Today, Sunday January 24, 2021, a very remarkable Ethiopian was laid to rest at Addis Ababa’s Sts. Peter and Paul cemetery. Dr. Jember Teferra was among Ethiopia’s foremost humanitarian figures who overcame much to work for the betterment of her people.
Born in 1943, Dr. Jember (popularly referred to as Sister Jember) was born into a noble family. She completed primary school in Ethiopia, and studied nursing in Britain, becoming a registered nurse in 1965. She would go on to get a Masters in Primary Health Care (PHC) and an Masters if Philosophy from Manchester University. She was married to Dr. Haile Giorgis Workineh, who served as Lord Mayor (Kentiba) of Addis Ababa from 1969 to 1973. She carried out her duties as the First Lady of the city with grace and dignity. In 1974 with the fall of the monarchy, both Dr. Jember and her husband the Mayor Dr. Haile Giorgis were imprisoned, along with many other ex-officials and prominent people, by the Marxist Derg regime under harsh conditions.
Dr. Jember however did not let her imprisonment limit her. During her imprisonment she continued her profession and provided medical care in prison. Alongside other political prisoners, she assisted in the creation of a school for convicts and prison guards and was involved in the accreditation of a health assistance school that was established in the prison, a program that continued even after she was released.
When Dr. Jember was released from prison, unbowed and unconquered but with a zeal to continue working, she set out to improve the lot of the desperate urban poor in Addis Ababa, whose plight had worsened over the years of revolution and economic decline. She established the Integrated Holistic Approach – Urban Development Project (IHA-UDP) which is an effort to improve conditions for the urban poor in city slums. This project works ensure that all kinds of needs are cared for, from health to housing and education to employment. All these problems were addressed at the same time so that the improvement in the slum dwellers lives was not restricted to a single factor, but more general. It is estimated that since Dr. Jember launched this effort in some of the city’s worst slums, over 52,000 slum dwellers have had a marked improvement to their lives thanks to her efforts. She has received international recognition for her efforts in this regard.
Dr. Jember Teferra was a person who overcame great changes in her circumstances and personal challenges to make a significant impact on the lives of her people. She should serve as a shining example of what is possible.
May her memory be eternal.