Overcoming Healthcare Barriers for Eritrean and Ethiopian Women

The Habesha (Eritrean and Ethiopian) Women’s Health Expo committee members Helen Woldai, Mimo Haile, Selam Asmerom, Almaz Nigusse, and Tigisti Weldeab . Photo by Spencer Whitney

The Habesha (Eritrean and Ethiopian) Women’s Health Expo committee members Helen Woldai, Mimo Haile, Selam Asmerom, Almaz Nigusse, and Tigisti Weldeab . Photo by Spencer Whitney

Over 60 people attended the first Habesha Women’s Health Expo (HWHE) last weekend at the African American Art & Culture Complex, an event designed to raise awareness in the Eritrean and Ethiopian community about healthy living.

The groundbreaking event was organized by and for women in the Habesha community, a term that refers to anyone from Ethiopia or Eritrea, and featured doctors of Habesha background who gave health seminars on breast cancer, sexually transmitted diseases, mental health, nutrition and pharmacy information.

The presentations were in both English and Tigrinya, a language spoken mainly in Eritrea. Translated health informational packets were also available.

Event organizer Almaz Nigusse said the group hopes to host another health expo later in the year that is translated in Amharic, a mainly Ethiopian language. A social worker and mental health therapist, Nigusse has yet to have a Habesha client.

She says it is difficult to give people facts about the health concerns of Habesha women when no concrete research has been done to address their issues.

“When I would take my mother to the doctor, I noticed that she would shy away from fully disclosing her health concerns, partly because of the language barrier and not feeling comfortable speaking to a non-Habesha doctor,” said Nigusse. “I had to be there to translate the conversation. In many cases, trust, cultural differences, and a lack of understanding stop Habesha women from asking questions.”

During a break in the event, free lunch was provided. A nurse checked vital signs check, and massages were available throughout the day. Financial support for the event was provided by San Francisco Mental Health Education Fund.

Members of the audience praised the committee members for their efforts to bring awareness of health concerns to a community that is often overlooked due to language barriers and cultural differences.

“Thank you for providing a stage where the women of our community felt safe enough to be vulnerable and share personal stories about their physical and mental illness,” said Luwam Ghebreab, a local resident. “It is encouraging to see how we as a community are finally talking about mental health openly and freely without fear of being judged.”

A presentation on mental health by the committee resonated with the audience when they shared experiences dealing with stress and other factors, such as immigrating to the Unites States and the struggle of finding balance between traditional values and western traditions.

“We wanted to normalize for everyone learning about health services as well as talking about the struggle of being an immigrant,” said Nigusse. “Mental health is a topic that isn’t usually discussed in the community, which is a big problem because many Habesha women may experience Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, whether it was from fleeing civil wars or losing loved ones.”

For more information, visit www.habeshahealth.com or email habeshahealth@gmail.com.

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  16. simret

    I admire the job done by the organizers. good to help each other. wether it is for Ethiopians or Eritreans it is a welcome start over there .

    But I have a question about the content of the report.
    1. It says ( Habesha) people from Ethiopia and Eritrea). wow, this is just a cover up. it would have been good if the orginzers said it was for people from tigray region of Ethiopia. the Habesha is probably used for one particular group or some groups in Ethiopia , the tigray and the Amharas probably. . It does not include the whole ethiopian people or Eritrea. In Ethiopia there are about 80 nationalities and ethnic groups each group with distinct language, culture and geographical location and ethnic idenity. So Habesha does not apply to all the ethnics in ethiopia. Habesha could be the amarharas and the Tigray people of Ethiopia. and it stops there.

    2. Tigirniya is spkone in the tigray Region of Ethiopia and on the highlanders in Eritrea, so tigirniya is not spoken only in Eritrea.
    3. Eritrea has 9 ethnic groups with each group with their distinct culture and language and geographical location, as a result if you ask an eritrean are you Habesha , they say No we are Eritreans. So it is not good to say Habesha is a term that applies to Eritreans. It is mostly ethiopian phenomenone.

    4. the group who came to the workshop are all Ethiopians from the Tigray region, the Seminar was in tigirnia because that is the language they speak. but because they may have claimed asylum as Eritrean ( falsely , frauddulently) they always try to camofouge their identity as Eritreans. So I am not sure if there was a single Eritrean in this seminar.
    5. all the names of the participanats and orgainzers are names of Ethiopian tigray people there was no names from other Ethiopian groups , like amharic , Oromo or other languages speaking ethiopians. I know for sure because the names indicate who is who..

    Eritrean community is Eritrean community. there is a such Habesha community.

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