Worknesh Munie – The Women Who Restores Dignified Life to the Abandoned Senior Citizens

Born and raised in Wolaita, Worknesh Munie, is a wife and a mother of three but lives in Addis Ababa with the elderly people whom she found worth living for.  She worked in different organizations but her life changing path happened as she recovered from her fatal health problem and felt that she received a Divine call to take care of the elderly who were abandoned in the street.

She found a purpose in life and a passion to pursue – restoring dignity to the elderly people. Studies show that there are many senior citizens who are neglected and abandoned in streets and they live by begging.  She found that was very humiliating and dehumanizing.  Senior citizens can live in dignity contributing their knowledge and expertise if they have support system that sustains them through their old age.  However, their dire living and social conditions was so dehumanizing that at the age where people would feel respected and celebrated, they are in streets begging.  This prompted her to establish a caring system whereby they live in dignity.

At first, Worknesh used her family resources to cater care and support to selected elderly people who are on street for these were the neglected part of society.  Then, she established a local NGO, Kibre Aregawuyan Migbare Senay Direjit (KAMSD) in July 2007 and continued to use both her family as well as community resources to provide the services.  The motto of KAMSD is “Dignity and Better Life to the Elderly!”

In order to have sustainable support to the elderly who do not have a support, Worknesh devised ways to raise funds as well as recruit partners to continue the work.  Four strategic objectives are devised to have a sustainable support:

  1. Establish institutional care support for those who live on street.
  2. Establish community-based support program and for those who have houses, renovate their house for them to have a decent living.
  3. Establish income-generation program and work for those who are capable of working in the institution.
  4. Establish cash support for those who have a living place outside but cannot earn money.
  5. Construct a multi-purpose care and support center for institution-based beneficiaries.

At present, 60 elderly people are supported in its institutional care program and about 200 in its community-based projects.  About 1000 people in the community are indirectly supported as each family unit has on the average five family members.  Worknesh envisions that the elderly people are no more in the streets for begging but live their final days honored and dignified.

The organization is committed to providing financial, material, psycho-social, and spiritual needs of the elderly who are above 60 years old and fulfill other selection criteria of Bureau of Labor and Social Affairs to be admitted in the institution.

Since its establishments, KAMSD has achieved the following:

  • An income-generating project focusing the disadvantaged elderly women was established in Lideta sub-city, woreda 1. The bread-baking project that was launched in the woreda consisted of 30 elderly women organized by micro enterprise unit of the woreda. It is now fully functional and has enabled elderly women self-sufficient.
  • To mitigate the burden of senior citizens, KAMSD,  supported 30 OVCs from Lideta sub-city, woreda, to have three meals a day through their guardians, education and health in sponsorship program.
  • Won the First Call for Proposals for Innovation Grant issued by Civil Society Support Programme (CSSP) on 17 February 2012.
  • A partnership Agreement between Ambassadors and Heads of Mission Spouses and Diplomatic Spouses Group (AHMSDSG), Project Matrix and KAMSD was signed in three times to purchase the necessary furniture and equipment for the elderly home and health care room, to purchase furniture, shelves, TV, equipment and clothing for the institutionalized elderly people.
  • The Municipality of Addis Ababa has given more than 8,000 sq. meter of land free from lease to KAMSD for the construction of care and support center for the elderly. The present facility is built with the money donated by one woman who sold her house and donated the money and started living with the elders.
  • A grant was given by Japan Embassy to repair houses and establish income generating activities in flour mill and bread baking in Yeka, Lideta, Kirkos and Arada sub-cities.  With this grant the following projects were accomplished:
    • 106 residential houses were fully repaired
    • 16 residential houses were partially repaired
    • 30 elderly women were organized in bread-baking in Yeka sub-city.
    • 30 elderly women organized to do IGA in flour mill IGA in Yeka sub-city.
    • 30 elderly women organzed in Lideta sub-city.
    • 30 elderly women organized in Arada sub-city.
    • With the grant from the IOM, KAMSD repaired 91 houses of elderly people in Addis Ababa, 10 public latrines for the community in Yeka and Kirkos Sub cities.  The projects core activities include: Construction of low cost urban shelters, conducting health assessments, provision of clothing and psycho-social support to the selected elderly
    • With a grant from UNDP, a project as designed to undertake research on the problems and conditions of the elderly in Addis Ababa and for the training of 40 volunteers who would assist KAMSD to undertake research. Forty community volunteers were given training on how to care for and cater to the needs of the elderly in the community
    • With the support from the French Embassy 75 damaged houses of the elderly in Yeka and Kirkos sub-cities were repaired, 90 elderly women were involved in income-generating endeavor. Six shops for income generation activities were set up to sustain their business.
    • Donation of special chairs and wheel chairs were obtained from an International NGO called SIGNUM to assist the elderly beneficiaries with disabilities.
    • Those elderly who are physically in shape and healthy are engage in handicrafts, weaving and local fabrics production which are sold in the shop is setup.
    • Organized sensitization workshops, awareness raising events, marches, to mobilize society to care for the senior citizens.
    • 120 elderly receive monthly financial support.
    • 35 elderly who were begging on the streets are enjoying institution based care. 30 elderly are reintegrated and 15 elderly who passed away have been given due funeral procession.
    • Under the community based projects: 120 elderly received monthly financial support, 276 damaged houses of the elderly are repaired, 210 elderly women are engaged in income generating activities and provided with necessary training.

