How does a gift made in Denver, Colorado travel halfway around the world to save the lives of women and children living in a refugee camp in Western Ethiopia?It takes a physician on a mission, a family determined to do good in a troubled world and an imam who was willing to open his heart.
In December of 2011, Margaret “Dr.Migs” Muldrow, MD, founder of the Village Health Partnership (VHP), prepared to return to Western Ethiopia to continue working with local communities to save women for whom giving birth is, too often, a death sentence.
Before Dr. Migs left Denver, Seeme Hasan of the Hasan Family Foundation, gave her a $500 donation and a letter of introduction to be used as a Ramadan gift. Hasan’s directive was clear: find an imam in the local community, give him the money and ask him to use it to help his people.
“It was really a unique gift,” said Dr. Migs, “because in the letter the Hasan family asked the imam to trust us, even though we were outsiders and not Muslims. So that letter was huge.”
But this gift also weighed heavily on her mind. “I worried about how I could fulfill the family’s wishes—just walk into a Muslim community, knock on a door and say‘Hello, where is the imam?’”
Working on behalf of VHP at the DembiDollo Hospital in Western Ethiopia, Dr. Migs walked into the pediatric ward, expecting to hear the chatter of young voices.Instead, the room was silent. “These children were all suffering from chronic starvation,” said Dr. Migs.“One 6-year-old girl weighed 15 pounds.All of them were listless and absolutely silent.”
She learned that these children came from a Muslim refugee resettlement camp near the hospital.There, thousands of people who had fled famine in Eastern Ethiopia were living and dying
A pregnant woman came to the hospital, in labor, seeking help.Her name was ZerituYimar.An ultrasound revealed that her baby was dead.Her pelvis was so small from chronic starvation,she could never have delivered the baby.When doctors did a c-section, they found that she was carrying twins.Both were dead.
ZerituYimar came from the same Muslim refugee resettlement camp as the starving children.Now Dr. Migs knew where the Ramadan gift must go. But she still needed to find the man who could take her there.
One day in the pediatric ward, Dr. Migs glanced over to the corner and saw a tall thin man sitting at the bedside of his sick son.But what caught her eye was his headgear.He was wearing a red scarf, the traditional symbol of an imam.
Dr. Migs approached the imam in this room of starving children with the medical director as her translator and with the Hasan Family Foundation letter in hand. “I have a Ramadan gift,” she told him. “I will give it to you if you will open the doors to the refugee camp and let us come in and help the children and the women.”
The imam read the letter from the Hasan family.“He looked straight back at me,” Dr. Migs recalled.“And from the look on his face, I knew one thing.He got it.He connected with me immediately because I had come to him on his own cultural terms. I didn’t want to convert him or criticize him.I just wanted to help.He was so elated, he embraced me.”
With the imam’s support,Dr. Migs and the medical director of the DembiDollo Hospital traveled to the Muslim refugee camp and officially presented the Ramadan gift.At first, the people were suspicious—until they realized that the visitors had come to help.
“This gift was so important because it means that the doctors from DembiDollo Hospital will now be allowed to enter the camp, give the children nutritional supplements and care for them rather than just wait for them arrive at the hospital, too sick to help,” said Dr. MIgs. And next year, when the VHP teams arrives at the camp, they will be welcomed.
The Hasan Family
When Dr. Migs returned from her trip, she shared the story of the gift and photos of the people in Ethiopia with the Hasan family.
Seeme Hasan looked at the pictures and sat, silently, crying.
At first, Malik Hasan was quiet.Then he became angry. “I am so sorry that there are any starving Muslims in this world when so many in our community have so much money,” he said. “For what you did, we owe you our heartfelt thanks.”
“I only wish now,” he added, “that we had given you more.”