Profiles Section

Style: Liya Kebede Talks Lemlem’s Evolution

Supermodel Liya Kebede. (Style.com)

Style.com

July 25, 2014

Having spent roughly half her life in the fashion biz, Liya Kebede has come a long way in the industry since leaving Ethiopia at the age of 18 to model in Paris. In the following decades, Kebede has established herself as a bona fide icon—not only as a “super” still busy with runway and editorial work, but additionally as a philanthropist/advocate for maternal health and an emerging entrepreneur. Back in 2007, she launched her ready-to-wear brand, Lemlem, as a way to create new opportunities for the traditional weavers and artisans based in her hometown, Addis Ababa. The word lemlem means “to bloom” in Amharic and is also a nickname Kebede gave her 8-year-old daughter, Raee. Indeed, the line itself—comprised of beach-ready wares that are handwoven and embroidered in Africa—has been flourishing in a big way: Just this week, Kebede was announced as a new member of the CFDA.

Fresh off of the haute couture and menswear circuits (in Paris, she walked Dior and posed for pal Haider Ackermann’s presentation), Kebede joined Style.com to preview her new collection. At our appointment, the supermodel was the epitome of summertime casual in a gray T-shirt, striped Lemlem skirt, and canvas sneakers. While the has introduced new jersey and merino wool categories in recent seasons, Resort ’15 focused on best-selling gauzy tunics, caftans, and scarves in vibrant hues. Kebede personally gravitates toward some of the more directional silhouettes, including strapless jumpsuits, raw-edged maxi ponchos, and long boy shorts. Our takeaway? Both Kebede and her beachy clothes are beautiful in every way. Read on below for five things we learned about Kebede and Lemlem.

Read more at .style.com »

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Michael Million: One Man’s Story Of Survival And Fatherhood (Video)

Daniel Million kissing his father Michael after graduating from the Preuss School at UC San Diego (kpbs.org)

KPBS San Diego

By Matthew Bowler

Monday, July 14, 2014

Michael Million is a proud father. He raised his two kids alone. Not one, but both of his kids are Bill and Melinda Gates Scholarship winners. That means they can go to any college where they are accepted, and they won’t have to pay a dime.

In 1999, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation gave $1 billion to the scholarship fund. To qualify you must be the first in your family to go to college, be a minority and demonstrate financial need. Every year just 1,000 of these scholarships are awarded. If you win one, the Gates Foundation will pay for your entire college education.

For most of us, having two children win such a scholarship would be the highlight of our story as parents, but for Million, it’s one part of a much larger story of survival and resilience.

Read the full story at KPBS San Diego »



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David Mesfin: 2014 Hyundai FIFA World Cup Ad Features Work by Ethiopian Artists

David Mesfin (R) & Wondwossen Dikran (L) working on the Hyundai FIFA World Cup AD. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Tuesday, June 10th, 2014

New York (TADIAS) — David Mesfin credits his love of visual communications to his teenage days in Addis Ababa in the late 1980′s where he used to hang out at a place called Neon Addis — a design and advertising firm that produced neon signs, billboards, and other forms of print ads. Today he is at the forefront of his field in the United States and his latest project as an Associate Creative Director includes new multi-platform commercials for Hyundai car company entitled “#BecauseFutbol” (becausefutbol.com) designed for the 2014 FIFA World Cup getting underway this week in Brazil.

The TV spots – created by the advertising agency Innocean USA — also come with microblogging on the social networking website Tumblr, and will be broadcast on ESPN and Univision “as part of Hyundai’s exclusive whistle-to-whistle automotive advertising sponsorship of the World Cup series.” The ad also made an appearance in New York’s Times Square yesterday via Hyundai’s large billboard space. For the Tumblr site, David told Tadias Magazine that he worked with “two amazing Ethiopian artists,” Ezra Wube and Wondwossen Dikran.

“Few things bring us together like the World Cup,” David enthused. “The excitement and passion for the game all culminate into something so extraordinary, that for 30 days the world pauses and allows permission for anything.” He added: “Grown men cry, blood pressure rises, families reunite in living rooms, strangers embrace, fathers and sons bond at 3 a.m. Why? Because Fútbol. Once we defined the Because Fútbol slogan and the TV spots, I began experimenting with converting short videos of emotionally charged Fútbol fans to GIF animations,” David shared. “It began with one video of an Argentinian Fútbol fan yelling at the TV while watching a game.”

David proposed, and the ad agency and client agreed, that Tumblr was the best social media platform to display the images and to engage the soccer fan community. “While working on the project I reached out to two Ethiopian friends who I thought would be the right people for this project: Ezra Wube and Wondowssen Dikran,” he said. “We set the objective to create and curate over 120 original pieces. It could be photography, illustration, digital rendering or GIF animation. What type of content might a fútbol fan enjoy and share? We also looked at different thematic ideas such as celebration, defeat, community, rivalry, ritual and more.” So far only two of the Hyundai Because Fútbol ads have been released: Boom and Avoidance. ‘Avoidance’ features a man trying in vain to avoid the unavoidable — the FIFA World Cup frenzy- where this month teams from 32 different countries will battle for a chance to be crowned the globe’s soccer champion.

Wondowssen Dikran’s involvement with the Hyundai 2014 FIFA World Cup campaign began when his company, Activator Pictures, was approached by the ad agency Innocean USA to produce a couple of spots that were going to be used in the campaign. “Being familiar with David Mesfin’s previous work for the brand, I was very excited to jump on board as the producer, along with Activator’s Creative Director Olumide Odebunmi, to put together a game-plan to implement the vision that Hyundai and Innocean both believed in,” said Wondowssen who is also the filmmaker behind the 2004 Ethiopian movie Journey to Lasta. “As a fanatic Futbol fan, this was a very exciting project to be involved with because we got to work with some very talented freestyle soccer players from Southern California. They were all young, full of energy and totally devoted to the sport.”

“One more interesting insight we have to share is a guinea pig called ‘Tony The Wiz’ who is going to predict key match-ups during the World Cup,” David added. “He will also make some appearances on social media channels such as Facebook and Twitter in real time. I’m really looking forward to this.”

Wondowssen shared: “Our company has always wanted to work with David Mesfin and his creative team, and when the opportunity presented itself, we jumped right in. Activator is very proud of the work we have done on this particular campaign. It is not everyday that you get to do work that represents prestigious brands such as Hyundai and FIFA.”

Below are the two videos by David Mesfin and a photo gallery of work by Ezra Wube and Wondowssen Dikran:

Watch Hyundai | 2014 FIFA World Cup™ | Because Fútbol | “Boom” (Hyundai USA)

Watch: Hyundai | 2014 FIFA World Cup™ | Because Fútbol | “Avoidance” (Hyundai USA)

Credits:

Client: Hyundai Motor America

Spots: “Boom” and “Avoidance”

Agency: INNOCEAN USA

Executive Creative Director: Greg Braun

Creative Directors: Barney Goldberg and Tom Pettus

Associate Creative Director, Art: David Mesfin

Senior Copywriter: Nick Flora

VP, Director of Integrated Production: Jamil Bardowell

EP/Content Production: Brandon Boerner

Associate Creative Director: David Levy

Senior Copywriter: Ryan Durr

VP, HMA Account Services: Marisstella Marinkovic

Account Director: Lester Perry

Account Supervisor: Casey Nichols

Production Company: Biscuit Filmworks

Director: Aaron Stoller

Managing Director: Shawn Lacy

Executive Producer: Holly Vega

Producer: Mala Vasan

Directors of Photography: Jess Hall and Jokob Ihre

Editorial Company: Union Editorial LLC

Editor: Jim Haygood

Vice President/Executive Producer: Megan Dahlam

Music Company: The Rumor Mill

Telecine Place: CO3
Online Place: Resolution

Record Mix Place: Eleven Sound

Mixer: Scott Burns

Tumblr Artists: Adhemas Batista, Adam Osgood, Dušan Čežek, Ali Graham, Matthias Brown, Daniel Nyari, Kieran Carroll and Ezra Wube

Production Company: Tool of North America

Managing Partner, Digital: Dustin Callif

Producer: Simi Dhillon

Managing Director, Live Action: Oliver Fuselier

Creative Director: Michael Sevilla

Creative Director: Bartek Drozdz

Senior Designer: Josh Jetson

Jr. Designer: Yuee Seo

Senior Developer: Simon Lindsay

Senior Developer: Richard Mattka

Senior Developer: Josh Beckwith

Tech Manager: Vincent Toscano

Head of Digital Production: Joy Kuraitis

Digital Producer: Simi Dhillon

Content Creators: Activator Pictures, ilovedust, Golden Wolf

Update:
Hyundai USA Releases World Cup AD “Epic Battle” Video by Wondwossen Dikran

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White House Science Fair Features Ethiopian-born Student Felege Gebru

President Barack Obama poses for a photo with Felege Gebru, 18, and Karen Fan, 17, both of Newton, Massachusetts who participated in the fourth-ever White House Science Fair on May 27th, 2014. (TOD)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Saturday, May 31st, 2014

Washington, DC (TADIAS) – President Barack Obama hosted the 2014 White House Science Fair last Tuesday, May 27th highlighting some of “America’s most innovative students” and featuring a variety of projects, including a pedestrian alert system designed for use in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia invented by Ethiopian-born Felege Gebru, 18, and Karen Fan, 17 (both representing Newton North High School in Newton, Massachusetts).

The White House Blog Post by David Hudson stated: “Noting the sobering statistic that Ethiopia has the highest rate of pedestrian deaths by vehicle in the world, Felege Gebru and Karen Fan designed a pedestrian alert system for use in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, that alerts drivers to crossing pedestrians and helps pedestrians safely cross congested roads. The invention, designed to be powered by solar energy, uses a dual-sensor method to calculate the arrival time of oncoming vehicles and indicate safer crossing times to pedestrians. Felege and Karen are leaders of the Newton North High School “InvenTeam” — which works on prototype solutions to be showcased each June at the Lemelson-MIT Program’s EurekaFest event.” Felege is currently an undergraduate majoring in Computer Science & Visual Arts at Brown University.

“An invitation to the White House Science Fair is an incredible honor for these students,” Leigh Estabrooks, the Lemelson-MIT Program’s invention education officer, who oversees the national InvenTeam initiative, told MIT News. “Katelyn, Olivia, Felege, and Karen exemplify the qualities we look for in our InvenTeams because of their passion for invention and devotion to inspiring other youth. These students have successfully blended their minds-on knowledge with their hands-on skills, and show what is possible when rigorous academics are blended with relevant career and technical education.”

The MIT News report also notes that “Gebru shared his firsthand knowledge of the dangers that pedestrians encounter in his home country of Ethiopia, and the InvenTeam has partnered with a sister school in Ethiopia to inform its understanding of the problem and guide the design.”

We congratulate Felege Gebru and Karen Fan on their accomplishments!

