Do you recall the first time you came to the United States? Chances are you can remember vividly all the minute details, the places you visited, the people you met, the landmarks you toured, and not to mention the dreams you had about becoming famous and/or wealthy. Many of us aspire to climb the clichéd term, “the ladder of success” or to be specific “the corporate ladder.” However, a few of us achieve financial success. We dream big, but often our dreams fail to become reality and we are stuck at the mundane job we wish we never had. We shoot for stardom, but so often we let fear of failure keep us from doing what we love most. The woman we will highlight in this incredible story managed to dodge the cliché’s of life to achieve incredible success and help alleviate the medical concerns plaguing her native town of Nejo in Western Oromia, Ethiopia.
Which leads us to believe character of every individual today is both diverse and complicated subject matter; where an individualistic society prevails with so many people from every walk of life arriving in the United States with the hope of achieving personal success. Only very few would choose to do something more substantial, grand, or noble and try the impossible while maintaining their day to day routines. Others like Obse Lubo go above and beyond to change the lives of poverty-stricken children while putting her own life on pause. Thus, a question that we often struggle with regarding our own personal character can be broken down into that of nature versus nurture. Simply put how much of our character has been defined by our life experience or nurtured by our parents and society at large. For Obse Lubo much of what she does emanates from both her life experiences growing up in the small town of Nejo and her parents whom from young age instilled in her the need coupled with her own desires to help the less fortunate.
So the stakes are far too great for Obse Lubo because of the children who are losing the battle from treatable disease, the adults going blind from Cataracts, and the countless residents of Nejo and surrounding town who are robbed of their childhood due to cleft. Cleft known in the medical field as Cheiloschisis is an opening or gap that often occurs on the lips. It is a congenital deformity caused by abnormal facial development during gestation in other words pregnancy which robs children and adults alike of normal life. Imagine for a second, having a deformed face, a basic passport to the world which denies you of normal human interaction. For most of us fortunate enough to not have to contemplate with facial deformities or diseases we shall be extremely grateful. For the unfortunate few it can be agonizing to suffer from such deformities and illnesses. And, let’s face it despite our best effort we often take a prolonged stare or make negative facial expression at those that appear different from us. Instead of judging the less fortunate, Obse Lubo made it her lifelong goal to lend a helping hand to those in need.
As a result, the sense of urgency we witnessed in Obse Lubo during our interview emerges from the countless Oromo children and the greater East African community who go untreated for the various ailments they suffer. Because without the ability to have a normal face not to mention other ailments which can be life threatening chances of attending school, obtaining work or even interacting with others is simply a luxury. Unlike, most of us Ms. Lubo could no longer standby and witness the ongoing suffering that plagued her native town. So she set out to bring about change, armed with a passion and driven by her dream to change the prospects for her people she did what many of us would consider the unthinkable. She turned down her childhood dream of becoming a doctor for something far more superior.
Here is how Ms. Lubo’s incredible story began…
In early 2000 she moved from the small town of Nejo, located in the Western region of Oromia, Ethiopia to Minneapolis, Minnesota. After graduating from South High School she attended St. Catherine University in Saint Paul, MN where she received her Bachelor of Science in Nursing. Upon graduation she moved to California where she began her nursing career. Although, she was satisfied with her career she wanted to go further so she applied to graduate school and was accepted. However, she differed the opportunity to attend graduate school because of what she witnessed on her first trip in 2009 to her hometown. The trip was both to visit family as well as volunteer at the local hospital, however, when she witnessed less than stellar conditions at the hospital she was torn by the experience.
That is when she realized her beloved town was in dire need of medical equipment’s for the only hospital in the small rural town. According to her, the hospital serves a community of over 500,000 people with only six physicians; by western standards this is archaic at best. The condition of the hospital as she put it, “is deplorable,” which makes her vision of lending help to her town not only praise worthy, but very urgent. She immediately asked the local hospital staff if she can bring them anything on her next trip back to Nejo. They mentioned medical supplies such as gloves and body temperature measuring devices such as thermometers. Although, she made no promise, she assured the people she will do everything in her power to bring whatever is possible. What is ubiquitous to those of us in the west such as gloves, thermometers, and syringes can be the difference between life and death for those in Nejo. In her own words “it broke her heart to see her native town in such dire need of supplies and equipments that are abundantly available in the United States.”
Her reaction to what she witnessed is what makes her one of a kind. Upon returning to the United States she knew from early on what she wanted to do and enlisted the help of her colleagues, doctors, the Oromo community in the Diaspora as well as many others to turn her dream into reality. What makes Obse unique is not her dream, but her determination to achieve that dream at all costs. If given the opportunity, how many of us would realistically turn down admissions to graduate school to pursue our dream? Or forgo a possible medical school for something we passionately care about? Chances are very few of us would contemplate the idea of walking away from graduate studies. That’s because those of us in the west understand with a graduate or medical degree comes financial success as well as prestige. However, if you know Obse Lubo you would know wealth and prestige mean very little to her. What matters to her is what one can do to help the less fortunate.
