Lieutenant Lingerew Tegegne is a man who loves his country and has served his nation as a soldier for 14 years. We met him at the Ethiopian Social Accountability Program (ESAP) interface meeting in Dembecha woreda. The 65 years old Lieutenant is an active participant in the meeting and very eloquent while making his points. We asked him to have a few moments for an interview, he agreed.
He has started sharing about his life. He has begun his story by pointing out what happened in 1991 that changed the course of his life. He said it started as an ordinary day. He and his team were performing routine duties. Until something happened.
A huge explosion. A deafening noise. Intolerable pain. Soon, everything turned out to be black. Lieut. Lingerew was unconscious for hours and he was under medical attention. After some time, Lingerew learned that he lost both his eyes. One of his colleagues died, and another was wounded. It was difficult news for him.
He came back to Dembecha woreda. As a natural fighter, he did not give up. He did not prefer to live a life of pain and agony. He prepared himself for a life of disability. Life continues with new promises. He fell in love with a woman and got married. He has started a new life and that life smiled back at him. This happened thirty years ago.
After a couple of years, there was a mass campaign in Dembecha to test people against HIV. He volunteered. And the result was positive. First, he was shocked. But he gets repeated counseling that helped him increase his self-esteem During that time, HIV-related stigma was higher, and people kept their HIV status secret. The woreda health officials convinced him to go out to the public, give his testimonial and teach the people about HIV.
Lingerew took the assignment as a nation-saving opportunity. He went out to
towns, schools, religious institutions, rural communities with HIV messages.
Soon he found out that people living with HIV/AIDS go through several difficulties in life. He and six other HIV positive persons started the first HIV association in Dembecha by the name Menor tesfa (meaning Living is hope)
Lieut. Lingerew became the voice of people living with HIV (PLWH) and started knocking government offices for support. His persistence
“The woreda council agrees to support our association to be self-sufficient in terms of own income. With the study and request of our association, the woreda bought and supplied us a mill worth 51,000 birr. The association constructed the large house for the mill from its budget with a cost of 40,000 birr.” Lingerew said.
In addition to the woreda office, the national HIV/AIDS Prevention and Control Office (HAPCO) provided them with a bread-making machine. For the construction of the bakery, the association invested 29,000 birr.
“The woreda electric utility office said we need to pay 75,000 birr for a transformer to get electricity for the mill. We did not have that amount of money. We did not have electricity. And we sat idle for the past 12 years. Twelve years means so much. All our money, energy is wasted. Most of our association members who used to participate in our monthly meeting got frustrated and stopped coming.” he said.
But sitting idle and without hope does not suit the strong Lieutenant. Another opportunity knocked on his door: ESAP. The program aims to establish constructive dialogue between citizens and government where ordinary citizens can voice their needs, concerns and preferences about public services. Policymakers and service providers are then held accountable for performance in delivering those public services meeting citizen expectations.
“ESAP people have approached me. They interviewed me about what the major problems in public services are, and I have shared our story. They requested me to
participate in the woreda social accountability committee. I agreed. I will do anything to be part of the solution, I told them.” he said.
“Being a committee member gave me a better opportunity to explain our problems to local government officials from woreda and even zone level. Media is part of the meeting. As you have seen, the woreda communication media has presented a documentary about our problem before we have started the meeting. They can voice our concerns and problems to the wider community and even to regional officials. As a woreda social accountability committee, I am not only complaining about problems but able to work with local government bodies to curb the problem.” he added.
"I would like to thank ESAP for making this forum bring different segments of the society, including vulnerable groups like us, pertinent local government officials and the media together. The joint action plan agreed during the interface meeting by all parties is our hope. It lists responsibilities and activities. We, the woreda social accountability committee, will keep these forums and follow-up sessions even after ESAP ceases to execute its program here,” he said firmly.