Charles Sutton Named Envoy for Yessera Organization

Orchestra Ethiopia 1967. (Photograph: Courtesy Charles Sutton)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Monday, February 10th, 2014

New York (TADIAS) — As a teenager growing up in Ethiopia in the 1960′s Aklilu Gebrewold, now Executive Director of the U.S.-based non-profit organization, Yessera, remembers rushing to join the long queue to watch musical shows at his high school that sometimes included Charles Sutton playing the Massinko. More than four decades later Aklilu said he was more than pleasantly surprised to receive a message from “Mr. Charles” (as Sutton is popularly known among Ethiopians) wanting to support Yessera, which provides vocational training to young adults in Ethiopia. Sutton, who had served in Ethiopia as a Peace Corps volunteer and music performer in the late 1960′s still keeps close ties with many friends in the country. And recently he dedicated part of the proceeds from his latest album Zoro Gettem to Yessera. In an interview with Tadias Magazine — following last week’s announcement that Yessera has named Charles Sutton as its envoy to help promote its programs — Aklilu warmly recalled: “For my generation he was a delightful presence, his deep respect and knowledge of Ethiopian culture, language, music and customs.” Aklilu added: “If there is anyone who embodies a true global citizen in today’s age of globalization, it has to be Mr. Charles.”

Established in 2001 by a group of friends who spent time in the West Coast in the 70′s and 80′s, Yessera is mostly funded by contributions from its founding members that now reside scattered across the United States. “Whenever we gathered in coffee shops or at our residences, just like many Ethiopians, we talked about home and what we can do to make a difference,” said Kassahun Maru, owner of Zelalem Injera, who has supported the organization from the beginning. “Yessera is a result of that, its few friends finding a way to give back through, small, manageable and meaningful projects that can bring lasting benefits.”

“I first became acquainted with Yessera a few years ago, when I was introduced via email to its Executive Director, Ato Aklilu Gebrewold, and to a Yessera Board member, Ato Negesse Gutema, by Ato Dan Close, a fellow Returned Peace Corps volunteer,” Sutton told Tadias. “I had the pleasure at that time of cooperating with Ato Negesse in the sale of the Zoro Gettem – Reunion CD that I had recorded with former colleagues Tesfaye Lemma, Getamesay Abebbe, and Melaku Gelaw for the benefit of this most worthwhile organization.”

The non-profit covers tuition, room and board, transportation, and other miscellaneous costs for an average of 10 to 12 students per year. Each student travels from various locations in Ethiopia to attend a vocational school in Addis Ababa. “We require that they must have at least a 10th grade education, demonstrate financial need, and most importantly, have the inner drive to succeed” Aklilu added. “Our goal is not only to equip them with industrial vocational skills, but also the ability to start and run their own small enterprises, such as in the construction field, that they can use to employ each other and thereby contribute to the larger community.”

Aklilu also gives credit to their Ethiopia representative, Solomon Retta, general manager of Discovery Consultancy Services (DCS), for overseeing the candidate selection process. He noted that so far participants have hailed from Awassa, Debre Birhan, Bekoji, Assosa, Ebinat, Metu, Bonga and this year from Addis Ababa.

For me, Sutton continued, “this opportunity, and honor, is the culmination of an association going back nearly 50 years with Ethiopia, its music, and its people, that has brought great joy to me and enriched my life more than I can possibly say. Now, as Yessera’s Ambassador, I am looking forward to carrying our cooperation a step further by bringing Yessera’s mission and message, to the best of my ability, before a wider audience both in Ethiopia and in the U.S.A.”

You can Learn more about Yessera at www.yessera.org.

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