The Man of Many Hats
Even at 72 years old, Tadese is one of the most hardworking and determined fathers in Adi Etot. He’s also the most stylish.
Each time I see Tadese Gebrehiwot, he’s wearing a different hat.
The day we arrive, at the welcome ceremony, it’s a stylish white one. That afternoon, he walks by in a tight-fitting green one. The next morning, a head scarf.
Who is this guy? I wonder.
When I finally get to meet him, it’s one of my first questions: Will you tell me about your hats?
Tadese quickly ducks into his bedroom and emerges with his hands full. “I have three hats!” he replies, excited that I’ve taken notice.
The first one he models is his farming hat. It’s the green one; a simple, woven stocking cap that has seen its share of days in the field.
The next is all cloth. Carefully, Tadese wraps the long fabric strip around his head until it takes a beehive shape. Then he smiles. This wrap is for going to church.
The final hat is by far the most iconic. It’s a white fedora. The kind you’d expect to see at the beach or in a nightclub — but not in Ethiopia. Somehow, it’s perfectly Tadese.
He slips it on, adjusts the brim, and shares that this hat is for special occasions… weddings, social events, visiting a neighboring town.
The hats revealed more about this man than I knew at the time.
Despite the fact that he’s 72 years old, Tadese wakes up every morning, eats a breakfast of spicy honey butter and milk (“it makes me strong”), and heads to the farm.
Most men his age no longer spend their days farming. But Tadese is different. Even though he has sons who can work, he still wants to serve his family.
Instantly, that green hat represents something more than farming. It’s Tadese’s work ethic. His commitment to provide for his family. Devotion. Love.
Tadese goes on to share some of his personal story. He’s lived in this community for 32 years and is a father to six children. His two daughters are the ones he holds most dear.
Years ago, he and his wife found out their youngest daughter, Berekech, was sick with a heart condition that would require medication and regular hospital visits. The four hour bus ride to the clinic in Mekele alone would start to become expensive.
Tadese responded calmly, assuring Berekech not to worry. He put on his going-to-town hat, walked some of the family’s livestock to the market, and sold what he could so they could set aside money for transportation and medicine.
Picturing him wearing that fedora and walking with those goats and cows changed the significance of that hat for me too. It began to represent a different kind of responsibility — a sense of confidence and calmness that instantly eases fear for those around him. Security. Love.
Over the course of our remaining days in his community, I paid closer attention when I saw Tadese. I noticed that he was often with others… leading a group into town, helping his nephew wrangle goats, laughing over coffee and injera with his family.
I saw him spending time with every member of his family — from his parents to his grandchildren.
And I experienced the way he treated me, a stranger. Opening his home. Generously sharing meals. Always a warm greeting. Always a smile.
Tadese made me feel like a relative visiting home for the first time in years.
I didn’t need to see him praying or attending church in his head scarf to give it meaning; it already represented everything I had witnessed: Pride. Vulnerability. Compassion. Leadership. Respect. Kindness. Love.
The most remarkable part of it all is that Adi Etot didn’t have access to clean water when we first visited.
Tadese and his family were spending hours each day walking and waiting to collect dirty water from a murky stream or spring. They were being forced to choose how they’d use the little water they had. And they were more prone to diarrhea and waterborne disease.
An aging body. A sick daughter at home. And the added burdens that come with a life without clean water. Yet here was this smiling man, with all of his hats. Devoted to supporting his family. Eager to ease their worry. Happy to share the little he had with a stranger.
Toward the end of our trip, I asked Tadese what clean water would mean for his family. “Water means life. Clean water protects us from diseases,” he replied. Then he paused, smiled, and added something I’ll never forget:
“If we get clean water, we will be living large.”
Giving a community access to clean water saves families hours of time every day. It gives kids a chance to go to school and parents more opportunity to earn income. It restores health, reduces poverty, and improves futures.
You can help bring clean water to incredible dads like Tadese all over the world. 100% of your gift will serve families in need.