Imagine your mother or father, elderly, ill, dying – living homeless and hopeless on the street. There are no nursing homes or assisted living facilities, and even if there were, there is no money to access them. There is no Medicare, no social security, no universal health care. Your family has been torn apart by poverty and your children have moved away to find jobs. Only the governmental elite are provided the security of housing, income, insurance. Everyone else, like your parents, is left to fend for himself.
That is the situation that Shiferaw Gobezie, a 2012 graduate of OU-Kansas City, encountered every day when he lived in Addis Ababa, the capital city of his home country of Ethiopia. And that is why he could no longer walk by the aged ones without taking action.
“Seeing this day in and day out stirred something inside me that provoked me to do something,” he said. “In the beginning, I wasn’t sure what or how, I only knew I must. That must started with twelve elderly people . . . who had no relatives and no means of support. I provided their support out of my own meager resources and continue to do so.”
With a population close to 85 million, Ethiopia is the second most populous country in sub-Saharan Africa and has one of the lowest per capita incomes in the world at $780 per year. This disproportionately affects the 2.7 percent of the people that are 65 years of age or older who have little or no source of income. With life expectancy increasing, the number of people over the age of 60 in East Africa alone rose from just over 3 million in 1950 to more than 11 million in 2000. That number is projected to rise to more than 56 million by the year 2050.
“My goal now is to expand the current support to a level that will reach more families and provide some of the elderly’s basic needs through a newly formed organization, International Covenant for Elder Care in Ethiopia (ICECE), which is a non-profit group dedicated to helping the hungry, weak, lonely, hopeless elderly people in Ethiopia in their final days.”
Gobezie is designing ICECE to provide four types of support to Ethiopia’s elderly. For those who are sick, cannot work, have no support, and live on the street, the organization will provide food, clothing, shelter, and medical service. For those who live with their families, who can work but have no income, the ICECE will provide the opportunity to engage in income-generating activities through vocational training. Others will be provided with housing renovation resources, and finally, for those who have difficulty paying rent and affording daily necessities, funds will be provided for these needs and basic medical care. The organization will also facilitate the spiritual and emotional development of all those in its care.
ICECE is taking a phased approach to accomplishing its mission. In phase one, the goal is to provide daily basic needs for 100 elders in each of the three regions of Addis Ababa (central region), Awasa (southern region) and Wollo (northern region). In phase two, the most needy elders will be brought together in rented houses. And in phase three, ICECE will establish a nursing home to provide institutional elder care.
The organization plans to secure funds and provide these services in much the same way that non-profits like World Vision and Christian Children’s Fund do for impoverished children around the globe – through monthly sponsorship of $30. While the world’s at-risk children are clearly deserving of life-saving resources, Gobezie believes that the elderly are too often overlooked and not given the honor and respect due them for the contributions they have made to their families and society. Too often they are stripped of their dignity in their final years and left to die, alone and forgotten.
The elderly will be screened as candidates to receive resources from ICECE by a partner local church and ICECE’s administrative team. In addition, a medical advisory board, an executive director (Gobezie), a board of directors, and volunteers will make up the members of the organization. To date, the organization has secured the volunteer services of a medical doctor, a professional social worker, an accountant, an administrator, a university instructor, and a church relations assistant. ICECE is still in need of board members with strong business leadership and a passion for the elderly, as well as someone with proven fundraising experience.
Gobezie and his wife, Wossene Asayehegn, moved to the United States in 2000, living in Washington, D.C., for two years before coming to Kansas, where Gobezie now works as an accounts payable specialist with TVH Parts in Olathe. The couple developed ICECE in early 2013, believing that, “Man proposes; God disposes.” They are trusting Him to help ICECE and those who partner with it to care for the elderly as outlined in Matthew 25:40, which says, “When you give a cup of water to the least of these, you have done it unto me.”
Gobezie grew up in the Christian church in Ethiopia, which has a strong Christian heritage dating back to the fourth century. He is very active in his church here in the U.S. as both a deacon and volunteer, while also maintaining ties with churches and the ICECE Advisory Board in Addis Ababa.
Anyone interested in partnering with Gobezie by serving on ICECE’s board of directors or by sponsoring an elderly individual in Ethiopia should contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, 913-909-7752, or visit the organization’s website at www.iceceinc.org. He can also be reached by mail at Shiferaw Gobezie, 728 S. Maple Street, Gardner, KS 66030.
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