Meeting Ephrem in Norwich

Blog post written by Revd Canon Nick Garrard, one of the HE Trustees

(as published in the Yarmouth Mercury)

Recently I had a fascinating lunch at Norwich Cathedral. The jacket potato was good but the company made it really special. The special guest was Ephrem Abathun, Director of Hospice Ethiopia

Ethiopia has a population of 100 million people, but only one hospice. Hospice Ethiopia operates out of a rented office in the capital, Addis Ababa. It has no inpatient unit (there are no hospice beds anywhere in Ethiopia), but a trained, dedicated team of nurses and a volunteer doctor take palliative care to patients in their homes. They also provide small grants for food for patients and their families who cannot support themselves. A couple of years ago, Norwich Diocese sponsored a second car, which enabled Hospice Ethiopia to double its caseload. They also train medical staff in pain relief, aiming to make the country’s hospitals ‘pain-free’.

Ephrem came on a whirlwind tour of England to learn more about our care methods and to talk about his hospice’s work. I was struck by Ephrem’s warmth, passion, and eagerness to learn. He was particularly interested in how we provide spiritual care for terminally ill patients, especially through the work of chaplains like my wife Helen, who is chaplain at Priscilla Bacon Lodge. Ethiopia is one of the world’s poorest countries but also the most religious. Two thirds Christian and one third Muslim: 99% of its people said that faith was important to them, compared with only 30% in the UK. Engaging with patients’ faith would help them make their spiritual journey to the end of this life and beyond. Ephrem wants the support that dying people and their families receive to be spiritual as well as physical and psychological.

Ephrem’s vision is to create a centre of excellence in Addis Ababa, where medical professionals can see palliative patient care in practice, to learn new techniques of symptom control and pain relief, and above all, to meet the needs of the ‘whole’ person. In a country where hard-pressed medical services concentrate on treating curable diseases, Ephrem’s hospice is a small voice crying out. But big things come from small beginnings, and change can come quickly. I told Ephrem about my great-grandmother. In the 1900s, she helped my great-grandfather run a pub in a poor area in Norwich. Without any training, she nursed cancer patients and performed operations next to the kitchen fire. Their pub was in sight of the hospital, but no one could afford its services. So much has changed here since. So much can change in Ethiopia too. As Christians we hope for things as yet unseen and, as St Paul tells us, hope does not disappoint us.

 

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