This pandemic has robbed many people of family members and friends. It has robbed not only my friends and family but the world of a most remarkable woman, Dr Jember Teferra, Ethiopia’s champion of the poor.
Although from a privileged background herself as the niece of Emperor Haile Selassie, Ethiopian lady, Jember and her husband, Hailegorgios, suffered imprisonment during the communist revolution of her country in 1974. There, instead of complaining of her lot, Jember set about encouraging and teaching her fellow prisoners. Sharing a mattress in a rat-infested prison, Jember came to identify with the poor in her nation’s capital and on her release, set about doing something to improve their lives. Her approach took the initiative of asking people what their needs were and working from that information. She wanted to care for the whole needs of the poor, from health and housing to education and employment. She began a work in one part of the city, and when those needs began to be met, then moved on to other parts, helping to fund education for the children, support for the elderly and infirm and providing all with proper housing and sanitation. I was privileged in 2008 to visit the projects, staying for a week in one of Jember’s houses.
Throughout her life, Jember kept a strong faith in God despite terrible suffering and multiple bereavements including her husband and one of her sons. The other son, Workneh suffered a stroke and heart attack several years ago, which left him incapacitated and in a home. Jember had to stop her work in Ethiopia, travelling across the world to fund raise for the poor when her own son’s needs took precedence. She has cared for him relentlessly ever since, staying near him in the UK. Sadly, this dedication has now cost her own life.
Following my visit to Addis Ababa, Jember recently gave me the great privilege of writing up her thoughts and devotions. She hoped to see all them, previously published in various pamphlets, now collated into one book. Sadly, she never lived to see this happen, however, I hope that I may continue, with the family’s blessing, to finish this work as a legacy to a truly great lady, once called ‘Ethiopia’s Mother Teresa’.