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Ethopia: Opening Doors -- Habitat for Humanity Int'l 1

Ethopia: Opening Doors


Young members of the Tilahun family


Liben Tilahun, his wife Belaynesh Yesuf and four of their children once inhabited a shelter made of plastic sheeting in a cemetery on the outskirts of town. The couple lived as so many of those affected by leprosy do — on the sideline of society, cured but culturally shunned, surviving on a meager income from begging and discarded food.

“Although I will turn 62 soon, I sometimes think that it is only my fifth birthday that I am celebrating,” says Liben, smiling. “We moved into this Habitat home five years ago, and I really believe we only started truly living then.”

In Karagutu, Dessie, where Liben and family now live, Habitat has built a community where ex-leprosy patients and other Ethiopians live as neighbors, their children attending school together. Local municipal authorities granted Habitat the land to build and provide services to the community, enhancing Habitat’s efforts to help lift the societal stigma.

Since moving into their Habitat house, the family has been healthier, leaving behind nagging respiratory ailments. They’ve received mosquito nets from Habitat and its partners to help protect their health, and the family’s proof of residence in the community entitles them to treatment at the local clinic.

Liben now works as a guard at the Dessie Habitat affiliate, grows crops and rears sheep. He dreams of a better future for his children and grandchildren — and so do they. Eighteen-year-old son Abdu goes to the school nearby and says he wants to one day become a doctor.

For the family, the house has given them a chance to rejoin the community that once was closed to them. Liben’s neighbors have even given him a signifier of respect: they call him Aba Shehu, a nickname that means he is seen as a natural leader.