2022 Lifetime Achievement Award

Laureate Sister Tibebe Maco
Caretaking in Altruism

Laureate Sister Tibebe Maco, born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is a selfless soul who spent her entire years taking care of people in need. She has been serving her community diligently for the past 44 years. Her substantial contribution during the HIV/AIDS pandemic in awareness creation about the disease and non-stigmatization led her to be recognized by multiple national as well as international organizations.

Early Childhood and Education

Sister Tibebe Maco was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1951 at Zewditu Memorial Hospital. Tibebe is the fourth child in a family of six. Her family was very conservative, where staying silent was actually considered a sign of being noble; ‘chewa’, which is still evident in her tranquil and reserved appearance. When she was three years old, her family moved to Mojo where they stayed until she was eight. Then the family moved to Arsi Negele, Sirae Awraja, where she completed her middle school studies at Haile Aba Merssa School. That was when her eldest brother, whom she loved so dearly, had a car accident that left him paralyzed for life. Tibebe traces genuine caregiving in her family back to when her mother and aunt nurtured her father, who used to fall sick often. Moreover, she asserts that her passion to help people solidified when she would visit her brother and observe his helplessness.

Just like the majority of the rural areas at the time, schools provided only up to primary education. Considering the brother’s condition and Tibebe’s need for continuing her education, the family decided to move back to Addis Ababa. Despite her grade good enough to enter university, she chose to apply for a nursing diploma. She thought she’d be in a better position as a nurse to help her disabled brother. In the interview for nursing school, she articulated her keen desire to help her brother and others like him.

Tibebe recalls her desire to help her family ever since she was a little girl, when she used to save all her transport allowance to buy her mother an umbrella and perfume. She assumed if she married, her brother would not have anyone to take care of him. Even after his death, Tibebe refused to marry so she can dedicate her life to serving others like him—the vulnerable ones.

Professional Journey

Tibebe entered nursing school, beginning her journey as a dedicated nurturer, and graduated in 1968. She was first assigned to serve in Asab, a port city. At the time, Asab was a warzone but still part of Ethiopia; everywhere she looked was horror. The soldiers knew her as the “Addis Ababa girl” and she was much loved. However, the overall experience continued to traumatize her. She finally fell into a mental breakdown when an accident happened to her own colleagues. Wanting to cool off in a hot Asab day, a few of them decided to lie down by the roadside away from their stifling rooms and ran over by a truck strayed. Her emotional instability got worse and she had to be admitted to the mental institution. After proper counseling, she managed to get well enough to work for a few more months. Her strong work ethic and motherly nature earned her respect and love from colleagues and patients. After a year of service at the warzone, she applied to be relocated and was granted permission. In 1970, she transferred to Alert Hospital and served for three years. Immediately thereafter, Tibebe was sent to Afar with the Red Cross team.

In 1973, Tibebe joined Save the Children (STC), Norway, to take part in a nine-month-long training/internship. Her new organization was dedicated to working primarily on malnourished and malaria-affected children in remote areas. She joined STC for nine months as an intern but ended up working there for 14 years. Tibebe acknowledges that Save the Children is the place where she learned multiple professional skills which laid the foundation for her next endeavors.  She ran multiple community-based projects. The main objective of these projects was to economically empower vulnerable citizens: leprosy patients, those with disabilities, single mothers with no income and with malnourished children.  In order to make these beneficiaries self-sufficient, the project built community homes and condominiums and provided multiple capacity-building trainings such as finance management and asset building. For children, saving accounts in their names were opened not to be accessed before the age of 18.

Tibebe also organized multiple, well-ran vaccination campaigns and awareness-creation programs on family planning.  Under her leadership a total of 144 condominiums, 400 individual houses, kindergartens, libraries, schools, and clinics were constructed for the community.  A great number of homes have been also renovated.  Through various vocational schools, thousands of youth were given capacity-building trainings and many job creation plans were implemented.

Tibebe served in different roles including project coordinator, project officer, and supervisor in the multifarious community-focused projects in Jimma, Agaro, Debre Birhan, and her last destination, Addis Ababa around the Zenebwork area until she established HAPSCO.

Foundation of HAPSCO

The early 90s were the days when HIV/AIDS took its strongest toll in Ethiopia with a huge mortality and morbidity rate. While working under Oxfam International in collaboration with Save the Children around Alert area, she noticed a great number of people dying from what she suspected was HIV/AIDS. With minimal understanding about the nature or transmission of the disease, many died from what seemed a mysterious disease. This ignorance of the disease made the spread uncontrollable because care takers never took the appropriate precautions.  The Alert Hospital community was populated with poor and leprosy patients, and their care takers mostly migrated from the rural area.  They settled there for its proximity to the hospital where they got treatment for their illnesses and stayed in the community as leprosy needs lifelong follow-up. The majority of the women in the area were without any education, so they would become commercial sex workers to support themselves and their families. The lack of awareness was fuel to exacerbate the deadly disease. As a professional health caregiver who suspected what was going on, Tibebe had to take drastic measures. She left her job to take care of the neglected infested with HIV/AIDS pandemic.

