The CruXolve Foundation works to improve access to quality education through individual support and technical support to partner organizations.
Written by Sarah Bauler
I met Habtamu about nine years ago. I desperately wanted to take off my flaking wallpaper and paint over the mold-infested walls in our rented house in Addis Ababa, where my husband and I were stationed with Samaritan's Purse. Someone told me, "I know the best painter in town", so I eagerly drove to his house, which was in a slum area littered with trash and sewage. Habtamu came running to my vehicle, and through broken English and Amharic, he agreed to come to my house the next morning and start painting. It was a job that neither of us were prepared to undertake. First the walls had to be repaired, as the more wallpaper we peeled off the more damage we saw. Then we had to find the right color of paint. With so few choices in Ethiopia this was also quite the undertaking. We mixed and mixed, and then mixed some more. Finally we had the perfect raspberry color. Habtamu worked all week with fervor--he made me feel like nothing was impossible. By Christmas Eve (our first Christmas in Ethiopia) the house was done. It was one of my most memorable Christmas days. I still remember feeling so proud showing James our newly berry-painted living room with stockings hanging from our fire place. I had made a home for us, with Habtamu's help, and it felt so good.
Habtamu was an easy favorite with his nothing-is-impossible-attitude, and he soon became the Samaritan's Purse handyman. He seemed to think he could fix anything--he even tried to fix a broken ankle! But this was a refreshing change, and he soon became our family's full-time guard and handy man. I felt lucky to have him, as houses in Ethiopia seemed to have something in need of repair every day. He was our plumber, electrician, wood-worker, gardener, and of course, painter. He was also Noah's faithful companion in sheep herding. Every day he would hoist Noah to his shoulders and with a look of sheer delight he would take Noah to "hit" the sheep. Besides his general handyman skills, Habtamu was also a great story teller. This was perhaps what I liked about him best. Sometimes, if I felt bored, I would go find Habtamu and ask him tell me a story. He had lived such an interesting life as a soldier under the Derg Regime in Ethiopia. But it was the way he told stories that I loved the most. I would always end up laughing at his antics. He had a funny way of communicating. He was also a bit deaf--maybe a result of being a soldier. Often times he wouldn't hear James at the gate and I would have to yell, "Habtaaaamuuu!!!" He would always pop out of his guard house and say, "I'm fine!!!" Or he would say, "I'm not sleeping!!"
During the last year we were in Ethiopia, I realized that Habtamu often seemed tired. He would complain of feeling cold at night and ask me what the warts were on his skin. I began thinking that maybe he was HIV positive, but I wasn't sure how to convince him to get tested without offending him. One day, he decided to get tested with our driver, Seesy. I told him before he went, "Habtamu, whatever the result are, it doesn't matter. Even if you are HIV positive I will love you just the same. Nothing changes." This seemed to comfort him. A few days later he received his result--he was, indeed, HIV positive. in fact, his CD4 count was already so low that he had full blown AIDS. I remember the look he had on his face when he came to see us shortly after knowing his status--he was terrified...it seemed as though he had aged 20 years overnight. I told him over and over, "It'll be okay Habtamu. We love you. It'll be okay." It didn't seem to help much though because he was just so scared. He decided to stop working--as iif knowing that he was sick had actually made him sick. I almost wished he had never taken the test. A few weeks later he was admitted to a government Tuberculosis hospital, as his pneumonia had developed into TB.
And this is where my story ends. Habtamu spent the last few weeks of his life in a poorly-equipped TB ward. I visited him as much as I could. At one visit he told me, "Noah is beautiful." He also said, "James is my father." He had a great love for our whole family. He developed other co-infections, but there was no medical equipment or medicines available to properly diagnosis or treat his other symptoms. He passed away shortly after being admitted--emaciated and in a great deal of pain. We knew that he would most likely die, but we didn't expect it to happen so soon. Not to our beloved Habtamu.
To honor Habtamu's memory and his optimistic, eager, and can-do spirit, CruXolve has started the "Habtamu Education Fund" that provides educational scholarships to children and young adults who reflect the same passion as Habtamu to make the world a better place.