Our host group, Project Mercy, is a Christian organization in a Muslim region. It was begun years ago by Marta and Deme, an Ethiopian couple whose life reads like an exciting book: Marta was the first female Senator in Ethiopian history, being elected during the time that Haile Selassie was in power. When his government was overthrown in a Marxist coup in the early 70s, her name appeared on an execution list of the new government. She and her family fled the country, through Kenya and eventually to the United States.
In the early 1990s a severe drought and famine swept over Ethiopia and created an overwhelming refugee crisis. The Communist government was deposed and Marta and Deme returned to assist with feeding and caring for, and eventually repatriating, the refugees. The tribal leaders around Yetebon took note of Marta's work and invited her to come to their region to help them with their own drought and famine issues. Marta reminded these Muslim leaders of her Christian heritage and pointed out that her work was a faith based work. They knew that and were happy to have her, even with her Christianity.
So in an area that is about 95% Muslim, Project Mercy was born. It began with a water and agriculture project and has grown to house schools for 250 in Kindergarten and 1000 in grades 1 to 10. There is an orphanage for 55 kids on the campus as well as an adult education center that has classes for wood shop, metal shop, sewing, and basket weaving. The K to grade 10 schoolkids are taught English as well as the usual subjects in Amharic. They understand very well that their education is their ticket out of the poverty into which they were born and they place great value upon it. On campus we observed kids that were well behaved, attentive, and motivated. They participate in the care and upkeep of the facility and the gardens as part of their education.
Two years ago Project Mercy opened a hospital. It is a 40 bed acute care hospital that offers medical, surgical, pediatric and maternity care. It is a beautiful, modern facility that was funded by a grant from the Glenn Olson Memorial Foundation. He was the son of the founder of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC). It was through and for the hospital that we did our work. The hospital has an American couple as the administrators - Gary and Peggy Ifft. The medical director is currently one of the three staff physicians - Dr. Tekle, the gynecologist. There are also a general surgeon and a primary care doctor on staff for inpatient care, and several general doctors for outpatient care.