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Harvard School of Design: Sara Zewde Named National Olmsted Scholar

Sara Zewde, who is a Master of Liberal Arts (MLA) student in Landscape Architecture at Harvard University Graduate School of Design, has been named National Olmsted Scholar. (Courtesy photograph)

Tadias Magazine
News Update

Published: Tuesday, May 13th, 2014

Harvard University – Sara Zewde (MLA ’15) has been recognized as the 2014 graduate level National Olmsted Scholar. The award is the highest honor in the Landscape Architecture Foundation’s Olmsted Scholars Program, the premier national award program for landscape architecture students.

Sara intends to use the $25,000 award to return to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and New Orleans, Louisiana to continue working with the communities of Pequena África and Treme in designing their urban landscapes in a culturally and ecologically relevant manner. The award will also enable her to pursue additional projects where communities desire a spatial interpreter of cultural values.

Now in its seventh year, the Olmsted Scholars Program recognizes and supports students with exceptional leadership potential who are using ideas, influence, communication, service and leadership to advance sustainable planning and design and foster human and societal benefits.

Source: Harvard Gradudate School of Design

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Tadias Interview With Bruktawit Tigabu: Her Amharic Classroom Library Project

Bruktawit Tigabu, founder of Ethiopia's Whiz Kids Workshop. (Photo: ©Rolex Awards/Ambroise Tézenas)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: February 27th, 2014

New York (TADIAS) — As a primary school teacher in Addis Ababa, Bruktawit Tigabu wanted to improve literacy skills not only for children in her classroom but also for those who had limited educational opportunities. In 2006 she launched Whiz Kids Workshop and developed Ethiopia’s first educational TV show for preschool kids entitled Tsehai Loves Learning, which is watched by approximately 5 million children and also broadcast in schools, refugee centers, and clinics. 25 million listeners also hear Tsehai Loves Learning via radio. The educational TV show is highly successful and has earned several international accolades including the Japan Prize International Contest for Education Media and Next Generation Prize at Prix Jeunesse International (2008) and Microsoft Education Award (2011). Bruktawit was named a Rolex Young Laureate in 2010.

Following Tsehai Loves Learning Bruktawit released a TV series made by students called Involve Me in 2010. She was featured as one of the ‘Most Creative People of 2012′ by Fast Company and is currently running a crowdfunding campaign to launch her latest idea — building Tsehai’s Amharic Classroom Library Project and establishing 60 classroom-based libraries in several public elementary schools in Addis Ababa. Bruktawit’s dream is to have classroom libraries in schools across Ethiopia.

Below is our interview with Bruktawit Tigabu:


Bruktawit Tigabu. (Photograph credit: ©Rolex Awards/Ambroise Tézenas)

TADIAS: Please tell us a bit about yourself and how you started Whiz Kids Workshop. What inspired you to develop it?

BRUKTAWIT: I began my career as a teacher in my hometown of Addis Ababa. After a few years as a classroom teacher, I noticed most children entered the school system as late as age seven. This is because Ethiopia lacks public kindergartens. At Whiz Kids, we call this the early education gap and it is one of the main contributing factors to the high illiteracy rate in Ethiopia. These early years between ages three and six are developmentally critical to a child’s educational success; I knew something had to be done to fill this education gap for so many children. Whiz Kids Workshop began as an idea of how the power of television could close the gap. My husband Shane and I started out by making short films using some of the low-cost media technology that was becoming available to us at the time. We tested our films in classrooms and then conceived of the character of Tsehai, a curious young giraffe who loves books and music. Her show, Tsehai Loves Learning (Tsehai Memare Tewedaletch), has become a national hit that reaches millions weekly throughout Ethiopia on public television. Although our television show continues to reach and impact more and more children, we decided, a few years ago, to increase this impact by going beyond television into radio programming. This season, Tsehai’s radio programs will be reaching up to 25 million young listeners. We have also created Tsehai classroom libraries, where children and teachers can have a rich experience of our reading materials that include storybooks, workbooks, classroom posters and flashcards, developed by a large team of literacy experts, writers and artists.

TADIAS: Can you share some highlights of achievements and lessons learned from producing the Tsehai Loves Learning educational series?

BRUKTAWIT: Since we began in 2005, we have produced over 60 episodes of Tsehai Loves Learning that are viewed regularly by over 5 million children across the country. We continue to be the longest standing children’s TV series in the country. We have also been recognized for our work with over six international awards including Japan Prize in 2008, 2009 & 2010, Prix Jeunesse International – Next Generation Prize in Germany, 2010 Rolex Young Laureate award in Switzerland, and Microsoft Education Award 2011 of The Tech Awards in the USA. We recently won All Children Reading grant which helped us produce 32 episodes of Tsehai Loves Learning television and radio series.

We have learned many valuable lessons in this amazing journey of developing an educational series for children in Ethiopia. The three most meaningful are:

First, we never compromise on quality. Despite the challenge of producing for children, we have learned that to ensure and maintain quality—children’s production must be educational, fun, culturally and age appropriate, and relevant. To guarantee that we meet this standard, we spend close to a thousand hours of work for each episode of Tsehai Loves Learning. Besides the labor of love, we also use research, music, beautiful artwork and animation to bring it to life.

Second, dedication and persistence is a must to overcome the daily challenges of being a pioneer of such innovative work in Ethiopia. We face numerous challenges including financial, human resource capacity in the field, and bureaucratic hiccups on a daily basis. But we have learned that when we stay focused on our goal—reaching the millions of children who eagerly wait to see what we are producing and the vision of a better Ethiopia because we are providing children’s education– we are incredibly energized to persevere.

Third, building community — We have learned that no development or growth is sustainable or successful without the involvement of its community. We believe that every child in Ethiopia deserves the very best educational materials, regardless of their economic background. That’s why we are so excited to be reaching out to Ethiopians across the world to make this campaign succeed.

TADIAS: You recently announced the launch of an innovative crowdfunding campaign for an Amharic Classroom Library Project. Please tell us more about the initiative. Is this also in conjunction with the TV series?

BRUKTAWIT: Reading is a foundational skill for all learning in school. In some regions of Ethiopia, according to the 2010 Early Grade Reading Assessment, a majority of children have 0% comprehension, even at the end of grade 2. The same research showed that having teachers who provide focused reading instruction and story books, are a promising approach for identifying and beginning to remedy this critical problem. This is the reason we are building Tsehai classroom libraries beyond our TV and radio programs; to ensure sustainable reading success, the reading materials must be in the children’s hands.

Each classroom library revolves around a set of powerful elements that achieve reading success. Our classroom library materials includes 32 full-color, original storybooks that focus on one of the families of Ethiopian fidel; 32 beautiful classroom posters of all the fidels; 297 illustrated flashcards for learning the fidels; a wall-mounted sleeve used for teaching the fidels; five shelves for displaying the books, mounted at the right height for children to reach; and a mural featuring the beloved character Tsehai to create a special space for reading and exploration. We also include teacher training videos to demonstrate to teachers how to these materials in the classrooms most effectively.

Our initial goal will be to establish 60 classroom libraries in public schools in Addis Ababa. But if we go beyond our initial $25,000 goal it means we will be able to reach more schools in the country.

The new season of Tsehai Loves Learning is fully integrated into this initiative. Each of the 32 new episodes of the show features one of the books as an animated short within the show, with the characters reading them along with students and using the flashcards to learn the fidel. We will be including these episodes in each classroom library set on eight DVDs.

TADIAS: What is one thing you absolutely enjoy about running Whiz Kids Workshop?

BRUKTAWIT: I love to see people’s reactions to our work. It never gets old for me to see children sing along with Tsehai as they watch the show or to see a teacher’s reaction to the new classroom set we have developed for them. Most Ethiopian children know and love Tsehai; today’s teens grew up with her and adults keep telling me how much they wished for our materials to have been available when they were growing up.

TADIAS: Where do you hope to take your organization in five years?

BRUKTAWIT: Over the next five years we will continue to produce more innovative episodes of Tsehai Loves Learning that help children develop capacities in literacy, science, math, the arts, and moral values. We are going to keep building our library of books and supplementary materials, not only in Amharic, but in other Ethiopian languages. We want to create a nationwide movement based upon an appreciation of the importance of reading as the foundation of success in education and in life! This campaign is the beginning of raising awareness among parents, teachers, and school administrators to elevate the importance of helping children fall in love with books and learning to read by putting the right kind of learning materials into their hands. I can also see the Tsehai brand expanding beyond the borders of Ethiopia to develop curriculum in other African languages.

TADIAS: Is there anything in particular that you want to share with Tadias readers?

BRUKTAWIT: Having lived in the U.S. for a few years with my children, I know how hard it can be to maintain our language and culture while we are away from Ethiopia. We all know how important it is for us to help our children stay connected to our people and our heritage while we are far away, but it isn’t an easy task when they are immersed in another culture and strongly influenced by it.

With this new campaign, we are reaching out specifically to Ethiopians living abroad and giving them two important ways to meaningfully strengthen their connection with their country and people. By becoming contributors to our campaign, they will be the very first to get access to our new set of books, videos flashcards and posters to enjoy with their family. At the same time, they are making a direct contribution to the improvement of quality education in Ethiopia – critical to the development of our country.

To participate in the crowdfunding campaign to build Tsehai’s Amharic Classroom Library Project please visit: www.highercircle.com/campaigns/tsehai-loves-learning-libraries



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Tadias Interview: Dr. Enawgaw Mehari on Pan-African Health Conference

Dr. Enawgaw Mehari, Founder and President of People to People - P2P. (Courtesy photograph)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Monday, February 24th, 2014

New York (TADIAS) — Ethiopian-born Neurologist Enawgaw Mehari, Founder and President of People to People (P2P), keeps a busy schedule at his job as a consultant at St. Claire Regional Medical Center and Neurology Course Director for University of Kentucky, but he always finds time to form global partnerships on healthcare related projects in Ethiopia. P2P, an Ethiopian doctors association that he founded in 1999, has a worldwide membership of over 55,000 as well as close ties with medical institutions in Ethiopia and the United States. Recently the California-based non-profit organization, US Doctors for Africa (USDFA), announced that it has partnered with P2P as its “Strategic Co-host” of the upcoming Pan-African Medical Doctors and Healthcare Conference to be held in Addis Ababa from May 21st through 23rd, 2014.

“It is so natural these two organizations have agreed to come together to host such a high level conference,” Dr. Enawgaw said in a recent interview with Tadias Magazine. Dr. Enawgaw noted that the gathering will highlight what he calls a “Triangular Partnership,” a term used by People to People — which also runs a free clinic in Kentucky for the working poor — to describe the relationship of three global groups: Diaspora, developing countries and Western institutions. “For so long the donor communities have given huge amount of money to Africa but have not invested sufficiently in capacity building,” he added. “People to People believes in a pragmatic vision that Triangular Partnership is the new paradigm.”