Tibebe set out to do the unthinkable. Equipped with just two nurses and 10 volunteers, she used her provident fund to start the project. There were many more suffering and dying from the disease bearing the agonies of lack of care and support to unbearable stigma and discrimination. Determined to make a difference, her small team started training the volunteers on an awareness-creation campaign and unleashed them throughout the community. Hiwot HIV/AIDS Prevention Care and Support Association (HAPSCO), later known to be Hiwot Integrated Development Association (HIDA) was born.

Small but determined, HAPSCO made people aware of the deadly disease, fought stigmas and changed attitudes.

HAPSCO contributed tremendously to improving the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS in three sectors. The first was through a peer-to-peer awareness-creation program, where volunteers gave the methods of transmission, prevention, seeking treatment, and non-stigmatization against the infected. The second was through a door-to-door caregiving service providing palliative caretaking, nurturing, cleaning, cooking, and doing house chores every day. The third was family planning, where they provide detailed education about family planning and contraceptives. But change was slow coming and tangible results far removed. Infected ones were in denial and the community had fortified walls against the pandemic. It was considered demonic and against fundamental beliefs by some religious leaders who preached otherwise. This counterfeited HAPSCO’s efforts where at times Tibebe was even physically attacked.

Tibebe noticed the potential in community based institutions such as “idir” and their credibility in society. Almost everyone in the community was a member of idir, which is a great support system in case of death… an equivalent of death insurance. AIDS patients died every day because they couldn’t afford to buy the medication. Tibebe challenged leaders of such institutions to include those who are struggling with life as well, which brought amendments to the rules/regulations of many idirs by introducing a concept of a social fund for life beyond death. This created a more inclusive and practical tool to support orphans and elders financially and emotionally. The social fund amendment later grew to 27 idirs. Community leaders in these institutions were major allies and supporters of the cause as they organized gatherings and lent ears; they served as a platform for HAPSCO to be heard, screened parts of the community that needed acute aid, coordinated volunteers, and provided their venue as training centers. To educate the communities about HIV/AIDS in a fun way, they organized stage plays. Intense progress was made.

HAPSCO was on the right track but desperately needed an ally. Tibebe’s request for membership in the Christian Religion Development Association (CRDA) to get professional supervision had been denied. But being a relentless advocate for the forgotten, she was always on the lookout for opportunities to support her fight. She managed to make an appearance at a convention that was held near her. The convention included briefing reports on the prevalence and statistics of HIV/AIDS in Ethiopia for the Diaspora community. During the coffee break, she ceased the opportunity to network with guests from the Diaspora and promoted her work. One of the individuals who lent an ear was Mulubirhan  Zewdie, a health professional from New York. Mulubirhan agreed to visit Tibebe’s work and brought other Diasporas with her to learn more about HAPSCO. They were touched by what they saw and astounded by Tibebe’s effort; they left determined to support the cause. They galvanized fellow Ethiopians living in New York City and came back to learn more, and to record Tibebe’s work on video in order to spread the news using the most powerful medium—film. The more people knew what she was doing, the better support both financial and emotional. Without alerting her, the Diaspora nominated Tibebe for the African Leadership Award, which she won in 2001 and received 50,000 USD to strengthen her work. Pharmicol, under the wing of MIDROC, sponsored her airfare to the United States. While she was in the U.S., she coordinated a sponsorship program for 100 orphans. This program continues today and has 480 children under it, each receiving financial support of 500-1200 Birr monthly.

Family Health International (FHI) was the first to show interest in a collaboration. It helped give HAPSCO a concrete organizational structure and expansion of their services from one sub-city to all 10 sub-cities. FHI provided additional staff of 10 nurses, assistants, project managers, and Human Resources professionals. Each nurse was assigned to each sub-city to supervise 30—which later grew to be 60—volunteers. A total of 600 volunteers aligned with HAPSCO mission to provide door-to-door care, nursing service, food, counseling, and cleaning for HIV patients. Psycho-social support was created by organizing coffee ceremonies to form support groups and create awareness amongst neighbors. The effort of home care spared patients stigma and discrimination and the cost of transportation. Bringing service to the home allows some to look after their children. This effort earned HAPSCO recognition and an award of 10,000 USD for Excellent Home-Based Care Service from the Center of International Learning, U.S.A.

HAPSCO also collaborated with the Ministry of Health to secure free medication from government hospitals for patients. In addition, they collaborated with the World Food Program to provide patients and their families monthly groceries of 3 liters of vegetable oil, 3 kgs of lentils, and up to 45 kgs of wheat. Once the awareness-creation began to take a stronghold in the community, HAPSCO shifted their focus to capacity building and sustainable income generation. With the funds they secured from Land of Lakes, they collaborated with kebeles (local government entities) for sheds to serve as retail shops. The small businesses include Mama Diary products. In other areas, HAPSCO provided five laundry machines to start the business laundry services.