So with her renewed purpose in life the shy girl from Nejo mustered the courage to call as many people and hospitals as possible to gather donations for her hometown. Because having witnessed the deplorable conditions as well as the death of two children from cerebral malaria firsthand she could no longer remain immune from the needs of her people. According to experts from the US National Library of Medicine and National Institutes of Health, “Cerebral malaria is the most severe neurological complication of infection with Plasmodium falciparum. With over 575,000 cases annually, children in sub-Saharan Africa are the most affected.” This makes Ms. Lubo’s bold determination to help her people that much more significant. Although, she initially thought this project would be for a short period, she immediately realized, “it is not going to be a short [one year] project rather a lifetime commitment.” In fact she quickly figured, this could have been anyone in her family.
So in 2010 she joined the nonprofit organization, Medical Relief Foundation in Modesto, California. That same year she returned to Nejo with a better understanding and awareness of the dire situation. This time she returned with three bags of equipments including surgical supplies as well as temperature measuring units. In addition she delivered an Electrocardiography (EKG) which is used to measure the rate and regularity of heartbeats including the size and position of the chambers. These indispensable equipment can determine if any damage to the heart exists as well as impacts of medication used to regulate the heart. These vital equipments can save many precious lives if only they can be delivered to the people that need them most. According to MRF’s website, Ms. Lubo’s work, “…would astound anyone that is unfamiliar with medicine in third world countries.” Furthermore, it goes on to state, “the desperate need for every type of medical supply, both small and large-from needles to beds was [and is] extreme.” The MRF gave her the necessary license to campaign relentlessly for Nejo, a cause that is both personal and very dear to her. Personal because as she stated, “during my childhood in Nejo when my siblings or I got sick our parents use to take us to the next bigger city.” That city can be as far away as Finfine (Addis Abeba) which is over 300 miles away and consequently may not be feasible for many of the families in Nejo.
Once again utilizing the MRF’s non-profit license as well as all her resources including various Oromo Diaspora communities throughout the United States she was able to gather medical supplies and raise nearly half of the cost of shipping. Unfortunately, she exhausted all of her available means of raising the funds before she met her target goal of $22,000. Soon she found herself in the process of applying for a second nursing job in addition to her regular nursing position just so she can pay for the shipping cost. According to her soon after applying for the second job, “She had a voice-mail from an anonymous caller stating ‘we heard about your fundraiser efforts and we would like to offer you the remaining assistance to ship the medical supplies.’” The Good Samaritan got her phone number from the storage company where she had kept the medical supplies. And she states, “The anonymous donor via voicemail requested for me to answer my phone or e-mail the following day and when I did he stated the $11,000 you needed has been deposited at the warehouse where the supplies are stored.” She was ecstatic and offered her gracious appreciation to the individual and/or organization. According to her, “to this day I do not know the person or organization which offered me the money and made possible the delivery of supplies to my people of Nejo.” She would like the opportunity to thank the person or organization in person, but due to the anonymity of the donor or donors she is left with little choice, but to offer her heartfelt gratitude and prayer to the person or persons. Despite the challenge she faced in reaching the individual or organization we are happy to report the container was shipped and safely reached its destination in 2011. This opportunity has taught her something fundamental about the characteristics of American’s, as a collective group they are more than willing to contribute to the greater good of the world.
Meanwhile, she was undeterred by the challenges that lay ahead in 2012 so she started her own non-profit foundation called the East-African-Medical-Relief-Foundation. That in itself is no easy task, but the sheer determination and courage of Obse Lubo is beyond the grasp of the average individual. With the aforementioned accomplishments as well as goals, the EAMRF seeks to continually train doctors, surgeons, nurses and other medical staff so that they can ultimately provide basic care for their own people in the community. As the popular saying goes, “you feed a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.” Likewise, EAMRF trains local medical staff to ensure the needs of Nejo are addressed and in part solved through their own involvement.
Although, the trip to visit her family turned into an annual medical mission to Nejo, since 2009 Ms. Lubo has travelled periodically to Nejo along with co-workers like Diane, Doctors, and NGO’s alike. On this particular trip she was accompanied by Dr. Hussain an Interventional Cardiologist from Modesto, California. So we kindly asked her to share with us one of her most memorable events or experiences. Although, she had many stories both joyous and heartbreaking, we will share a story which brought our editorial board staff to tears. During one of her annual trips in 2011, an adorable 7 year old child named Chaltu Megersa walked into Nejo hospital alone. Ms. Lubo was torn by Chaltu’s diagnosis, Ventricular Septal Defect (VSD), a Congenital Heart Disease. Not to mention the mere fact this 7 year old along with her siblings had to endure daily manual labor as a means to survival because they lost their parents at such a young age. Later Ms. Lubo would go on to adopt Chaltu in hopes of providing her with the necessary medication as well as financial support.