Dr. Enawgaw pointed out that Ethio American Medical Group (EDAG) and Global Ethiopian Medical Enterprise, both members of the Ethiopian Diaspora, have merged together to build a state of the art hospital in Addis Ababa. “The goal is to mitigate the migration of Ethiopians to other countries for their high caliber healthcare,” he said. “The group believes we are where we are and we have what we have and it is therefore natural to give back to the people who made our dreams a reality.”

Dr. Enawgaw emphasized that there are many distinguished Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopians who are making a difference in many ways “such as Dr. Girma Tefera from University of Wisconsin coordinating the emergency medicine program, Dr. Senait Fisseha from Michigan University helping St. Paul University with its post graduate training, Dr. Elias Siraj from Temple University supporting the Endocrinology program, Dr. Dawd Siraj and Dr. Makeda Semret from McGill University in Canada supporting the infectious disease program at Black Lion hospital, Dr. Kassa Darge supporting the radiology program at Black Lion, Dr. Zelalem Temesgen from Mayo Clinic developing HIV/AIDS online education program for Ethiopia, and Dr. Anteneh Habte supporting the palliative and hospice educational effort to be added to medical school curriculums. In addition, Dr. Fikre Girma from McMaster University in Canada has played a significant role in introducing CME for emergency medicine in Ethiopia. The Hakim Workneh and Melaku Beyan society has been playing important roles in medical education and the health care system in Ethiopia. The list is huge and I hope I am not in trouble for forgetting important names.”

The upcoming conference at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa headquarters in Addis Ababa, Dr. Enawgaw said, is open to medical students, medical doctors, health care specialists, policy makers and any one interested both at home and abroad. He said some of the topics at the conference will include “Technology, education, infrastructure, social media, medical ethics, mental health, brain drain, brain circulation, brain gain, women’s health, burden of diseases, and non-infectious emerging chronic diseases such as diabetes mellitus, heart attack and stroke.”

You can learn more about the conference at panafricanhealthconference.org.

Related:
Ted Alemayehu Prepares for Pan-African Healthcare Conference in Ethiopia

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Azla + Tesh: Contemporary Artisan Ethiopian Food & Merchandise in LA

Nesanet Teshager Abegaze and her mother Azla Mekonen at their family owned business Azla+Tesh in Los Angeles. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Aida B. Solomon

Updated: Monday, December 23, 2013

Los Angeles (TADIAS) — Walking into the Mercado La Paloma on a Saturday evening, you feel an immediate tranquility from the busy streets of Downtown Los Angeles. The open space of Mercado La Paloma presents a line of eateries, with an unexpected new tenant nestled into one corner: Azla Ethiopian Vegan. Alongside the simple white countertops is a joint space labeled Azla+Tesh, filled with goodies ranging from jewelry to vinyl records to original stylish crop tees. As someone who has frequented Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles’ Fairfax District since childhood to indulge in Ethiopian cuisine and merchandise, pleasantly surprised is an understatement to describe this newest modern addition to the LA food scene.

So who was the mastermind behind Azla? Needlessly to say, it was a family effort as Nesanet Teshager Abegaze tells Tadias Magazine. With mother Azla Mekonen as the head chef behind the vegan and gluten-free menu, and siblings Nesanet, Sonny, and Banchamlak Abegaze as the brains behind the lifestyle brand and boutique next door named Azla+Tesh. Nesanet runs the day-to-day operations, while Banchamlak, an attorney, handles the legal and financial aspects of Azla. Their brother Sonny Abegaze, a DJ and manager of the Ethio-jazz group Ethio-Cali, dons the title of “Chief Vibe Creator” curating merchandise and producing events. Together the powerhouse family has created not only nutritious vegan treats, but also an empowering space for Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians alike to come together around the concepts of wellness, health, and creativity.

Nesanet’s journey to opening Azla first began after graduating from Stanford University with a degree in Human Biology. She soon began working for The New World Foundation in New York City, supporting non-profits advocating for environmental justice and workers rights among other causes. Nesanet’s work in the nonprofit sector took her to the South where she became increasingly involved in education policy. She went on to obtain a Masters at UCLA in science education, and began working at various schools, eventually becoming an assistant principal. However it was Banchamlak opening her own law firm that would shift Nesanet’s career from school administration to management. After a few years, one of Banch’s clients offered both sisters an opportunity to work at Atom Factory, an entertainment company. Nesanet served as Vice President of Operations for the creative division, managing campaigns including superstar Lady Gaga’s perfume line, Fame and clients like Barneys New York. Nesanet was able to explore her love of marketing and design and gain confidence in her creative skills.

Combining her work experience with her passion in health and nutrition, Nesanet developed the concept of a contemporary, family-owned Ethiopian restaurant – Azla – that serves traditional Ethiopian vegan cuisine alongside modern artisan fare. Azla emphasizes supporting local, organic farmers and uses their produce in designing their menu.

“Throughout all of my career transitions, the common denominator has been my love for food and wellness. It’s been a lifelong dream to create a space to share our family’s love of healthy cuisine, as well as Ethiopian art, fashion and culture. We are very excited to share the rich culinary and art/design tradition of Ethiopia with our customer base, which includes neighboring USC students and professors, downtown professionals, creatives, and members of Los Angeles’ thriving Ethiopian community,” Nesanet says.

Azla has been open for just six months and is already creating a buzz with its fresh vegan Ethiopian meals, as well as their signature Ethiopian pizza made with a berbere marinara sauce, soups, and inventive desserts. It was a no-brainer to the family that the restaurant be named after the matriarch, Azla, whose family dinners are said to be nothing short of legendary. Azla’s genuine love for cooking fresh meals for her six children and husband was contagious, as Nesanet says that all of her siblings not only share a passion for food, but are also vegetarian/vegan. “For us my mother really expressed her love through food.” And the customers agree. “A lot of customers have told us that they can taste the love in the food. They say it tastes like a big hug. We love seeing how people respond to the food, often coming by to meet chef Azla.”

What also sets Azla’s menu apart is the incorporation of ingredients such as kale to a classic collard green (gomen) dish and making gluten-free injera to ensure not only taste but healthier food options, which is a vital aspect of Azla’s mission.

“I feel that Ethiopian cuisine has so much to offer as the awareness of the benefits of a plant-based diet grows,” Nesanet said. “Oftentimes, people turn to processed meat alternatives when exploring vegetarianism, but Ethiopian food offers abundant flavor and texture with unprocessed whole foods.”

Nesanet cites The China Study written by T. Colin Campbell as a personal favorite in her personal journey of following a plant-based and vegan diet. The book argues that most chronic diseases can be reversed through a plant-based diet, and Nesanet says that the rest of the public is catching on and becoming more empowered. “A lot of customers who eat meat religiously come in and are open to trying our food because they realize their current diet is making them sick and lethargic. They often say ‘I never knew vegan food can taste like this.’”

In addition to the cuisine at Azla, Azla+Tesh next door offers unique jewelry including colorful acrylic and wood Orthodox cross earrings, apparel including crop-tees and sweatshirts with graphics such as the Lalibela churches and a vintage Alemayehu Eshete album cover. Honoring timeless design elements from Ethiopia, while incorporating current fashion elements is the approach that the Abegaze siblings take in order to attract both Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian customers to the merchandise. “We’ve always been enchanted by Ethiopian crosses and the intricacy of their designs,” Nesanet shares. “We’ve worked to create jewelry that explores new materials such as acrylic and wood with pop colors to speak to a younger demographic.” The collection also includes necklaces with vintage bridal pendants and telsum beads from Ethiopia, using thicker bold chains, and a juxtaposition of modern and classic that guides the Azla+Tesh design aesthetic. In addition to accessories and clothing, Azla+Tesh offers old-school vinyl records, Ethiopian literature and films, and artisan food products that are packaged in beautiful mason jars.

As for what the future has in store for Azla and Azla+Tesh, there will be a series of free monthly events for the community, including guest speakers in acupuncture and yoga, vegan supper clubs in collaboration with local vegan chefs, as well as musical performances and networking events. The Azla team is dedicated to providing customers with a wonderful dining experience, as well as inspiring a more healthful lifestyle by providing cooking tips, recipes, and cooking demonstrations. Sure enough, Azla is already making its mark in Los Angeles not only for its fresh and tasty vegan dishes, but by providing a new space for Ethiopians and Non-Ethiopians alike to indulge in history, fashion, music, and health all in one place.



You can learn more about the restaurant at www.azlavegan.com and shop for Azla+Tesh products at www.azlaandtesh.com. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and Soundcloud handles are @azlavegan and @azlaandtesh.

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Liya Kebede Honored at Glamour Women of the Year Awards (Video)

Liya Kebede at New York’s Carnegie Hall during the Glamour Women of the Year Awards and Gala on November 11th, 2013. (Photo: INF)

Atlanta Black Star

November 13, 2013

Supermodel and businesswoman Iman presented fellow models Liya Kebede and Christy Turlington with the Role Model of the Year award at the Glamour Women of the Year awards held at Carnegie Hall in New York on Monday evening.

Both models were honored for the work done through their respective foundations that help make motherhood safer for women everywhere. Turlington’s Every Mother Counts is a campaign to end preventable deaths caused by pregnancy and childbirth around the world, and the Liya Kebede Foundation supports maternal health care in Ethiopia.

Other notable honorees included, 16-year-old Pakistani education activist Malala Yousafzai, Lady Gaga, Barbra Streisand, and former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords.

Watch Iman present the award to Turlington and Kebede.



Related:
Glamour Women of the Year: Iman, Lady Gaga, Liya Kebede & More Attend (Uptown Magazine)

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Photos & Fun Facts: Miss Universe Ethiopia Mhadere Tigabe in Moscow

Mhadere Tigabe, 19, will represent Ethiopia at 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow on November 9th. (Photos: Miss Universe)

Tadias Magazine
News Update

Published: Monday, November 4th, 2013

New York (TADIAS) — 19-year-old Mhadere Tigabe, the recently crowned Miss Universe Ethiopia, is currently in Moscow, Russia participating in preliminary contests for this weekend’s 2013 Miss Universe competition.

The Ethiopian beauty queen, who hails from Addis Ababa, is a mechanical engineering student at Mekelle University. “I believe my father equipped me with all the life lessons that allowed me to become independent, powerful, self-confident and educated,” Mhadere notes on her profile page on the pageant’s website.

You can read more fun facts about her and see photos at www.missuniverse.com.

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Miss Israel in America: Titi to Visit Little Ethiopia in Los Angeles

Miss Israel, Yityish Aynaw, will travel to California on September 28th, 2013. (Photo: Tadias Magazine)

Tadias Magazine
Events News

Published: Friday, September 20th, 2013

Los Angeles (TADIAS) — Miss Israel 2013, Yityish (Titi) Aynaw, is scheduled to visit L.A.’s famous Little Ethiopia next week. The Ethiopian Community Development group, a project of the Southern California-based non-profit ‘Community Partners,’ is set to host a “Meet and Greet Reception” on her behalf at the Little Ethiopia Cultural Center in Los Angeles on Saturday, September 28th.

