“An African mother gets the National Australian Award for Best Mother of the Year”, Australian Media Headline
Never giving up, a strong aphorism many people use for the sake of saying but fail to do so in reality. A person can plan out a life, and can also be prepared for the things that might come along the way to reach a goal. However, no one can predict what a day is going to bring or how one chooses to face it.
This is the story of an Eritrean woman whose life took an unexpected turn. She has dealt with challenges in life with everything she can to take care of her daughter who was born with many ailments.
When Mulu Mhretab decided to go to Sudan as a refugee in 1986, she was just planning to have a better life away from the war that was still going on in Eritrea. Just like many Eritreans at the time, Mulu left everything behind and decided to move. After staying in Sudan for 16 long years, Mulu found someone who she thought she could start a family with and got married. Her family got bigger and she soon had five kids with a 6th on the way. While she was pregnant in 2000, Mulu’s family decided to make another journey even further away from home to New Zealand. But as life had its own plans for the family, something happened just at the time they made the move. Mulu’s marriage started to fall apart and it ended in divorce.
Her divorce left her to become a pregnant single mother to five kids. In a new place, away from her family and society, Mulu had to figure things out on her own. Language barrier was another struggle she and her kids had to go through. Struggling to adjust to their new life, the family welcomed their 6th child in 2001.
But the family skirmishes were just beginning. To everyone’s shock, just after she turned five months, baby Heaven was said to have many health problems. She was born blind, with lung problems, was epileptic and paralyzed. Doctors told her mother that the baby’s chances of survival were almost nil. The baby needed a machine to hear and breathe. This was something that shook Mulu to the ground. The family, in addition to their previous problems, had to go through what they call the darkest time of their lives.
Although Mulu was told that her daughter never stood a chance of surviving, her mother’s instincts urged her to make a promise to take care of the baby no matter what. Mulu had to make the toughest choice to commit to her daughter’s life, leaving her five kids at home with no one to take care of. Her eldest daughter was just eleven and the youngest was three years of age, which made Mulu’s situation a lot harder. Her eldest daughter took the full responsibility of taking care of her siblings. She fed them milk and jams, and that was all they could get. Neighbors started to snoop around and found out that the five kids were left home alone with no one to look after them. Mulu stayed day and night at the hospital with her baby daughter and communicated with her other kids only through the phone.
After the neighbors reported, social services agents made threats to take away the kids and place them where they would be safe and taken care of. They told her to choose between her five kids and the one child in hospital. This strong mother refused to choose between her kids and reminded the authorities that she still stood firmly on her decision.
Even doctors started to lose hope and constantly told Mulu that she was just wasting energy. However, her strong will was not going to stop until her daughter was dead and buried. All she wanted was for her daughter to at least have the unconditional love of her mother. She kept telling herself and her kids that the darkness that made them strong as a family would be over soon.
As they continued to battle life away, Mulu decided on another move, to Australia, after staying in New Zealand for five years. This time, she left her two eldest children behind in New Zealand and moved with her other four children. Doctors were not happy with the decision and to show their fury, they took away Heaven’s wheelchairs and the machines she used for food and breathing. But that was not going to stop Mulu from her plans; she carried her daughter for four hours on the plane to Australia.
Moving from a developed country to Australia meant she was going to face problems associated with paper work. But her hopes were not going to go away easily. She started to fight her way up just like the previous times. Mulu started going to churches asking for money to put food on the table and cover her daughter’s hospital fees. Understanding that someday this all would be over, she constantly reminded her kids to have a goal in their lives and focus on their studies. She visited her kid’s schools and asked the teachers to take a parent like responsibility for her kids.
As time went by in Australia, the Eritrean community raised some money and bought her a car which was one of the greatest help she has ever gotten. The car made many things easier for Mulu. She was able to see her kids regularly and get back to the hospital on time. She has also made friends who supported her in many ways. After nine years of outrageous struggle she finally was starting to get a hold of things and saw change. Mulu was able to have lawyers, social service workers and managers who looked after her daughter. Another success was that her four children graduated from college and started working in different professions.
All her hard work started to pay off, and all her efforts as a mother allowed her to participate at the regional competition held annually for the best mother of the year. It was no surprise that she deserves to win; Mulu became the best mother of Vitoria region. Winning that award also allowed her to participate at an even bigger national competition, where she once again was the winner. Mulu Mihretab was praised for the tireless effort she made to take care of her kids with all the obstacles that came her way. And at a ceremony where Australian Minsters and higher officials were present, she was awarded “best mother of the year” in Australia. Mulu made headlines and was the most talked about topic all over the media outlets.
Even though Heaven did not get better, she has made it to 18 years of age. Mulu said during an interview that her daughter is the reason her family is strong and got through all the miseries. And it is because Mulu and her family did not give up that they are together today through thick and thin.
Mulu said, “This award that I was able to get is something I took from my Eritrean mothers.” Now, she was finally able to get her residence papers and get the chances that had been closed to her for years.