Tell us a little bit about yourself and about how your journey started at Acasus - what made you move from Australia to Africa?
Great question, that so many people ask me! I guess Africa has always been in my heart and there’s this profound connection between us. Being half Ethiopian/half Eritrean, and raised by immigrants in Australia, I’ve absorbed the culture of the two sisterly countries quite a lot growing up. With countless visits back, subconsciously, I guess my upbringing grew my interest in one day working in Africa.
The older I grew, the desire to one day come back to Africa and give back strengthened. I started to read more about where Africa was heading and the potential it had, and just became so motivated to make my dream a reality!
It’s funny because now that I recall how deep my desire and love for Africa was throughout my university studies, especially during my MPH. For every subject there would be a major essay to write and I’d always ask if I could do a topic that would revolve around writing about Ethiopia! It could be about the epidemiological modelling of malaria or a health policy paper on HIV/AIDS, anything, it just had to relate to Ethiopia!
After completing my MPH, I went on a two-month trip to Ethiopia where I volunteered and sought to understand what it was like to work here. I loved it and upon returning to Australia, I recall scouring the internet for Public Health jobs in Ethiopia and applying. I eventually stumbled upon a LinkedIn advert by Acasus for consultants to help kickstart an Immunisation project in Ethiopia working alongside the government and my eyes lit up! It just seemed like the perfect role for me and fitted in with everything I wanted in life at the time! I really do believe that you attract what you put out, and I definitely saw that occurring in real time and I’m very appreciative of Acasus for taking me on board! As Paulo Coelho says in one of my favourite books, the Alchemist, ‘when you want something, the whole universe conspires in helping you achieve it’, it definitely did!
How did the project start in Ethiopia? How many of you started the work?
We started with a team of four working on the ground here.
What do you remember from the first week(s)?
It was hectic to say the least! Coming from a research background to consulting, everything seemed so fast-paced, logical and on the go! It was overwhelming to begin with but as time grew, I began to really love the quick thinking environment.
How was it working on the ground instead of a fancy office?
To be honest, I’m the kind of person who can’t sit in one place for a prolonged period of time so I love the aspect of working on the ground! Being in the field also has assisted me greatly in understanding our work and problem solving. You just really feel a part of the work and it stimulates your mind to devise creative solutions. I’m greatly missing the field at the moment due to Covid-19.
What have you achieved so far, what do you currently work on?
We are currently nearing the end of year twp of the project and have expanded across all of Afar, Addis Ababa and most parts of Oromia. We’ve come upon leaps and bounds during this second year and seen great progress in terms of supervision performance and ensuring vaccines are always available.
I may be biased here since I lead the work in Afar, but I believe it is the region that improved the most in terms of EPI performance and accountability. By using data and coordinating regional staff with partners via monthly meetings, we have been able to ensure immunisation sessions are always happening and that vaccines are available.
Looking ahead, as a country team, one of our main focuses is going to be strategising ways to reduce high dropout rates and ensuring outreach activities are always happening and in the right places.
What was your biggest challenge so far?
Definitely the first few months! As a team, it was tough being new to consulting and being so young as a team in general. Nobody would take us seriously at first but I guess our persistence and grit paid off in the end. I remember there was a time where I would literally appear at the government office every week and sometimes wait for hours just because they didn’t respond to my emails. Eventually, they started to listen and realise we weren’t going anywhere and I guess that dedication showed to them how deeply we cared about the work. Now they are calling us on a regular basis!
How much time of the job you spend on the ground, where do you work from?
We aim to visit the field every few weeks and spend a couple of days there to really understand what’s happening. When we’re not on the ground, we work out of a wonderful co-working space in Addis Ababa.
Who do you work together with (ministerial levels, international partners etc.)
We mainly work with the Federal Ministry of Health and the Regional Health Bureaus. In addition, a large part of our work is to collaborate with international partners doing similar work in the region to ensure there is no duplication of efforts and assisting each other in any way possible to achieve the same end goal.
Who is responsible for what in the project team?
Currently, Hellen serves as our Project Manager and is responsible for the Addis Ababa region. Tsion and Harun work together to cover the large Oromia region, while I look after the Afar region. We also have Jonny who has been supporting us from the very beginning and has been great in guiding and developing our skills.
What are the challenges yet to come and what are you aiming to achieve/implement in the upcoming 1-2 years?
Scaling up to the rest of Oromia in areas where there is currently conflict will definitely be a challenge! Alongside that, shaking up formal processes that have been around for years and introducing new initiatives will definitely be a task. For example, we are now looking into overhauling the way defaulters are tracked and introducing innovative methods to reduce the prevalence of this. Lastly, on a personal note, we are aiming to begin work in nutrition soon in Afar, which will be exciting and challenging!
What do you love most about Acasus? What are your fondest memories about Ethiopia?
The great people, the constant challenges and the freedom given to be creative with your solutions and implement them in the field! I really believe great organisations allow their employees to think outside the box and live up to their full potential, and Acasus does that!
I also love how innovative and forward thinking Acasus is! The tech team is marvellous and constantly aiming to implement the newest technologies out there and this is evident whenever we present this as consultants to government workers and partners. The back-end support is amazing and we would have not achieved anything without them today!
My fondest memory? That’s a tough question as there are so many of them.
Work wise? One that stands out was persuading Yohannes, a Federal Ministry of Health EPI manager to join us on a field trip to Afar. It was such a great experience having them there speaking to the bureau workers, and then also spending time with him on a personal level and getting to know him more.
Team wise? It would have to be the numerous pranks that we do on each other!