By Gifitii Kebede
In Ethiopia, an East African country, joining a Mahiber is one of the main aspects of social interaction people have with each other. The word Mahiber means ‘an association’. Mahiber is a traditional philanthropic organization with the purpose of forming a safety net for people. Often times, people who form Mahibers have common attributes like living in the same neighbourhood, or belonging to the same church. Other times, they can even be relatives, in which case the main purpose of the Mahiber is to keep family ties stronger, and distant relatives closer.
When a Mahiber is first formed, a group of people will gather and come up with rules to guide the function of the organization. The rules concern issues like the maximum number of members, how often to meet, monetary contribution of each member at each meeting, and the kind and amount of support each member will receive from the group in times of need. Members will also decide on what kinds of situations they will support members with, the most common ones being death of family members, birth, and sometimes even graduation of members’ children. They will also agree on measures to be taken when members fail to make the periodic monetary contribution or fail to carry out their responsibilities as members (A. Negere, personal communication, September 27,2010).
Members of Mahibers have meetings on a regular basis, usually every month. These meetings are almost never formal, and members take turns in hosting the meetings at their homes. The host is expected to serve a meal or snacks depending on the time of day the gathering takes place. This provides a great chance for members to socialize, and most of the meeting is spent doing just that. However, some part of the meeting will be dedicated to discussing important issues. The money collected at each meeting is saved and used when a member needs assistance. In cases when an individual is unable to make the financial contribution, he or she will supply manual labour instead. This is to say, the individual will for example help each host with preparing for meetings. These types of members are considered to be equal members of the Mahiber and will receive similar support when in need (A. Negere, personal communication, September 27,2010).
As mentioned previously, one of the support members receive from their Mahiber is at the event of a death in the family. In the case of lose of family members, the financial assistance will depend on whether the deceased was a spouse, a sibling or a child of the member. The largest amount is given when a member losses a spouse, and least if it was a sibling. During this time, the member who has lost a loved one will receive certain amount of money depending of the relation to the deceased. On top of that, the other members are required to help with serving lunch and dinner to the guests of the mourning family for three days. This is done by taking turns in bringing food, and also cleaning up afterwards (A. Negere, personal communication, September 27,2010). The contribution made by the Mahiber is very valuable as it will take the burden of the family from worrying about their guests and gives them time to grieve their loss.
Although, it may seem insignificant, the contribution Mahibers have on the lives of individuals, and in society at large is priceless. In addition to providing people with the materialistic and physical support they need in trouble times, it also makes available the opportunity for people to share the good times and the bad. It brings people together in a way they might not be able to if they were just people who run into see each other at church once a week.