“I use my maximum potential to help my patients.” Meet Nurse Ware Arbale

suffering from severe acute malnutrition

Nurse Ware with 11-month old baby Fardosa and her mother, Safiya. Photo: Peter Caton for Action Against Hunger.

In a small, eight-bed ward near the entrance of Yabelo General Hospital in Ethiopia, Senior Pediatric Nurse Ware Arbale is busy making her rounds. The patients here are children suffering from severe acute malnutrition, accompanied by their mothers. Nurse Ware’s days are busy, attending check-ups, providing nutrition counselling to parents and caregivers, and preparing the therapeutic milk that has brought so many malnourished children back to health.

Suffering from severe acute malnutrition
Nurse Ware at a nutrition education session for parents of malnourished children. Photo: Peter Caton for Action Against Hunger.

This Stabilization Centre is supported by Action Against Hunger. We provide technical equipment, kits to prepare therapeutic milk, and training for health staff like Nurse Ware to improve delivery of malnutrition treatment services. The walls are brightly painted with cartoon characters to help lift the spirits of the children who are admitted for treatment. The services provided here are desperately needed by the surrounding communities: in Ethiopia, 35% of children are malnourished. “We are so busy with the patients that we don’t check the time. Sometimes we stay longer than our shift,” says Nurse Ware.

Climate change has taken a devastating toll in Ethiopia. As drought becomes increasingly frequent and severe, the grass has dried up and the cattle on which communities here rely have stopped producing milk. “Malnourished children usually come from very faraway places, in the rural areas,” says Nurse Ware. “Most of the time when they arrive here, they are very weak because of the travel.”

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It was the opportunity to help children recover from malnutrition that drew Ware to nursing. She recalls a time in school when one of her teachers said that nursing is the best profession for someone who wishes to serve those in need. “What gives me strength is that I use my maximum potential to help my patients. I cannot prevent one patient from dying but I’ll do my best and give all I can with my profession to save that person,” she says.

Her choice to become a nurse was also deeply influenced by an experience when she was a child. “A long time ago we had a neighbour who was pregnant. She gave birth unexpectedly in her house, but she had heavy bleeding and she died within two hours,” she says. “My family raised that child, and he is even named after my father. But in the moment when it happened, I thought to myself, ‘if I could save lives, I could have helped that poor woman,’ so that inspired me.”

Suffering from severe acute malnutrition
The Stabilization Center at Yabelo General Hospital, Ethiopia. Photo: Peter Caton for Action Against Hunger.

Today, a new patient has arrived: an 11-month-old baby girl named Fardosa. Nurse Ware checks her Mid-Upper Arm Circumference, a measurement that allows health workers to quickly determine a child’s health status. The colour-coded MUAC band goes to red, showing that the baby is severely malnourished. Her mother, Safiya, waits anxiously by her side. “When you are a mother your heart always feels pain if your children at home don’t get enough food,” says Safiya. But her family, too, has been impacted by the devastating impacts of climate change. “When the dry season arrives, we get hungry,” she says. “There are changes with the rain. When it doesn’t rain, our cattle can’t give us anything to eat and we go through the pain of surviving. But when it rains our cattle are fed and full and we live a full life.”

Nurse Ware shows patience and admiration for the parents who bring their children to the Stabilization Centre. “I admire these mothers because they don’t just sit still. They do everything they can for their children. They try their traditional medicine and they go from place to place asking for help and then they finally find us because they don’t give up. I admire all the struggles and things that they do for their children.” She notes that despite the stressful circumstances, the mothers in the ward joke with one another and sing lullabies to their children to help ease their worry.

Suffering from severe acute malnutrition
Nurse Ware preparing therapeutic milk for the children in the Stabilization Centre. Photo: Peter Caton for Action Against Hunger.

Nurse Ware’s work is demanding, and can take a heavy psychological toll. “When I see children getting ill and dying, I get so sad. I don’t feel any happiness inside. I feel devastated,” she says. “Sometimes I get very worried and maybe sometimes I just lose hope. Sometimes I’m very angry.” But every day she perseveres, knowing that her work is saving lives. “This month we reported 34 recovered babies,” she says. “It makes me proud to be able to give this help and support for these people.”

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