Organizers said the reception will be followed by a buffet dinner (open to the public) at Rahel’s vegan Ethiopian restaurant, located a few doors down from the center on Fairfax Avenue.

“We are very much looking forward to welcoming Miss Israel with warm Ethiopian hospitality,” said Negest Legesse, Director of the Little Ethiopia Cultural Center.

The Ethiopian-Israeli beauty queen will also attend Saturday morning service at a synagogue in Beverly Hills. “Then for the rest of the afternoon and early evening, she will be our guest,” Negest said.

Titi’s tour is co-sponsored by the African American, faith-based initiative: Juneteenth Education Technology Mobile Arts Center (J.E.T.M.A.C.). In a statement the organization said Miss Israel’s L.A. stop is part of a national campaign. “The mission of the tour is to lay the groundwork for a 2014 Juneteenth Israel Reconciliation Tour, July 7-17, 2014, to build closer relationships with Israel through the Jewish Ethiopian community,” the press release said. “Miss Aynaw’s message welcoming and celebrating ethnic diversity in Israel is compelling.”

Miss Israel’s trip to America includes Washington D.C., Virginia, Illinois, and California.

If You Go:
Little Ethiopia to Host Miss Miss Israel 2013
Meet and Greet Reception in L.A.
Saturday, September 28, 2013
3:00pm – 5:00p
Little Ethiopia Cultural Center
1034 1/2 Fairfax Ave., Los Angeles, CA
R.S.V.P. by September 25th (seats are limited)
Phone: (323) 937-8402.
Dinner at Rahel Ethiopian Vegan Cuisine
(Open to the public, there is cost for the buffet)
www.rahelvegancuisine.com

Photos: Miss Israel 2013, Yityish Aynaw, in New York, June 11th, 2013 (Tadias Magazine)

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Tahunia Rubel: Ethiopian-born Contestant Wins Israel’s ‘Big Brother’

Tahunia Rubel. (Photo by Patrick Lindblom / Sleek MakeUP)

Haaretz

By Gili Izikovich

Tahunia Rubel was named winner of the fifth season of Israel’s “Big Brother” reality TV show, it was announced Tuesday at the season’s finale.

Rubel, an Ethiopian-born 25-year-old model from Beit Shemesh, palmed the first prize, worth NIS one million. She is the second woman to win the show, the first being Shifra Cornfeld, who won the first season.

Second place was awarded to Levana Gogman, and third went to Leon Shwabsky. The other two contenders who made it to the season’s final episode were Dor Damari and Itay Wallach.

Rubel was considered a prominent contender from the season’s start, in much part due to her stormy countenance and the many squabbles that surrounded her- many of which were related to issues of race and identity. Earlier in the season, such tensions led to the eventual disqualification of two contestants, father and son Roni and Gili Miley.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

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Steeplechaser Sofia Assefa Follows in Olympian Eshetu Tura’s Footsteps

Ethiopia's Sofia Assefa won bronze in the women’s 3000m steeplechase Tuesday at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow, Russia. (Photo credit: Getty Images)

Tadias Magazine
By Sabrina Yohannes

Updated: Thursday, August 15, 2013

MOSCOW (TADIAS) – History was made in Russia’s Luzhniki Stadium as an Ethiopian made the podium in the steeplechase at a global championships for the first time ever on July 31, 1980, when Eshetu Tura took the bronze medal at the Moscow Olympic Games. Thirty-three years later, history repeated itself when one of his athletes, Sofia Assefa, also took steeplechase bronze in the same stadium at the 2013 athletics world championships on Tuesday night, becoming the first Ethiopian — male or female — to medal in that race at the biennial event.

“Repeating Eshetu Tura’s achievement places me in the history books,” said Sofia, who also followed in his footsteps last year in London, when she became the first female steeplechaser from her nation to medal at the Olympics, earning bronze. “I’m very happy, praise God.”

Sofia’s accomplishment in Moscow was made all the more dramatic after she fell at a jump during the race and recovered to finish in 9:12.84 behind Kenya’s African champion Milcah Chemos and national champion Lydia Chepkurui, who ran 9:11.65 and 9:12.84.

With two laps to go, Sofia was comfortably tucked in the lead pack, in fifth place behind the two Kenyans and Ethiopia’s All Africa Games runner-up Hiwot Ayalew and Etenesh Diro. “The race was tough … but I was doing well,” said Sofia. “I took a running leap and crashed into the hurdle. When I fell, I was very worried, because it’s very difficult to fall and get up again. I only had 700m left. The effort you make to catch up costs you a lot of energy.”

Sofia was quickly dropped by the leading four runners and overtaken by Kenya’s Hyvin Jepkemoi, leaving her adrift in sixth place. “But I just kept going, thinking that I’ll leave with whatever God gives me, whatever I get,” she said.

She gradually regained contact and resumed her fifth place position at the bell and coming into the final turn, she overtook Hiwot and chased the Kenyan pair down the homestretch, gaining ground but unable to reel in either. “If I hadn’t fallen, I think that even if I didn’t win, we would at least have finished closer together,” she said. “I don’t know, maybe I might have been second.”

She didn’t think she would have beaten Chemos. “She’s strong and she always beats me,” said Sofia, who has beaten Chemos in one steeplechase race each season since 2009 compared to the nearly two dozen times the Kenyan has bested Sofia. “But I would have stayed with them and fought hard til the very end, and if I had been beaten, I would have been beaten,” added Sofia. “But God be praised, this for me is sufficient.”

She was still in a slight daze over her fall and eventual outcome when she encountered Ethiopia’s newly-crowned 800 meter champion Mohammed Aman in the mixed zone for athletes and media, and he embraced and congratulated her. She started talking to him about her fall and her voice trailed off. “Ayzosh,” he comforted her in Amharic. (“It’s OK.”)

She had just come from the track where she had been handed an Ethiopian flag and congratulated by members of the team who had been on hand to see her medal, including Eshetu Tura and the head national steeple coach Bizuneh Yaye, though neither she nor they had brought up Eshetu’s Moscow bronze. “I didn’t think of it at the time,” she said. “But both of them were there, and they’re very happy.” Upon being reminded of the decades-old historic achievement she’d emulated in the same city and stadium, she added, “Even though it’s with another bronze, it’s great that it was repeated.”

Eshetu also earned a steeplechase silver medal representing Africa at the 1977 International Association of Athletics Federations’ (IAAF) World Cup, a continental team competition that was a predecessor to the current IAAF Continental Cup, in which both Sofia and Ethiopian men’s steeplechaser Roba Gari medaled for Africa in 2010, he with a silver and she with another bronze. (The competition is not, however, seen as a global championship in the same sense as the Olympics or world championships.)

In the season leading up to her Moscow bronze, Sofia had five podium finishes in the IAAF Diamond League series of one-day competitions. Prior to emulating Eshetu’s Olympic feat in London last year, she had four. “I had high expectations because I had run well in the Diamond League,” said Sofia, who had run her personal best and Ethiopia’s national record 9:09.00 in the Oslo Diamond League meet on June 7, 2012 behind Chemos’ 9:07.14 African record. “The whole time I was running [at the London Olympics], I was thinking about medaling,” said Sofia. “I may not have had the confidence to be first, but I thought I might place second or third.”

After the Olympics, she arrived in Ethiopia without fanfare. “I didn’t return with the team,” she said. “I had races scheduled and I went straight to the site of a race from London. I saw the team’s homecoming reception in Addis Ababa on the internet and it was nice. As I didn’t even [finish my race] in Stockholm, I wished I had gone back with them.”

She received plenty of praise from Ethiopia’s only other Olympic medalist in her event , Eshetu, and her other coaches, including former steepler and 1980 Moscow 5000m runner Yohannes Mohammed. “The coaches are great,” she said. “They were very happy. They always encourage me, telling me I can run even better.”

A year after London, Sofia has indeed increased her global medal tally, and made her mentors proud. Coming into Moscow, she had hoped to reach a higher step on the podium, and that future hope remains. “I have bronze,” she said. “I believe I have to put in my effort to, God willing, achieve something better — be it silver or gold.”

Related:
Ethiopia Celebrates Highest Ever World Championships Medal Haul in Moscow

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Tadias Interview: Grammy-nominated Singer and Songwriter, Wayna

Wayna (Woyneab Miraf Wondwossen) is an Ethiopian-born, Grammy-nominated R&B singer. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tsedey Aragie

Published: Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Washington, D.C. (TADIAS) – The following is Tadias Magazine’s exclusive video interview with Ethiopian-born, Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter, Wayna, about her upcoming show in New York at Drom on July 27th featuring her new album and video to be released in September.

I spoke with Wayna last week over lunch at Dukem Ethiopian Restaurant in Washington, D.C. and at her studio in Bowie, Maryland.

Video: Tadias catching up with Wayna at Dukem and at her studio in Maryland (July 2013)


Related:
Tadias Video Interview: Ethiopian Rock Band Jano Live in DC (UPDATED)

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Tadias Video Interview: Ethiopian Rock Band Jano Live in DC (UPDATED)

Jano band performing at Howard Theatre in Washington, DC on July 4th, 2013. (Photo credit: A. Kiiza)

Tadias Magazine
By Tsedey Aragie

Updated: Monday, July 15, 2013

Washington, D.C. (TADIAS) – The sound of Ethiopia’s new generation, the rock band Jano, delivered one of the most exciting and highly anticipated live musical performances scheduled during the 2013 Ethiopian soccer tournament festivities held in Washington, D.C. last week.

The following is Tadias Magazine’s exclusive and in-depth video interview with members of the band who played for the first time in the United States on July 4th at the historic Howard Theatre.

Watch: Color and sound updated — JANO Band July 4th – Howard Theatre (TADIAS Interview)


Related:
Tadias Video Interview: Grammy-nominated Singer and Songwriter, Wayna
CNN Features Ethiopian Rock Band Jano
Summer of Ethiopian Music Continues: Krar Collective in NYC, Young Ethio Jazz in D.C. (TADIAS)
Tadias Interview: NYC Abay Team’s Success at 30th ESFNA Tournament
Mahmoud Ahmed and Teddy Afro Bring Echostage Home (The Washington Post)
Debo Band & Young Ethio Jazz Band at Yoshi’s in San Francisco – July 17th (TADIAS)
Highlights of Ethiopian Music During Soccer Tournament Week (The Washington City Paper)
Summer of Ethiopian Music: Jano to Fendika, Teddy Afro to Mahmoud Ahmed (TADIAS)
Hailu Mergia: A Beloved Ethiopian Musician of a Generation Ago (The Washington Post)
Reissues Songs From Hailu Mergia, Local Cab Driver (The Washington City Paper)

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DCTV Honors Tsedey Aragie: ‘New Producer of the Year’

Tsedey Aragie accepts an award at the DCTV Viewers' Choice Awards on June 22, 2013. (Photo: A. Kiiza)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Sunday, June 30, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – Tsedey Aragie, Tadias Magazine’s video reporter since 2010, has been honored by DCTV with the “Best at Viewers’ Choice” award for her TV program on the local public access channel highlighting health and lifestyle topics affecting residents of Washington, D.C.

