Hawi Belete, a wonderful mother of two, a humanitarian, but most of all, a compassionate woman who once courageously decided to open her own nursing home. A heroine who has ever since helped, and continues to improve, many unfortunate people with different needs at her center for seniors. Her welcoming smile invited us into her home.
What made you start the senior center?
Well, amongst the different reasons, three had made me decide it was my calling to work with people in general and the elderly in particular. So, the first reason was my uncle, who was an educated man and the patriarch in his family, a man who taught my mother everything but then ended up in the streets. And I always saw my mom crying for not knowing how she could have helped him. One day, when I was in the 8th grade, I think he was brought home, given money & clothes, then sent off. A year later, he came back the same. In the end, when he died on the streets, I felt a sense of being bitten by time since I always wanted to help him.
My second reason was, as a kid, most beggars knocked from door to door asking for food, and they would say, “Emuyie, please give me some food.” And immediately I would start crying because that was my nickname at home and I would wonder how these people knew my name. My third reason is that I had always wanted to open an orphanage. A place where I could help, because children are most vulnerable and in need of care in their development. And that became the nursing center, because the elderly are, in a way, children too.
The third reason is the dignity people deserve, especially the elderly, for they have lived and gone through everything most of us are to encounter yet. It is quite different from any other care. Considering it’s all about farewell, it is about dignifying their last days.
Her experience from her studies in Statistics and Survey backed by her fieldwork in various parts of the country had equipped her with adequate skills in handling day to day life with the elderly. What I found intriguing was how she has never gotten professional nursing training. With this in mind, I moved to my next question.
From your attendees at the nursing home, who is the most memorable?
Well, I have two most memorable attendees. The first is style Tsegue; this woman was living on a mattress surrounded by sticks that held the plastic, which was to be the roof. I first met her after someone pointed us to the compound she was once living in, and we got there in the morning, a little after it had rained, the mattress was soaking wet. She was sitting there with her feet clutched to her chest. As I leaned in to greet her, she sprung for where she sat and welcomed me with a smile. An old injury dislocated her left foot so she couldn’t wear shoes. She gladly gave us all the information we needed, and we left. That night it started raining, and I couldn’t sleep. I kept wondering how she was going to sleep. So in the morning, I took a couple of metal sheets to at least make something out of that space. And I was denied by the tenant there. A snobbish boy whom I later found out was the landlords’ grandson. You see, we then found out the compound she was living in, was hers and her daughter took it in a settlement. I can vouch that she was the most compassionate and the most grateful person I have ever met in my life, even with her circumstances. I like to think I did my best to dignify her farewell. The second one is a blind man, and he’s disability made it difficult for him to trust people. He had difficulty adjusting to things in the center. Finally, when everybody started requesting that he’d leave. I went to see him. I asked him what his problem was if he thought it better, he’d go back to where we found him, and he quickly told me that everything is better here, the food, the shelter, the bed. Then I asked what troubled him, and he said nothing. Now, this is one of the moments I have gotten answers for my struggles through this center. So, while we were talking, I said that life doesn’t answer all our questions because it doesn’t want us to forget living.
What are the requirements for an elderly to receive care at your center, and what is the care provided like?
We have three services. We have grandchildren’s support, where we supply education and schooling for the grandchildren of the elderly. The other one is elderly sponsorship, where we help and assist them in their homes. And the third one is the nursing center we take in homeless people as a priority, and the age requirement is 65 or above, disabled people are given priority.
Finally, what does compassion mean to you?
Compassion means having zero expectations from the things you do & appreciating the frustrations of going the extra mile. It means trying to understand their suffering and trying your best to suffer with them. Compassion isn’t an act of saying but an act of doing.
Then we wrapped it up, a smile on my face as she described dignity over and over. “Everything worth doing is worth doing well!”
*Marilyn Monroe (playing Lorelai Lee in “Gentlemen prefer Blonde”), and it is true.
Hawi finalized our talk by saying, “people no matter from which social class or economic status are praised in their birth, it’s only sensible to do the same in their farewell!”
Story Credit: Safe Light