Ms. Lubo took on the daunting task of accompanying Chaltu and three children for a necessary surgery that could not be done in Ethiopia. Initially it was a tremendous struggle to secure visas for the girls from the Indian Embassy. Against all odds, the Consulate reluctantly issued the visas after a long and strenuous bureaucratic debacle. As a result of the prolonged wait, sadly one of the four girls passed away. So with the visa at hand and the remaining girls ready, they embarked on a journey to an unfamiliar country both for Obse and the girls. However, the long journey quickly turned into a nightmare. Obse had to deliver terrible news to Chaltu. Despite the fact the other two girls were successfully treated, the surgeon’s grim news on Chaltu’s condition left Obse devastated. The surgeon revealed that Chaltu’s age coupled with her severe diagnosis was too risky for any operation because it required the replacement of both her lungs as well as heart. The severity of the case required Chaltu to travel to the United States. Obse was in tears upon learning this fact and was struggling to deliver this news to the cheerful and otherwise upbeat child. Obse finally mustered the courage to reveal to Chaltu the sad news along with a promise to do whatever she can to help her.
Again, Ms. Lubo was relentless; she doubled her efforts to find a solution for Chaltu because this time the beautiful upbeat little girl can succumb to her diagnosis at anytime. Immediately upon returning to the United States Obse started her search for hospitals willing to accept Chaltu and perform the necessary surgeries. And, with the help and close coordination of doctors from Stanford University’s Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital in California, as well as hospitals in Oregon, Michigan, and Vermont the conclusion was reached that the most feasible option for Chaltu was a trip to the United States. However, the doctors upon further review of Chaltu’s condition determined the long flight and high altitude would make it difficult if not impossible for Chaltu to come to the United States because she may not make it. We are happy to report Chaltu and the two girls are doing well. And Obse Lubo has officially adopted Chaltu and periodically visits her as well as sending her indispensable medication.
Before concluding our interview we asked Obse Lubo about her campaign and how people can help her. As far as the campaigning she said, “It is both challenging and rewarding.” And, in regards to how individuals can help, “I want for people more than the money to promote the cause and would like for them to do similar things for the places where they were born. Whether they come from small village or abandoned city and however small they contribute both time and money it will make an immense difference in people’s lives.” Furthermore, speaking on individuals she constantly reaches out, “people may feel down talking about the poverty as it exists and they may help me or abandon me but they will not kill me.” It seems bold but it keeps me strong. And, for those who have suggested for her to return to school and not cling onto this daunting humanitarian task, she simply says, “this medical mission has become a part of my life so I cannot stop doing this.”
So if you were touched by her incredible story like we were please do not hesitate to help those in need in any way, shape or form. And, we graciously ask visitors of OromoTV.com to lend a helping hand to Obse Lubo. Whether you are able to directly donate to her non-profit organization or lobby your family, friends and colleagues alike to donate medical equipments, time or money for this remarkable cause, please keep in mind any amount of assistance you can give is well appreciated. For those who are unable to help financially the least you can do is spread Obse Lubo’s message of care, compassion, and love for the places each one us comes from. Whether you hail from Southeast Asia, South America, Africa, or even closer to home like crime ridden Metropolitans in the US we can all do our part to ensure everyone is given a chance for a better future. Whether you are passionate about health, education, welfare of children, or prevention of crime you too can do your part to transform the places you love most; one person, one neighborhood, one city at a time.
Obse chose to help and provide services to the most destitute in the remote parts of Oromia where she was born and raised. Whether she is instilling the importance of education in the young minds of Nejo children by providing awards and encouragement to those who show academic progress with high academic aptitude; or influencing young women in Northern California to achieve educational success through the Independent Professional Oromo Women network. Like Obse we too can be the agents of change for our community. As President Obama once said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.” The change we are pursuing is precisely what Obse Lubo is working tirelessly to deliver so let us all do our part to help her succeed. And, let us all remember we too can do so much if we put our mind and soul to bringing the change we seek.
We are at a loss of words for how much we appreciate, admire, and respect Ms. Obse Lubo’s dedication to help those in need. So we graciously extend our gratitude to Obse Lubo, her entire team of Nurses, doctors, and those who have donated time and effort to her noble cause. We were fascinated by her ambition and wish we can share all of her magnificent stories. She is the epitome of how much one can accomplish if they put their heart and soul into a cause so dear to all of us. She has touched all of us here at OromoTV.com and we know she will touch countless others. Her current project to build a Diagnostic and Imaging Center, the first of its kind in Ethiopia is ongoing so please help make this project a reality by lending your support. As we look forward to hearing about her future success we wish her, Chaltu, the people of Nejo, and the entire Oromo nation and beyond greater success!
*Please keep in mind all donations are tax deductible through the East African Medical Relief Foundation (EAMRF), nonprofit organization founded in 2012 to improve access to quality healthcare.
** For those interested in helping Obse Lubo or reaching out to her she can be reached via
East African Medical Relief Foundation
100 Hacienda Ave, San Lorenzo, CA 94580.
PHONE INTERVIEW AS WELL AS WRITTEN CONTENT CONTRIBUTED BY: OROMOTV.COM’S EDITORIAL BOARD.