Her name is Tigist.
So many things about us are the same. Although it's said in different languages, we share the title, Mom. One of her sons is named Ts'aga which means "grace." I have a daughter who's middle name is Grace. She squeezes her kids and smothers them with kisses. I squeeze my kids and smother them with kisses. She dreams about her children's future. I dream too.
We share many deep similarities but also some startling differences. She speaks Amharic. I speak English. She lives in Ethiopia. I live in the United States. She is a single mom. My husband comes home every night. She walks everywhere she goes. I only walk for exercise or on vacation. She works to survive. I have a savings account. She carefully measures out food between her three children. I have leftovers to give to my dog.
She is sick. I am healthy.
That difference is what made us sisters instead of birth, proximity or even adoption.
We became sisters the day I opened an email from Project Hopeful'sHope+Sisterhood program that introduced me to Tigist Belachew. Project Hopeful knew that Tigist didn't need a sponsor....she needed a sister who would love her and know her face. She also needed a sister who had resources to share and could give Tigist and her sweet children a new beginning.
The Hope+ Sisterhood program matches up HIV+ women like Tigist who are in danger of losing their lives and children with women like me. They helped us begin a friendship that wouldn't have been possible otherwise. My American girlfriends joined me and we sent checks for 6 months to allow her to join the program. We framed pictures of Tigist and her kids and began praying for her. On the other side of the world, Tigist had the hard work to do.
|I was able to meet Tigist on the first trip we made to Ethiopia for our adoption.|
|Together we cut the traditional Dabo bread.|
|Tigist and sweet, mischevious Ts'aga.|
|Tigist is holding a picture of her American sisters and letters from them.|
Through the program she began seeing doctors and trying to get healthy. She developed a business plan and began working her new injera selling business. The Sisterhood goal is a healthy, confident mom who has a skill that will provide for her children. Tigist took baby steps toward that goal.
Her business had a slow, jerky start because of the monsters she was fighting every day, HIV and persistent TB. Sick days seemed to stall whatever progress she could make on the good days.
|Tigist's home where she welcomed our family.|
|She served us the traditional coffee ceremony in her home.|
|My sweet sister.|
|Mommas and their precious children.|
|She explained to us the difficulties her health presented to her business. She had just been released from the hospital the day before we visited her.|
If I had been the one sick, the fight would have looked so different than it did for Tigist. Regular checkups would have caught the problem quickly for me. A primary care physician would have been making referrals to specialists while overseeing my treatment plan. I would have had the luxury of being able to be thoroughly educated about my condition and the possible treatments. My medical care wouldn't have been dependent on me having cash in my hand. The troops would have rallied with childcare and meals while my only job became recovery.
Instead, Tigist relied on treatments from one clinic for one problem and treatments from another clinic for others. She stopped taking expensive medicine as soon as she started to feel better because her children were hungry. She collapsed on the sidewalk walking from the hospital to a food vendor because there was no one at the hospital to bring her meals. She refused an appointment with a world-renowned TB specialist because she couldn't read about him on the internet and know of his amazing cure rate for drug-resistant TB. She also refused because his treatment would require her to check into the hospital for 3 months. Leaving her children in someone else's care for that long wasn't an option she was willing to consider.
|Persistant, drug-resistant TB|
As much as I hated it when it was happening, my heart understood. Who else can a mother be, but a mother. A mother who gives the extra eggs the American sisters sent money for to her children so they have energy for school; who can't trust the hired help to nanny for 3 months because they are her babies and shouldn't be without her. She fought the best she knew how. We fought alongside her. But the monsters won. Tigist's children lost their mom on August 25, 2014.
|Project Hopeful staff checked in on the children during their next trip.|
|Nancy, the Sisterhood director, and Eyrues.|
|Eyrus, Ts'aga & Tamiru.|
|The children are now living with their father and step brother. Their father works as a day laborer earning about $1 a day when he can find work. School fees and uniform costs are a challenge.|
This wasn't how it was supposed to work with the Sisterhood program. Most sisters go on to live healthy lives with thriving businesses after the 6 month training. There wasn't a plan or a program for children left behind. But there were sisters.
Tigist's children are the reason I'm headed to Ethiopia next month. Project Hopeful is letting my sister, Kathy, and I tag along as their bloggers on their regularly scheduled Sisterhood trip. I've got profiles of the 10 women in the current program who we will visit sitting on my desk right now. We will check on them, assist their business development and encourage them by bringing gifts and letters from their American sisters. And then we will tell their stories on Project Hopeful's blog. They are all women just like my sister, Tigist. Women who want to be strong enough to offer their children life. Women who are willing to work hard and sacrifice to give their children a future.
And one day next month, we will be in Tigist's home with our arms around her sweet children. We will remind them of their mother's fierce love and tell them that they are not forgotten. We will make sure that they are eating enough and have their school fees paid. We will speak Tigist's dreams over them and tell them that they also have a heavenly Father whose plans for their futures are good.
I am not the same girl I was before I became Tigist Belachew's sister. Her friendship and memory have changed me. I care about things I didn't even know about before. I'm profoundly grateful for things that can easily go un-noticed. The world feels like a bigger place and God's work feels more sacred.
Watch this video below about the Hope+Sisterhood project in Uganda to see the program in action.
And please consider becoming a sister yourself by contacting my friend, firstname.lastname@example.org.