Tsedey received the “New Producer of the Year and Innovative Program of the Year for creativity, production quality and audience impact” awards at a ceremony held in the District for her show entitled The 30-Day Health Challenge.

“I am very humbled by the awards,” said Tsedey, who shared the stage on June 22nd at the DCTV Viewers’ Choice Awards gala with other winners including Denise Rolark Barnes, Publisher of The Washington Informer, whose publication was recognized in Sports category for an interview marking the resurgence of boxing in the District of Columbia.

“I can honestly say the awards came by surprise,” Tsedey told Tadias. “The purpose of the show is to educate and empower people to be proactive about their health and lifestyle and influence others around them.”

In an interview with The Washington Informer, Bob Thomas, DCTV’s vice president of operations, expressed his admiration for Tsedey and her contribution to the station. “I really appreciate her growth,” he said. “The awards are very important because they allow not-famous producers to become known.”

Tsedey, who was born in D.C. and raised in New Jersey, has covered several Ethiopia-related events in Washington and New York for Tadias, including the unforgettable performance by Debo Band and Fendika collective two years ago at the 41st annual Lincoln center summer music festival in New York, where she interviewed the band members, as well as the Director of Public Programming for Lincoln Center. The same year she sat down with Ethiopian-born couture bridal fashion designer Amsale Aberra highlighting the reality TV show Amsale Girls, the celebrity designer’s success in the wedding-gown industry, and her memories of Ethiopia. More recently Tseday had a well received Google hangout session with Emmy award-winning Ethiopian American journalist Bofta Yimam, and a series of Town Hall meetings spotlighting mental health issues in the community, which has attracted the attention of health authorities both in the U.S. and Ethiopia.

Regarding The 30-Day Health Challenge on DCTV, Tsedey notes that the participants in the show are committed to a one month challenge to adopt long-term lifestyle changes. “The outcome has been outstanding,” she said. “In the 30-day period our participants experienced a range of results.” She added: “Some were able to loose 10-30 lbs., discontinue the use of blood pressure medication, reverse diabetes, and even discontinue the use of inhalers.”

This fall “The 30-Day Health Challenge Reality T.V. show” (3rd season episode) is heading to Eleanor Roosevelt High School, a Maryland public magnet high school specializing in science, mathematics, technology, and engineering. “Very excited about that,” Tsedey said. “It has been my goal since the inception of the show to work with the youth. In this country the statistics are staggering and young people are suffering from high instances of obesity and diabetes. And so, I’m really looking forward to work in a field that I’m passionate about.”

Related:
DCTV Honors the Best at Viewers’ Choice Ceremony (Washington Informer)

Watch: 30 Day Health Challenge – TV Show (2nd season)


For updates you can follow the program on Twitter @30DayHCTV.

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David Mesfin: A Look at his Role in Hyundai TV Ad w/ Bob Marley’s Song

David Mesfin, top right, working on the set of the Hyundai TV ad featuring Bob Marley's melody "Three Little Birds." (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Thursday, May 16th, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – David Mesfin may no longer have the dreadlocks that he used to sport when he was in college, but he still has a cat named Kaya, and Bob Marley is his favorite musician. “I grew up listening to Bob,” he shared in a recent interview with Tadias Magazine. David is also the Associate Creative Director behind a new Hyundai TV ad featuring the remix of the reggae legend’s popular song Three Little Birds produced by Stephen Marley and Jason Bentley.

“It was an honor to work on the spot with Bob’s music,” David said.

Hyundai’s television commercials (see videos below), which will begin airing in various U.S. markets this month, highlight “Assurance Connected Care” to the car manufacturer’s customers. The TV ads are designed to enhance confidence and the feeling of security among the brand’s drivers with proactive protection and services provided by the company’s Blue Link telematics platform.

“My copywriter partner Nick Flora and I wrote and produced four spots featuring the Marley track,” David said. “The idea we came up with uses ordinary street signs that communicate assurance and safety to new Hyundai owners, letting them know that everything is going to be all right, hence the music track from Bob Marley.”

“It’s amazing how much work goes in to a 30 or 60 seconds spot,” David said, speaking about his role in the project, which started months ago with concept development, presentation to client, producing and editing the final product along with the director, producers, music editors, editorial house and CG companies. “Overall what you are left with is the knowledge you have accumulated through the process, not to mention, the wonderful people along the way,” he added.

David also engineered the high-profile “Hyundai Epic Playdate” Super Bowl advertisement that aired nationally in February 2013. “That was a herculean task given the difficulty and amount of work that needed to be produced in a short amount of time,” he said. “But overall my team and I are truly happy with the end result.”

“How does it feel to see your work being shown during Super Bowl?” we asked. After all, it is the most watched television event of the year in the United States.

“By far it’s the most humbling experience,” he answered. “I watched it at home with my 8 year old son and wife.” David added: “The one minute Epic Playdate Spot played right before the kick off. The commercial featured the band, The Flaming Lips. They performed their original song written for the commercial called, ‘Sun Blows Up Today’ while a family had the most epic day ever.”

David’s career in advertising began in 1986 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, where he was born and raised. “I know it sounds like a long time ago but I was only 12 years old at the time,” he said. “I used to spend a lot of time at a firm called Neon Addis — a design and advertising office. There I was exposed to many forms of visual communications, print ads, billboards, neon signs and more.”

Later, after he moved to the U.S. and commenced college in the 90s, David said he knew exactly what he wanted to do in life. He graduated with a BFA degree in Visual Communication from California State University, Long Beach. “I have been enjoying this wonderful field for quite some time now,” he said. “Thus far I have worked with multiple agencies and clients such as Hyundai, Honda, Toyota, Isuzu, Farmers Insurance, Neutrogena, Network Associates, La-Z-Boy, Mandalay Bay, Walt Disney, Sony, Coldwell Banker, LA Phil, Los Angeles Master Chorale, Adidas, Oakley and MOCA.”

What guides David’s art in terms of creativity? “Have a compelling message and idea that can solve the problem in a unique and interesting way,” he said.

As to those who want to follow in his footsteps? “Be patient and have an open mind,” David advised. “It’s a very competitive and subjective field, so proceed with caution. If you really want it, give it all, and give it your best.”

The remix Bob Marley track is available to download for free on Youtube.com/hyundai.

Watch: Making of “Three Little Birds” Remix Hyundai AD (Hyundai USA)

Client: Hyundai Motor America
Agency: INNOCEAN USA
Product: Assurance Connected Care TV Spot

Executive Creative Director: Greg Braun
Creative Director: Max Godsil
Creative Director: Robert Pins
Associate Creative Director, Art: David Mesfin
Senior Copywriter: Nick Flora
VP, Director of Integrated Production: Jamil Bardowell
Producer: Curt O’Brien

PRODUCTION CREDITS
Production Company: Biscuit Filmworks
Director: Philippe Andre
DP: Alex LaMarque
Editorial Company: Arcade Editorial
Editor: Paul Martinez
Editor: Christjan Jordan
Executive Producer: Nicole Visram
Music company: Stimmung
Animation/Graphics Co.: yU+CO
Telecine Place: CO3
With Whom: Stefan Sonnenfeld
Online Place: Airship Post
With Whom: Matt Lydecker

Watch: 2013 Super Bowl Hyundai Santa Fe Big Game Ad “Epic Playdate” (Hyundai USA)

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Gossa Tsegaye: Training Leaders in Television and Radio Production

Gossa Tsegaye is an Assistant Professor of Television and Radio at Ithaca College in New York where he teaches Documentary Studies and Film Production. (Photo by Marisa Mankofsky)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Friday, May 10, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – Last month the Center for Faculty Excellence at Ithaca College in upstate New York announced the recipients of the 2013 Faculty Excellence Awards, including Professor Gossa Tsegaye who has taught at the Department of Television and Radio for more than two decades. The accolade recognizes faculty members for outstanding work in the areas of teaching, scholarship, and service.

“I am very honored to receive the award because in my field of work it’s equivalent to the Oscars in academia,” Professor Gossa said in a recent interview with Tadias Magazine. “It’s always wonderful to be recognized by your colleagues.”

The gifted teacher, whose former students include David Muir, an Emmy award-winning anchor and correspondent for ABC News in New York, teaches media production at Ithaca College and has produced over 80 documentaries including a highlight of the 1969 Black students’ uprising at Cornell University, the homeless community in Ithaca, salt mine workers at Cayuga Lake, the Amish Community of Western New York, and Gossa’s favorite: Smile in the Wind, which explores the story of migrant labor in the United States.

Professor Gossa, who was born and raised in Addis Ababa and came to the United States as a high school student in 1970, said he developed his passion for broadcasting while growing up in Ethiopia where he had his own radio show in secondary school.

“I went to Teferi Mekonnen and I was actively involved in the media program,” he said.

While he was in high school Professor Gossa said he became a guest host on Ethiopian TV for a variety music show called Hibret Terit. “The regular host had traveled to Germany for a six-month training program and they were looking for someone to fill the position,” he said. “My teacher encouraged me to apply.” He added: “It was a great experience. Plus, I was getting paid 12 birr and 50 cents per episode. At the time, my friend, that was a lot of money for a 16-year-old.”

In America Gossa went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in Television and Radio Production from Ithaca College and a masters in Communication from Cornell University. As an undergraduate he had brief gig with BBC’s Good Morning Africa while spending a semester abroad in London.

Today, Professor Gossa, who lives in Ithaca with his wife and 13-year-old daughter Nile, said his primary focus is teaching students how to write, direct, and produce in-depth documentaries for a television audience.

“The advent of social media has completely changed the landscape and the way we produce, deliver, receive and process information,” Professor Gossa said. “Increasingly media professionals are relying on text-messaging, Twitter and Facebook for breaking news coverage and often getting it wrong.”

“I am a traditionalist when it comes to teaching,” he added. “Because ultimately, how to write well and tell a story accurately matters. And the responsibility in construction of those images are important.”

We congratulate Professor Gossa Tsegaye on his accomplishments.

To learn more about the Television-Radio program at Ithaca College, please visit: www.ithaca.edu.

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The International Leadership Academy of Ethiopia: Q & A with Haddis Tadesse

The International Leadership Academy of Ethiopia is located on the campus of Hope University in Addis Ababa. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Sunday, May 5, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – The International Leadership Academy of Ethiopia (ILAE), which opens in September 2013 on the campus of Hope University in Addis Ababa, began as a vision of Ethiopian American social entrepreneurs living in the Seattle, Washington area, including Haddis Desta Tadesse, the Country Representative for the Gates Foundation in Ethiopia. “We had found success in the U.S. and like many Ethiopians, we still have strong ties with and care deeply about the future of Ethiopia,” Haddis said in a recent interview with Tadias Magazine. “We admire how developed countries harness their land, labor, capital and infrastructure.”

