Each week in Addis Ababa, the Tesfa Addis Parents Childhood Cancer Organization (TAPCCO) provides psychosocial and other supportive services to the more than 100 children in treatment at the pediatric cancer unit and outpatient center of Tikur Anbessa Specialized Hospital (TASH) and their families. TAPCCO’s interventions for families at TASH, made possible with funding primarily from The Aslan Project, are truly life-saving; they enable parents like Kamil Said, the mother of two brothers in treatment at TASH, to “concentrate [only] on taking care of her children and helping them get better.”
This is the story of Kamil and her family.
Kamil and her children, Abdurehman, age 10, and Ali, age 5, hail from Hulab in Southern Ethiopia, roughly 400 km from Addis Ababa. When both of her sons grew ill in 2015, Kamil consulted a local traditional healer, but his treatments were ineffective. She then turned to the Worabe Hospital in Hulab, where doctors diagnosed both Abdurehman and Ali with Hodgkin lymphoma. As Worabe had no capacity to treat children with cancer, the doctors told Kamil that the boys’ only option was to travel to TASH in Addis for treatment.
When Kamil learned that she would have to travel to Addis she was “very worried because she did not know anyone in the capital city” and had to make the journey alone with her boys, as her husband needed to stay home to care for their other children and the family’s farm. After selling their cattle and most of their property, Kamil, Abdurehman, and Ali set off for TASH with 4000 birr (about 179 USD). But Kamil’s initial relief when the boys were admitted to the D7 Pediatric Hematology/Oncology Unit to begin treatment faded when the doctors told her that the treatment would take far longer than she had anticipated. With half of her money already spent and the other unable to support her and the boys for long, Kamil was unsure what to do. In a recent letter to Aslan, she recalled:
"I started crying and the nurses were very kind. I told them I couldn’t afford to stay in Addis and follow the treatment. Sr. Aster [head nurse on the pediatric cancer unit] came and told me there is a place to stay and both kids will get well. I remembered then that during the coffee ceremony on the unit parents were talking about a home they stayed at – some even coming from really far places."
Kamil then asked if she, Abdurehman, and Ali could also go to “the home that parents with sick children go to” – Mother Teresa’s bucolic compound in nearby Asko, where TAPCCO families and children stay for free while completing treatment. With the help of another parent assigned to help her with the transition, Kamil learned that her family would not just be provided a safe place to stay, but also, through TAPCCO, free milk, eggs, and other nutritional supplements, daily transportation, counseling, schooling, and other services. These supports, funded primarily by The Aslan Project, enabled Kamil to “concentrate [only] on taking care of her children and help them get better.”
The services that TAPCCO provides, from the shuttle service to the weekly coffee ceremonies that help families to develop a community of support, make it possible for parents like Kamil to stay in Addis so that their children can maintain a full course of treatment. Kamil concluded:
"Addis was something different from what I feared, [but] with the help of TAPCCO I am now having both my children in treatment, and both kids are happy and well. My 5 year old had a very big swelling that now is gone, he does not cry at all, he laughs and plays like he used to. My 10 year old had a similar problem but was worried more for his kid brother – he is smiling now too and is not afraid anymore for his brother.
My heartfelt thanks goes to TAPCCO, The Aslan Project, and to the people supporting them for giving us hope when we had no one to help us. I would not have got through this dark time without your support."