Age 60 and counting. But sitting at home and growing old is not an option. She still works as hard as when she was 20, always taking care of others. A sacrifice she makes gladly so that her children, grandchildren and entire community are educated and can do well in life.

Evenings in Arsi Negele, a savannah-rich region with occasional acacia forests, are special. As the sun sets, people sit outside to enjoy the falling temperatures, make coffee, laugh and play with family and children.

But even then, she teaches about health, hygiene, family planning. Everyone around her listens, the result of a lifetime of helping others. For this grandmother, community comes second only to family,

“Going out helps you live longer. It makes me happy to go out and serve the community.”

COVID changed everything. No work, no food, no market, no water, no soap. Many struggled and were badly affected, which made her very sad. And as so often in dire circumstances, the dark side of human nature reared its ugly head.

Fear turned respect into suspicion.

Rumours were rife: Is she carrying the disease because she continues to go out into the community, or is she making money from it somehow?

And yet she persevered.

“I did not stop educating even at that time. I told people nearby to keep social distancing and to do this, do that. But deep inside, I was so scared.”

When support organisations arrived with jerrycans, soap and masks, she tended to the most needy and continued to give. Always giving.

Nothing would make her happier than for the suffering to end. Little wonder she is known as the mother of the poor.

“My name is Etalem.

To stop the spread of COVID, I take action for safe water and personal hygiene in my community.
Change begins with me.”

Etalem Bekele

is a mother and grandmother who lives in Arsi Negele, Ethiopia, with her extended family. At 60 years of age, she still spends most of her time with the health extension workers in her community, volunteering to educate, inform and help the poor and less fortunate. Sitting at home, growing old? Not an option.



Etalem has taken more than 200 poor families in her community under her wing. She has never stopped or faltered regardless of negative feedback or suspicion.

Family of


Her bond with her family is strong. Living with her children and grandchildren makes her feel happy and loved. Eight family members all together.


jobs so far

6 jobs so far
Etalem never sits still and has done various jobs to help her family and community. From a young age, she has worked in family planning, HIV prevention and control, home-based care and counselling, immunisation and now COVID prevention. This grandmother of 60 is still going strong.


The story continues