Haddis added: “We also admire Ethiopia’s quest for prosperity and recognize the role that strong, capable leaders play in making that happen. We therefore thought that one contribution we could make to Ethiopia would be to establish a school for the academically talented girls and boys from around the country, and offer them an education that would prepare them in leadership skills equal to the best schools in the world.”

To this end, Haddis said, the group has launched a preparatory program for 20 students who are attending weekend and summer classes to prepare them for high school.

Below is our Q & A with Haddis Tadesse:


Haddis D. Tadesse (Photo courtesy Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)

TADIAS: We understand that the school is one of the first of its kind to be set up in Ethiopia. Please tell us about the challenges and opportunities facing the new leadership academy.

Haddis Tadesse: We may be unique in today’s Ethiopian environment but the concept is not new to Ethiopia. General Wingate Secondary School played a similar role and produced many leaders in various disciplines. We also understand there is one other school in Ethiopia currently that targets gifted students. From what we know, we believe that our approach is unique in Ethiopia. While using the Ethiopian curriculum as a base and preparing students for the national exams, our curriculum is developed by experts taking best practices from around the world, introducing academic rigor, critical thinking at many junctures, responsibility for the environment through service programs both on and off campus, a strong sense of community within the student body based on collaboration and developing leadership skills. So far, the students seem ready and receptive to this program, as are their parents. As students will come from various school systems across the country and different proficiency levels, development and skills, they will require individual attention. That requires hiring capable teachers who know how to educate and nurture very smart kids and that requires capital to execute effectively. So, the financial burden will be our challenge.

TADIAS: How does admission to the school work?

Haddis: Similar to most selective, high quality independent schools around the world, admission is based on various criteria, including the student’s academic record, recommendations and interviews which examines the overall capacity and potential of the student. We have experts who are helping us with this effort including people who helped establish the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa.

TADIAS: Is it tuition based? If so, are there scholarship opportunities available for those who cannot afford it?

Haddis: The majority of our students would come from poor environments and they will not pay any tuition. However, we will have some paying students from families who can afford to pay and seek high quality education as well as from other country nationals who reside in Ethiopia.

TADIAS: Does the school have a relationship with other institutions of higher learning that would allow the students to continue their education after they graduate from ILAE?

Haddis: We have a relationship in Ethiopia with Hope University College, as we share their campus, facilities and to some extent will be exchanging teachers, but also have a primary relationship with the Northwest School in Seattle, an established, prestigious independent school. We will be having student exchanges through technology, and through them, will also have partnerships in Spain, France, China, Taiwan and El Salvador. In addition, we have a relationship with the University of Washington and Cascadia Community College. But our goal is not to send our scholars abroad. Our hope is that they will enter college in Ethiopia and other great universities in Africa and return to Ethiopia in positions of leadership and write a new chapter in the long history of the country.

TADIAS: What’s your vision for the academy five years from now?

Haddis: Five years from now we will have graduated our first class. We will most likely be on our own campus with dormitories, and have a student population from around the country. Every year after that, we hope to graduate students who will become CEOs of major business, political and social leaders, noble prize winner scientists, and many others.

TADIAS: Is there anything else that you would like to share with our audience?

Haddis: We are profoundly moved by the potential of these talented students and happy that we can affect the lives of at least a few people in Ethiopia. We deeply appreciate the generous support we have received to date. I also want to thank Tadias for your interest and support. I am a big fan.

You can learn more about The International Leadership Academy of Ethiopia at www.ilacademy.org.



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Le Figaro Names Three Ethiopians to ‘Africa’s 15 Most Powerful Women’ List

Tirunesh Dibaba, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu and Liya Kebede are 3 of the 15 women that made Le Figaro's 2013 list. (Images - Creative Commons)

Tadias Magazine
News Update

April 25th, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – Le Figaro has named three Ethiopians to its list of Africa’s 15 most powerful women, including the long distance track athlete and three-time Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba, and Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, the founder and CEO of the international Ethiopian shoe brand SoleRebels.

The French newspaper also selected Ethiopian-born model Liya Kebede who lives in the United States among Africa’s power women. Other leaders include Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the current President of Liberia, as well as the South African actress and fashion model Charlize Theron, and Kenyan activist, lawyer, and blogger Ory Okolloh who works as Google’s Policy Manager for Africa.

Click here to read the list at www.madame.lefigaro.fr

Related:
Afrique: quinze femmes puissantes (Le Figaro)
New Book Highlights Stories of 70 Accomplished Ethiopian Women (TADIAS)

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Solomon Assefa: 2013 World Economic Forum Young Global Leader

Solomon Assefa (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Saturday, March 16th, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – IBM Research Scientist, Solomon Assefa, has been honored as one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders of 2013. The Young Global Leaders “will join and co-create a community of insight and action that is committed to improving the state of the world,” stated the official press release. 199 young global leaders were selected from 70 countries worldwide including 19 honorees from Sub-Saharan Africa and 12 from the Middle East and North Africa. Other notable honorees in 2013 include Chelsea Clinton, Clinton Foundation Board member and special corespondent for NBC News; Nate Silver, statistician and writer of New York TImes Five Thirty Eight section; and William James Adams (aka will.i.am), singer and founder of i.am.angel Foundation. There are currently 756 members of the Forum of Young Global Leaders and the annual summit will be held in Yangon, Mynamar from June 2-5th, 2013.

Solomon Assefa was selected as one of the world’s 35 top young innovators by Technology Review in 2011.

A complete list of the 2013 honorees is available at WEF Young Global Leaders 2013

Related:
Interview with Solomon Assefa: One of the World’s 35 Top Young Innovators

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Journalist Bofta Yimam Wins Emmy Award For Excellence in Reporting

FOX13 News reporter Bofta Yimam accepting her Midsouth Emmy for segment on Kimberlee's Law at 27th Annual Midsouth Regional Emmy Awards in Nashville, Tennessee on Saturday, January 26th, 2013.

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Monday, January 28, 2013

New York (TADIAS) – Ethiopian American Journalist Bofta Yimam, who is a reporter for Continue reading ‘Journalist Bofta Yimam Wins Emmy Award For Excellence in Reporting’

Helen Getachew: Miss Universe Ethiopia 2012

22-year-old Helen Getachew represented Ethiopia at the 2012 Miss Universe pageant held in Las Vegas on Wednesday, December 19, 2012 . (Photo credit: Miss Universe)

Tadias Magazine
By Tigist Selam

Updated: Friday, December 21, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – The new Miss Universe is Miss USA Olivia Culpo, a 20-year-old beauty queen from Rhode Island and the first American to claim the coveted title since 1997. Olivia was crowned Miss Universe 2012 by Miss Universe 2011 Leila Lopes of Angola at the annual international event held on Wednesday night in Las Vegas and televised around the world. Over the next year Olivia will hit the road on behalf of her cause alliances, namely HIV/AIDS prevention as mentioned on her official pageant profile.

Women from over 80 countries participated in the 61st Miss Universe contest. After years of absence from the global competition, Ethiopia was also back on the stage this year represented by 22-year-old Helen Getachew.

A ‘welcome to NYC party’ is being organized for Helen this weekend when she arrives here for post-pageant activities. Organizers say the event at Lalibela Restaurant in Midtown Manhattan on Saturday, December 22 will be a relaxing dinner affair that includes champagne, music and, of course, a chance to meet, chat and be photographed with Miss Universe Ethiopia 2012!

If You Go:
Date: Sat Dec 22nd
Time: 7pm
Lalibela Restaurant
37 East 29th St, Ny,Ny
Between Park & Madison Aves
$45 per person – Call to RSVP
Tel: 646.454.0913 or 646.454.1437

Related:
Meet Helen Getachew: Miss Universe 2012 Contestant From Ethiopia (TADIAS)
Photos: Miss Universe Ethiopia Fundraiser at Bati Restaurant in Brooklyn
Spark Communications Acquires License for Miss Universe Ethiopia

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Friends and Supporters React to Reeyot Alemu’s Media Award

Elias Wondimu, second from left, accepted the award on behalf of Reeyot Alemu at the International Women's Media Foundation's annual Courage in Journalism awards luncheon on October 24, 2012 in New York. (Photo: Award recipients, from left, Asmaa al-Ghoul, Zubeida Mustafa and Khadija Ismayilova/by Stan Honda/IWMF)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Monday, October 29, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Several years ago in Addis Ababa, when a young, idealistic woman named Reeyot Alemu, who was working as a high school English teacher, began contributing part-time to local independent newspapers and writing mostly opinion articles that were critical of various government policies, she knew that she could potentially upset those in power. Reeyot, however, had no idea that her courage would one day earn her prestigious international recognition, albeit while in Kality prison.

Reeyot, now 31, is currently serving a five-year term on terror charges, and was among four women who where honored last week by the International Women’s Media Foundation for their courageous work in journalism. Reeyot, a former columnist for the the publications Awramba Times (now in exile and online) and the Amharic weekly Feteh (now blocked), was given the 2012 “Courage in Journalism” award at a ceremony held in Manhattan on Wednesday, October 24th.

“When I nominated Reeyot for the Award, I wanted to show the face of courage in her, so that girls in our country will not be discouraged from becoming a voice to the voiceless,” said Elias Wondimu, who accepted the award on her behalf and read a letter penned by her for the occasion.

“When I became politically aware, I understood that being a supporter or member of the ruling party is a prerequisite to living safely and to get a job,” Reeyot wrote in a letter sent from prison. “I knew I would pay the price for my courage and was willing to pay the price.”

Mohammed Ademo, a New York-based freelance journalist, who is the Co-founder and Editor-In-Chief of OPride.com, as well as a graduate student at Columbia University, attended the luncheon and covered the ceremony for the Columbia Journalism Review.

“I thought the event was great. The courageous journalists honored here today inspire all of us who are in the business of storytelling,” Ademo told Tadias Magazine. “These are but few of those brave souls who are committed to exposing corruption, informing the public, and holding autocratic regimes accountable, often at a great personal peril.” Ademo continued: “This award means so much to journalists like Reeyot Alemu, who are silenced for simply speaking truth to power.”

In his widely publicized interview with Voice of America last month, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn took a hardline stance on the subject, strongly defending the continued imprisonment of a number of journalists. “Our national security interest cannot be compromised by somebody having two hats,” PM Hailemariam said, echoing the official claims, which accuses the prisoners of being “double-agents” for terrorist organizations. “We have to tell them they can have only one hat which is legal and the legal way of doing things, be it in journalism or opposition discourse, but if they opt to have two mixed functions, we are clear to differentiate the two,” the PM told VOA’s Peter Heinlein.

“How on earth can we compare a person who criticizes a government’s policy through writing and accuse them of being terrorists?” Elias asked.

Ademo said: “Reeyot’s only crime is carrying out her journalistic responsibility, being a voice for the voiceless. I wish her good health, perseverance, and peace of mind.”

