. Many challenges remain. Roads and hospitals need to be built, expanded and/or improved. Cultural traditions need to be changed such as child marriage, traditional beliefs in home birthing and female genital mutilation. Rural communities need to be educated on the importance of pre and post natal care and the increase in newborn and maternal survival by delivering with a trained assistant.

Yetebon community Ethiopia

Here is a 40-something year old mother holding her 10th child. She delivered this one at home like all the rest. She is at the Lie and Wait house with her 15-year-old daughter who was having complications. Otherwise her daughter would have delivered at home like she did.


Yetebon community Ethiopia

Yetebon community EthiopiaYetebon community Ethiopia

Yetebon community Ethiopia

Her 15-year-old daughter, a child bride, waiting to deliver her first child.

As a mother, I cannot imagine having to walk hours on foot to reach a safe place to deliver my child. Millions of women around the world do not have the luxury of roads, cars, and modern hospitals. For them, delivering their children is a test of endurance and a hope for survival.

About the Yetebon Community

The Yetebon community is located in the Gurage Zone in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia. It is about 87 miles (140 km) southwest of Addis Ababa. Yetebon is situated in the highlands at an altitude of 8000 feet.

The total population of the surrounding area is approximately 70,000 people. The majority of people are Muslim—roughly 95 percent. Farming is the primary occupation of the people, producing mostly maize, wheat, sorghum and enset. The two cash crops are pepper and chat.

The families in the community are very poor. In fact, as of 1993, most households earn less than 50 USD per year and were in living conditions that put them in danger of contracting diseases.  As of 2011, many of the households yearly income had raised to $300USD per year due to Project Mercy’s significant development in many areas of need.

Source: Project Mercy

This post was inspired by the Weekly Photo Challenge: Endurance. To view more entries, click here.

I was in Ethiopia as a fellow on newborn health this past June with the International Reporting Project. 


  1. We are so blessed and fortunate in North America to have all the modern comforts and medical technology for everything, especially child birth. My mom had 8 of her 9 children at home, with little or no help. That was in Asia, many years ago. One of my sisters was born into a dish washing bucket. My sisters delivered their own children in a refugee camp, where help was the neighbor. My aunt had a breach birth, and they had to remove the fetus, severing one limb at a time, as he was trying to reach out of the birth canal. Thank you raising awareness on this issue.
    We are so fortunate in North America.

  2. It seems that many mothers are capable of multiple healthy deliveries, unassisted. By contrast, it seems that in the U.S., women feel like birthing a child requires 21st century technology. We use extreme intervention to save mothers and babies, at great expense. Still, we are not at risk of becoming extinct. Our global population is dangerously robust. Would it be possible to find a middle way, a balance? More natural childbirth, less extreme (and resource-sucking) technology, and a smaller population. How would we get there?

  3. It’s really important that there are places like this in Ethiopia. Also it is important that the world learns about the problems in many “third-world” countries. Thanks for this post!

  4. The story, the pictures, what it makes you realize and feel, and how it puts so much into perspective…thank you for sharing..hits home at many levels, being from Bangladesh and having seen the plights of pregnant women there and what they endure..amazes me how resilient they are. Really well written!

    1. You’re welcome!I know Bangladesh has its own unique set of issues (although I am no expert). I hope someday all women and children have the opportunity for a safe delivery and life.

  5. What an interesting and touching story. The only time I like to walk is during my exercise classes so I cannot begin to imagine walking long distances, in addition to being pregnant. We are indeed very fortunate and take certain things for granted. Thanks for this eye-opening post and for providing a different take on what it truly means to endure.

    1. Thank you for your comment. Yes, I feel for these women. I can’t even imagine and these are the 10% that deliver with help. 90% of Ethiopian women deliver at home with no help at all, on their floor.

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