Worknesh enables others economically using  IGA schemes, physically catering to their physical health needs, spiritually creating the environment to worship their God in whichever religious way they want to connect; psycho-socially allowing social events and routines that address their needs, training volunteers to support the elderly. She enables the elderly to be active socially, and giving them dignified life by restoring their living places.  There are twelve employees who work in the administration and finance, clinic, kitchen, and who take good care of the elderly.

Leaving her comfortable life as a wife of the Ambassador to France and now Brussels, Worknesh lives with the elderly in a small room, in order to follow up to the day to day needs of the elderly.  She believes that it requires sacrifice to live one’s passion and fulfill one’s mission in life.  However, she also feels privileged to live her passion that makes a difference in the lives of the neglected and considered ‘less contributing’ to the fabric of society.

Worknesh is a pioneer in starting care for the elderly.  She used all her networks and connections to fulfill her dream and leading the organization she established by modeling servant leadership.

It was useful to get grants to establish the institution that caters to the needs of the senior citizens.  However, to sustain the care and support, Worknesh is now given a plot to build residence for the elderly which could be used not only a residence for them but also as a means for income generation by renting some rooms.  This is planned to sustain the care given to the elderly through the generated income.  In addition, some of the rooms are designed to be rented as a nursing home for people who can afford to pay for their loved senior citizens but cannot live with them.

Worknesh main challenges revolve around leaving her family members to live with the elderly.  Since she has children who also need her constant love and attention, she has to manage her responsibility to her family from a distance.    Second, fund raising to do the new facility is another challenge that she believes the One who gave her the vision will also enable her to fulfill her dream.

Worknesh envisions that Ethiopia is a place where elderly people are no more in the streets for begging but live their final days with honor and dignity.

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Testimonies of a volunteer, a beneficiary and a service user about Worknesh

“This work started about eight years ago and I have known Worknesh for the past five years.  She is a visionary and soft-hearted person.  I am a volunteer in the program unit who prepare project documents.    She started the work with her own family budget.  She believes that she is called by God to help the people on street.  What I appreciate most about her is her visionary stance and commitment.  She is appreciated for her vision, industriousness, and commitment.  She is now building elderly multipurpose facilities.  In terms of delegation, she has yet to learn lessons but her qualities overweigh the gaps.  She is a pioneer in starting service to the elderly.”

“I appreciate how Worknesh’ takes care of the elderly.  I got to know her when I brought a woman who was about to go and live on a street and followed up on her wellbeing until she died.  I was impressed with the sanitation of rooms, the way each senior citizen was taken care of and how they felt about their life.  I was very impressed to see such quality in this place.  For me she modeled quality of life.”

“I sold my house and live with the elderly but what impressed me most is the fact that she considered life with the neglected part of the society as worthy to live for and left her life in Europe and lived with us in a 2×3 bedroom. I am grateful that there are kind people like her who take good care for others as their way of life.”

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