Elias added: “Due to lack of proper training, our journalists are not and can not be perfect, but the way to remedy this should not be criminalizing their perceived mistakes, but to correct and educate them.”

Reeyot’s former colleague, the award-winning exiled journalist Dawit B. Kebede – Managing Editor of Awramba Times, said, for him, the award is personal. “I am very happy for Reeyot and for many reasons,” Dawit said in a phone interview. “But the number one reason is because Reeyot deserves it. This award is an important recognition not only of Reeyot’s personal struggles, but it is also a way to inspire young people to understand the unfairness of silencing those with critical voices.” Dawit added: “It also encourages those that are incarcerated along with her, including my friend Wubishet Taye, Deputy Editor of Awramba Times, and Eskinder Nega.”

Dawit pointed out that Wubishet had applied for pardon at the same time as the recently released two Swedish journalists, Johan Persson and Martin Schibbye, but was not granted similar clemency. “In my opinion, it was the most discriminatory and shameful pardon process,” Dawit said. “As an Ethiopian it is embarrassing to bypass your own people because they happen not to be backed by powerful Western influence. So the foreigners receive forgiveness, but not the Ethiopians.”


Reeyot Alemu, recipient of the 2012 Courage in Journalism Award. (Photo: International Women’s Media Foundation)

Regarding Reeyot, Mohamed Keita, Africa Advocacy Coordinator for the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), said this Ethiopian is now part of an exclusive club of extraordinary women whose life stories are seen as role models for young people around the world. “With the IWMF award, the world’s leading women journalists are embracing Reeyot Alemu as one of their own,” Keita said. “The Courage in Journalism award validates Reeyot’s legitimate right to write critically about her government and its policies, as she did, and recognizes not only the injustice of her imprisonment but her improbability as a terrorist suspect.”

For former judge Birtukan Midekssa, who is currently the Eleanor Roosevelt Fellow at Harvard University Law School with a joint appointment at W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Reeyot is both a friend and an inspiration.

“It took me only a short while to get fascinated by her defiant spirit and her determination to be true to herself — both as journalist and as a responsible citizen — after I came to know my good friend Reeyot,” Birtukan said. “It is obvious that she did not commit any offence that could lead to lock her up except saying no to the menace of EPRDF government to silence her journalistic voice while it intensifies its forceful coercion against Ethiopian citizens.” She added: “She fiercely opposed the unacceptable authoritarianism which pervades the political sphere; she criticized the officials for incarcerating political prisoners including myself; she shed light on unaccountable and irresponsible transactions of the government.”

Birtukan said it is particularly striking to her that Reeyot knew in advance what she was getting into. “But she chose to bear the consequence instead of refraining from freely expressing herself,” she said. “Though it is enormously painful for me to see her young life confined by illegitimate use of government power.”

Birtukan added: “Her persistence, strength, courage and the international recognition she earned as a result, lead me to have more faith in Ethiopian youth that they will take charge of the destiny of our nation to eventually lead it to free and prosperous life.”

Government officials maintain all the jailed journalists have broken the law and are guilty of the crimes under which they were convicted.

Meanwhile, IWMF noted it’s concerned about Reeyot’s health. “Recently, she has fallen ill; in April of this year she underwent surgery at a nearby hospital to remove a tumor from her breast,” the organization said.

Related:
L.A. Times November 1, 2012: Reporter jailed in Ethiopia among women journalists honored in Beverly Hills, California.
Azerbaijan, Gaza, Ethiopia Women Win Media Awards (AP via ABC News)
Portraits Of Courage: Female Journalists Honored At International Women’s Media Foundation Awards (The Daily Beast)

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UPDATE: Interview with Buzunesh Deba: Eyeing the 2012 NYC Marathon

Bronx resident Buzunesh Deba at the end of a morning training session at Fort Washington Park in Manhattan on Saturday, October 20th, 2012. (Photo by Jason Jett for Tadias Magazine)

UPDATE: 2012 New York City Marathon Canceled

Tadias Magazine
By Jason Jett

Updated: Thursday, October 25, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Having come so close to winning last year’s New York City Marathon, finishing second by a mere four seconds, Buzunesh Deba will be chasing victory again in one of the world’s greatest marathons which eluded her and instead was grasped by Ethiopian compatriot Firehiwot Dado a year ago.

Firehiwot, who pulled away from Buzunesh over the last 200 yards of the 26.2 miles event, will not defend her crown this year after withdrawing from the race last week with what her manager said was a foot injury.

This time around Buzunesh faces 2012 London Olympics marathon winner Tiki Galena and 2011 World Marathon Champion Edna Kiplagat of Kenya, among a deep elite international field.

This will be Buzunesh’s fourth New York City Marathon; she finished seventh in 2009 and 10th in 2010. A resident of the Bronx, she will be a hometown favorite and she knows the course well.

She also knows most of her competition — both their faces and their paces. There is no awe or intimidation when she speaks of the other elite runners, only self-confidence and the conviction that if she runs as well as she is capable she will win.

“I believe I will win, it is my dream,” said Buzunesh. “God will decide.”

She trains diligently, some say maniacally, six days a week, but she says the seventh day she devotes to attending St. Mary of Zion Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church in Yonkers, New York. An Orthodox Christian, her bedroom is decked with illustrations of the Virgin Mary. And, born in the Asela region of Ethiopia, Buzunesh said: “When I am running, and I get tired, I call on God,” she said. “That is my power.”

Buzunesh has trod through some valleys since her podium finish a year ago in Central Park. She spent the winter training at altitude in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She was accompanied by her husband Worku Beyi, who is also her coach and manager. Their relocation was made easier by sharing living quarters and training schedules with friends Genna Tufa, Serkalem Abrha and Atalelech Asfaw — all among a group of Ethiopian runners who left New York for the benefits of living and training at high altitude.

Returning to New York in April, Buzunesh was poised to stake her claim at a World Marathon Majors championship by following her second-place finish in New York with a win at the Boston Marathon. (Top-finishers in the New York City, Boston, Chicago, London and Berlin marathons compete for the $500,000 prize awarded every two years.)

Training had gone well winter into spring leading up to Boston. However, after completing her final pre-marathon track workout just days before the race Buzunesh miss-stepped, turning an ankle, as she walked off the synthetic surface and onto the stadium infield.

Neither prayer nor treatment could chase away the pain in time for Buzunesh to compete in the Boston Marathon. Ultimately, she was not able to return to running until mid-summer. Unable to train, Buzunesh became a spectator of the sport as she followed the race results of her friends and rivals during sleepless nights.

“When I am training, I go to bed early,” she said. “But when I could not run I would be up two and three o’clock in the morning on my computer.”

Buzunesh finally resumed training in August, and competed for the first time this year at the Rock n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon on Sept. 16. She finished eighth, in a time of 1:14:54.

The result was mind-boggling to running experts, fellow competitors and even enthusiasts: Buzunesh had run 1:09:18 over the half-marathon distance in winning the 2011 Rock n’ Roll San Diego Marathon in 2:23:31. Yet she ran five minutes slower over an equally fast Philadelphia course (Sharon Cherop of Kenya won the race in 1:07:19, followed by Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia in 1:07:44.).

Buzunesh was disappointed, of course. And Worku did a bit of head-scratching before reasoning it was simply a bad day.

“I don’t know what happened,” he said. “I saw her that day and she looked heavy.”

“She was not able to run fast that day, but she had had only six weeks of training at the time,” he added. “She will have had six more weeks before New York.”

There are critics that doubt Buzunesh will be competitive this year, let alone win. They point to Philadelphia, and note that she has barely raced this year.

“Look at her Philadelphia Rock n’ Roll results,” said Hicham EL Mohtadi, an agent-manager of runners based in New York City including Ethiopian Mekides Bekele. “She had lots of time off from competing on a high level due to injury. She still is not at full-force. I don’t see her being a factor in this year’s marathon.”

Mohtadi noted that despite these issues he is still rooting for Buzunesh. He added: “Though I’d love to see her win it because she’s a dear friend and a lovely young lady.”

Bill Staab, president of West Side Runners New York, which supports a large number of Ethiopian runners in the city, said Worku is the best barometer of Buzunesh’s chances.

“Due to her foot injury last April and the fact that her time at the Rock n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon was not up to her PR (personal record), it is hard to judge her chances.” he said. “But we all know Buzunesh trains with fervor.”

Buzunesh’s resilience has been further tested in recent weeks. Worku’s father died in early October, and there were several days of mourning. The funeral in Ethiopia took her husband and coach away from their marathon training for several more days.

And then there are the stomach cramps that Buzunesh said contributed to her being unable to hold the lead after pulling Firehiwot Dado along in overtaking Mary Keitany of Kenya at the 25-mile mark last year in New York. Firehiwot would pass Buzunesh in the final mile, and Keitany finished third. (Keitany, who won the 2012 London Marathon and was fourth in the London Olympics marathon, is not competing this year in New York.).

“She gets cramps after some workouts,” a concerned Worku said of his wife. “There is pain, and sometimes she throws up.”

Buzunesh hopes the problem does not recur during the marathon. She knows from training runs of 24 miles in Central Park and 26 miles on the New York Greenway along the Hudson River that she can cover the marathon distance without such pain.

And, she has her own belief-system for support. Buzunesh radiates a confidence steeped in humility. She does not boast, or deride other runners; she simply believes in herself. It is a belief rooted in her faith, which she takes as much care recharging every Sunday as she does her body following training sessions other days of the week.

Having a husband who is a good cook helps when it comes to revitalizing the body. A training-table dinner last week in the Buzunesh and Worku’s home, an apartment in Kingsbridge, consisted of a salad of green leaf, tomatoes, avocados, green peppers and oil-vinegar dressing, a vegetable medley of carrots, potatoes and broccoli, halved hard-boiled eggs and chunks of white-meat chicken.

While Buzunesh and Worku prefer traditional Ethiopian cuisine, or injera, they eschew it during training season in favor of lighter fare. Vitamin bottles and other supplements cover a tabletop in their home. Buzunesh noted she takes supplements when she remembers — indicating with her face and hands that often she does not. However, she is more reliant on the energy-electrolyte drinks that Worku prepares before and after workouts.

Buzunesh and Worku occasionally can be spotted running in Central Park or Riverside Park, but the bulk of work occurs at their favorite training site — Rockefeller State Park in Tarrytown, NY. Van Cortlandt Park, near their home, is their most-frequented site given its proximity.

They elected not to train at altitude for this marathon, having decided sufficient benefits can be gained simply through hard and smart training in New York. That belief has Buzunesh undaunted by Galena, Misikir Mekonnen and Kenyan runners coming directly from high altitude to compete in New York.

Hours after Buzunesh finished the 2011 New York City Marathon, reporters and photographers gathered around her and Worku following a news conference in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel at Columbus Circle. Hugging his wife, a beaming Worku held up his other hand leaving scant daylight between the thumb and index finger.

“She came this close,” he said. “She made a little mistake. We will correct it for next year.”

