Before I travel to a new place, I make it a habit to read a couple of books on the country I’m visiting in order to get an overview of a country’s history, culture, politics and other pertinent issues. When I was selected to go to Ethiopia as a fellow with the International Reporting Project where I’d be learning about newborn, child and maternal health I found several fabulous books highlighting these issues.
One of the most powerful non-fiction books I read before I left for Ethiopia this past June was “There is No Me Without You” by award-wining journalist Melissa Fay Greene.
Greene’s moving book chronicles the life of one woman’s fight to save Ethiopia’s AIDS orphans during the height of the AIDS epidemic in Africa. Before reading the book, I honestly had no idea that Ethiopia was the second most impacted country in Africa by HIV/AIDS. Greene herself was unaware of the severity of the AIDS epidemic until she came across a New York Times Article in the summer of 2000.
On page 20 in her book, Greene writes:
Per the United Nations, in 2000 Africa was “a continent of orphans.” HIV and acquired AIDS had killed more than 21 million people, including 4 million children. More than 13 million children had been orphaned, 12 million of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. 25% of those lived in 2 countries: Nigeria and Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, 11% of the children were orphans.
Greene realized she could not turn a blind eye to this horrible tragedy and spent the next several years researching the origin and history of the HIV/AIDS, the development of antiretrovirals, the impact of AIDS in Africa and the plight of an entire generation of AIDS orphans. Her research resulted in her powerful book “There is No Me Without You” which is all shown through the eyes of one woman, Haregewoin Teferra, who dared to rescue these children, deemed untouchable and tragically left behind in the aftermath.
It was within this mesmerizing, heart-breaking true story that I learned about Amelezewd and AHOPE for Children. Amelezewd Girma and her two younger brothers were AIDS orphans living with Haregewoin when it was discovered Amelezewd and one of her brothers were HIV positive and too sick for her to care for.
At the time, Ethiopia was overwhelmed with HIV/AIDS orphans (there were over 1.5 million in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2005) and Haregewoin searched desperately for a place that she could send Amelezewd and her brother to be properly cared for. Through Haregewoin’s search, she found Enat House for HIV-positive children which later was renamed AHOPE for Children, and Amelezewd and her brother Michael were placed there.
Sadly, it was too late for young Amelezewd who as a young teenager dreamed of getting an education and becoming a professor someday. Life-saving anti-retrovirals (ARV) that were widely available in the western world were still unaccessible in Sub-Saharan Africa where they needed them most. ARVs were not available in Ethiopia until 2005. Amelezewd passed away leaving behind a legacy of heartbreak and hope while her younger brother Michael survived thanks to the availability of ARV treatment. AHOPE meant that there was finally a hope for HIV positive children and they were no longer being sent to a place to be cared for before they died.
It was against this backdrop that I contacted AHOPE for Children and scheduled a site visit to meet with the director Mengesha Shibru during my reporting fellowship in Ethiopia this past June.