HAPSCO to HIDO

HAPSCO played a major role–at the beginning single handedly–for the prevalence of HIV/AIDS to go down significantly, for help to become easily accessible. HAPSCO saw the need to shift focus to other problems that presented a threat to the well-being of the community. Changing its name to reflect the immediate needs of communities, HAPSCO became Hiwot Integrated Development Organization (HIDO). HIDO focuses on sustainability through integrated development approaches. HIDO trained and hired 10 persons living with AIDS to assist physicians with creating awareness and serving as a support group for incoming HIV/AIDS patients. There are also a few walk-in centers available for commercial sex workers to take naps, take their medication, and discuss with each other matters of family planning and so much more.

HIDO is serving the community in various ways. In 2020, the organization constructed Hiwot Kindergarten around Woira Sefer with funds from Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund (EDTF). The school accommodates more than 250 children. Targeted children are orphans from AIDS; they receive school supplies and access to feeding programs twice a day. HIDO works primarily on child and youth development, educational programs, and prevention of child trafficking. In collaboration with Hope for Justice, HIDO provides shelter and rehabilitation for victims of child abuse and trafficking with the possibility of a reunion with their families.

A saving scheme has been created to get community loan services. With rules and regulations in place, HIDO injects the principal money for a group of 20 women, enabling members to get loans from the account under certain agreements. Establishing a community along the way, this program has been running for a year now. The HIDO staff also donates 2% of their salary every month for additional support. HIDO works on early childhood care and education for Orphans and Vulnerable Children (OVC), women’s economic empowerment through training in business startups in leather cottage industries, woodwork, jewelry, pottery, and injera business. It also works against exploitative child labor, the root causes of illegal migration, capacity building in the youth, and Anti-Retroviral Treatment (ART) for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Addressing the root cause of illegal migration focuses mainly on the awareness creation of the potential to thrive in Ethiopia. Incorporating training in skill building and facilitating loans with different banks such as COOP without collateral are some of the economic empowerment schemes implemented in past four years. All the programs run with a robust follow-up. Due to the current political instability in the country, funds have become scarce but HIDO is looking forward to expanding on projects to eliminating sexual violence and tackling street children proplems for future projects.

Testimonies

Sister Tibebe is a noble woman with an abiding commitment to helping others. She has dedicated her entire life to serve humanity. Her courageous, smart, and forerunner approach to the HIV/AIDS pandemic, though unrecorded, saved tens of thousands of people and was a game-changer for the majority of idirs and the way they govern. She recognized the potential of such community institutions in bringing about long-lasting changes. During the early days of the pandemic, with extreme stigma and discrimination, she persevered in her dedication to service.

I can say she is an icon whose actions and pursuits inspire those following her. Genuine care has been the core of her drive. It requires a woman of power, courage, and grace to have surmounted the most difficult barriers there were.

~ Sr. Zenebech, one of the first volunteers of HAPCSO

Sister Tibebe is an excellent example of servant leadership. She is committed and persistent in her works. I look up to her tremendously. She never married or had children of her own. She does everything quietly for the sake of kindness and love. She understands the true essence of life. Through her works, she had made thousands survive and thrive… an angel on Earth with a creative and resourceful mind!

~ Sr. Abrehet Girmay, one of the first 10 nurses FHI brought to HAPCSO

Awards and Recognitions:

  1. Exemplary grass-root intervention engaging Community Based Organizations/CBOs (African Prize for Leadership) by Hunger Project, a New York-based International NGO (2001)
  2. Excellent Home-Based Care Service for chronically ill bedridden patients from the Center of International Learning (2003)
  3. Excellent community-based works of the organization, especially the engagement of community-based organizations–mainly idirin its interventions from Family Health International, a U.S.A. organization (2004)
  4. World of Children Award (Nobel Prize for Children) from The World of Children, a U.S.-based philanthropic Organization (2008)
  5. Making a significant difference in changing the lives of vulnerable children in Ethiopia from the Society of Ethiopian established in Diaspora (SEED) in the U.S.A. (2008)
  6. Excellent Performance in the area of HIV/AIDS prevention from Pre-Vent, a U.S.-based philanthropic organization (2010)
  7. Excellent performance in the area of prevention & care, and treatment service provision from Consortium of Christian Relief and Development Associations (CCRDA), Addis Ababa
  8. Extraordinary Citizens’ Award (Yebego Sew Shilmat) under the Charities category (2018)
  9. Certificate of Achievement by the Kaizen company for successfully meeting the requirements of USAID; Ethiopia Local Capacity Development (LCD) program from USAID LCD (2020)
  10. Certificate of Appreciation for active engagement and meaningful contribution in the area of Women Empowerment from the Authority for Civil Social Organization (ACSO) (2022)
  11. Enat Bank named one of its branches under Laureate Sr. Tibebe Maco.

…And countless recognition and appreciation from the Ethiopian government, donors, international and local partners, and CBOs at various times.

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