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The unsung hero
Tuesday, January 16, 2024

The open dictionary website defines an unsung hero as follows: An unsung hero is a person who has achieved great things or committed acts of bravery or self-sacrifice yet is not celebrated or recognized. The subject of this story fits that definition of a word. His name probably won't ring a bell to many, nor will poets write epics about him. But for laboring mothers and health centers in Kallu woreda, he has been their knight in shining armor. This is the story of Beyene the ambulance driver, the unsung hero behind the safe delivery of hundreds of babies in Ketetya, Dawlo, Beke, Ardibo, and many more health centers.

On a serene Saturday afternoon in March, I am sitting in the passenger seat of a double-cabin Nissan pickup heading to Ketetya Health Center, one of our spoke health centers in South Wollo. Beyene is my driver. Even though I heard the road was not conducive, nothing prepared me for the rugged mountain that lies ahead of us. It is similar to the famous Harego road from Kombolcha to Dessie in that both twist and turn their way to the top of their respective mountains. The difference is that Harego is a comfortable asphalt road, whereas the one in Ketetya is a rough, dusty pavement. "You came after the road had been maintained. This is the best I have seen on this road. It's during rainy seasons that the road is at its worst," says Beyene. He used to come here at nightfall to pick laboring mothers from their kebeles and take them to Ketetya health center and, if deemed necessary, to Dessie and Kombolca hospitals "I sleep in my Ambulance with my shoes on so that a minute is not wasted when a call comes in. Even though I am assigned to Dawllo Health Center, never have I ever declined a phone call from any health center in the woreda asking me to bring laboring mothers." His eyes glitter with honor and pride as he speaks. As a married man and a father of two daughters, I wondered how his work might have affected his family. "My kids are my whole being. The only reason I keep rushing to health centers and Kebeles is so that other people get to experience this incredible feeling of being a parent. I take pride in helping them get the care they need' adds Beyene.

At long last, we reached Ketetya health center and were welcomed by Ato Gizachew, the head of the health center, and Ato Mekonen, head of MCH. To my surprise, virtually everyone at the health center knows Beene by name. "He is a household name here," explains Gizachew "He just never tires. He is always available when we need him'. As Gizachew and I headed to the maternity ward, his many adoring friends at the health center escorted Beene to invite him to lunch. They were happy to see him, which is a huge understatement. He received a similarly warm welcome at our next stop, Degan Health Center. This man is a celebrity in this part of the world. "I can't wait to hop on my Ambulance again," says Beyene "I need to continue giving back to the society that has bestowed all this love on me.". He is due to be back on ambulance duty once the ambulances purchased by the Woreda administration arrive.

As we headed back to Kombolcha, I was left thinking about where we would be without the likes of Beyene, who sleep with their shoes on so that our mothers have a complication-free delivery. The tremendous improvement in key health indicators over the past two decades wouldn't have been possible without these relentless souls. Behind every safe and uncomplicated delivery in rural parts of our country, there is a Beyene who makes sure everything occurs in a timely manner. Our unsung heroes, our shooting stars, and our reasons to dream. It is about time we started waxing lyrical about them.