On Nov. 4, 2012 the couple will learn whether or not they were successful in making the necessary correction.
—-
Below are slideshow of photos taken during Buzunesh’s morning training session on Saturday, October 20th, 2012.

WordPress plugin



Related:
Women’s Champion Firehiwot Dado of Ethiopia Withdraws from NYC Marathon (AP)

Dinaw Mengestu Named MacArthur ‘genius’ Fellow (Video)

Dinaw Mengestu has been named one of the 2012 MacArthur Foundation "genius grant" winners. (Photo courtesy of Riverhead Books)

Tadias Magazine
News Update

Published: Tuesday, October 2, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Ethiopian American novelist and writer Dinaw Mengestu has been named a 2012 MacArthur Fellow. The Associated Press reported Dinaw’s selection along with the full list of the other 22 winners.

Dinaw is the author of The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears and How to Read the Air. In addition to the two novels, he has written for several publications, including Rolling Stone, Jane Magazine, Harper’s, and The Wall Street Journal.

According to MacArthur Foundation, the “genius grant” is a recognition of the winners “originality, insight, and potential” and each person will receive $500,000 over the next five years.

We congratulate Dinaw on a well-deserved win!

Watch: Writer Dinaw Mengestu: 2012 MacArthur Fellow | MacArthur Foundation


Related:
MacArthur ‘genius’ Fellows include Junot Diaz and Dinaw Mengestu (LA Times)

Henok Tesfaye: Washington’s Ethiopian ‘car park king’

Henok Tesfaye is the President and CEO of U Street Parking, a Washington, D.C. based full service parking management company. (Photo: Kidane Mariam / TADIAS)

BBC News Magazine

Henok Tesfaye, an Ethiopian immigrant to the US, started in the parking business with just himself and a few family members as employees.

Now he manages some of the largest car parks in the Washington DC area, including the city’s convention centre, baseball stadium and Reagan National Airport, with a staff of over 600.

Now an American citizen, he hopes to leave his car park empire to his children.

Watch the video at BBC.

Professor Lemma Senbet: New Head of African Economic Research Consortium

Lemma W. Senbet, the William E. Mayer Chair Professor of Finance at the University of Maryland, College Park has been appointed Executive Director of the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) - a Nairobi-headquartered economic policy research institution serving Africa. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Monday, August 13, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Professor Lemma W. Senbet, an internationally recognized leader in finance studies, has been appointed as the new head of the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) – a Kenya-based non-profit organization that conducts independent research concerning the management of economies in sub-Saharan Africa. Dr. Lemma currently teaches at the University of Maryland, College Park where he also chaired the Finance Department at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.

Dr. Lemma was selected for the position after a worldwide search.

Speaking of AERC Dr. Lemma said, “This is an organization which has already achieved immense success in building capacity for research and training to inform economic policies in Africa,” noting that his appointment as the Executive Director of AERC comes at a time when a number of countries in the region are enjoying strong economic growth.

“My goal is to lead it to move to the next level of excellence, and I will be embarking on strategies for full global integration of the AERC and its visibility beyond Africa as an organization that is at the cutting edge of best policy research practices,” Dr. Lemma said. “It is also my purpose to aggressively work on enhancing diversity of global partnership beyond the current generous partners, including the UK development agency, World Bank, Rockefeller Foundation, Gates Foundation, Nordic countries, etc.” He added: “It is important that we scale up the partnership of African institutions as well as the private sector engaged at the interface of private and public policy issues, such as governance, risk management, and financial regulation.”

Professor Lemma said he hopes to emphasize research and finding ways of delivering measurable and credible results for those managing the content’s financial system. “In the ultimate, the purpose is to build capacity to do rigorous research and provide training to impact economic policies which help sustain, and even accelerate, the current economic growth momentum in Africa,” he said.

On a personal level Dr. Lemma said he feels honored that after an extensive international search, the AERC board has chosen him to serve as Executive Director. “I feel privileged that I am invited to head this premier policy research organization with global reach at this important juncture in the continent,” he said. “I cannot ask for better timing.”

Professor Lemma will take a leave from his academic position and relocate to Nairobi in Summer 2013.

In a profile highlight that appeared in this magazine in 2004, the Ethiopian native had shared with us then that as a young man he gave up his aspirations of becoming an engineer after hearing news of the opening of a new business school at Addis Ababa University (then known as Haile Selassie I University). He enrolled at the business school and graduated with top honors. He went on to acquire a Masters in Business Administration from University of California, Los Angeles, and a PhD in International Finance from State University of New York in Buffalo.

Prior to joining the University of Maryland, he taught at University of Wisconsin, Madison, and was a visiting professor at Northwestern University, University of California, Berkeley, and New York University.

Since then, Professor Lemma has advised the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, the United Nations, and several other agencies in areas relating to corporate finance, capital market development, financial sector reforms and banking regulation. He has also served as Director of the American Finance Association as well as President of the Western Finance Association. Over the years, Dr. Lemma has sat on the editorial boards of prestigious peer-reviewed publications, including the Journal of Finance, Financial Management, and the Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis.

More recently, he was recognized by the Society of Ethiopians Established in the Diaspora (SEED) as a distinguished scholar, teacher and role-model. And he is also a recipient of an honorary doctor of letters from Addis Ababa University, his alma mater.

Regarding his new job, Professor Lemma said he feels positive returning to Africa at this time in history. “Yes, Sub-Saharan African countries have been in what amounts to growth renaissance over the last five to six years,” he said. “The growth momentum has been in the same proportion of the Asian Tigers in the 1990s. Just today (August 9), The New York Times reported that seven of the world’s ten fastest growing economies are now domiciled in Africa.” He continued: “This just reinforces other recent stories, including the highly acclaimed cover story “The Hopeful Continent: Africa Rising” in the Economist (December 2011).”

“Is it sustainable?” we asked.

“That is the big question, “Professor Lemma answered. “On the optimistic side, it should be recognized that the recent dramatic gains are not accidental. They are payoffs to two decades of genuine economic and financial sector reforms, including large scale privatization programs and empowerment of private initiative, as well as improved economic governance.” He added: “Moreover, advances in technology and Africa’s increased integration into the global economy have fueled the development. Of course, at the center of that is human capital development which is an outcome of capacity building. Thus, on the positive, there are powerful forces that help sustain, and even accelerate the recent gains, and I am pleased that AERC will play a central role in the capacity building front. However, there are threats, particularly the ongoing Euro crisis, given that Europe remains a major trading partner to Africa. The Euro crisis could also affect Africa indirectly through the adverse impact on other trading partners, particularly China which is now the key player in Africa.”

Speaking of the “the Euro crisis”, what are Professor Lemma’s thoughts on the overall global financial crisis and how it may continue to affect African countries?

“Africa surprisingly weathered global crisis better than most regions of the globe in part because most countries have not been fully integrated into the global financial economy,” he said. “Those which were experienced immediate declines in stock market performance as well as trade flows, South Africa being among them.”

Professor Lemma, however, cautioned that things have stabilized and African economies are back in a growth trajectory. “It should be recognized that Africa is not monolithic but a continent of 55 countries with substantial variation in policies, governance, and reform pace, etc., and the global effects are not uniform,” he said. “The resilience to the global crisis is now overshadowed by the current crisis in Europe, and it is in the best interest of Africa (also the world at large) that the crisis be resolved soon.”
—-
Related Links:
Senbet to Head Top African Economic Development Research Organization (Smith School News)
African Economic Research Consortium (AERC)

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu: Ethiopian Shoemaker Takes Great Strides

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is the Founder & Managing Director of SoleRebels — the world's first fair trade certified green footwear company based in Ethiopia. (Photo: BBC)

BBC News

Eight years ago Ethiopia’s Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu decided to sell cool colourful shoes made of recycled materials, including car tyres.

The company which she started, SoleRebels, would soon become the planet’s first fair trade green footwear firm – certified by the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) – and is now one of Ethiopia’s most thriving businesses.

At the moment it sells its products in 55 countries, mostly through individual retailers, and its biggest markets are in Austria, Canada, Japan, Switzerland and the United States. The shoes are also sold online.

It all started in Zenabwork, the poor community in the outskirts of Addis Ababa where she was born.

“My mum and my father have been working hard. I grew up watching them,” she told the BBC series African Dream.

“My father is an electrician and my mother works in a hospital. They have really been building us to work with whatever we have. So I watched my parents; they’re a model for me to follow in their steps.”

Read more and watch the video at BBC News.

Abyssinian Fund, Coffee, Harlem and Ethiopia Connection (TADIAS Video)

Reverend Nicholas S. Richards, the Co-founder and President of Abyssinian Fund, at his office in Harlem during an interview with TADIAS last week. (Photo by Kidane Mariam for Tadias Magazine)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Saturday, July 14, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Reverend Nicholas Richards, President of Abyssinian Fund, is also the Assistant Minster at Abyssinian, the legendary African-American baptist church in Harlem. “Abyssinian Fund came as a result of two things,” Rev. Richards told TADIAS, speaking about the four-year-old organization. “I had a really deep-seated passion to become involved in Africa and African development from my first trip there when I was still in college, and also because of the Abyssinian Baptist church’s history.” He added: “Abyssinian Baptist church is 204 years old and it was founded by Ethiopians and African Americans. So when I got to Abyssinian Church, I wanted to find a way to really bring together my passion for African development and Abyssinian Baptist church’s own history. And that’s really how we started Abyssinian Fund together. And when we decided to work in Africa, Ethiopia was of course the logical place for us because the church has such a really strong and rich history with the nation of Ethiopia.”

Reverend Richards describes Abyssinian Fund as an independent NGO formed by the Abyssinian Baptist church with the goal to reduce poverty in Ethiopia. “We try to do that by partnering with local coffee farming communities to increase their incomes, to provide training and equipment for them, and at the same time encouraging them to reinvest in their communities,” Richards explained. He pointed out that his group is working to create a market in the U.S. for Abyssinian Fund coffee grown in Harar, where buyers and donors would be asked to pay premium price – at least a dollar above market value, and that would be re-invested into the partnering coffee farm co-op in Ethiopia.

“And so this work, if nothing else, I hope that it is able to bridge communities together,” Rev. Richards said.

Watch the following video for the full interview with Reverend Nicholas Richards of the Abyssinian Fund.

Video: Harlem – Ethiopia Connection – President of Abyssinian Fund (TADIAS TV)

Debo Band’s First Album: Interview with the Group’s Founder Danny Mekonnen

Debo Band is an 11-member Boston-based group led by Ethiopian-American saxophonist Danny Mekonnen and fronted by vocalist Bruck Tesfaye. (Courtesy Photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Friday, July 6, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – In its recent, thumbs-up highlight of Debo band’s self-titled first album NPR noted: “The particular beauty of Debo Band is that you don’t have to be an ethnomusicologist to love it: It’s all about the groove. Debo Band transforms the Ethiopian sound through the filter of its members’ collective subconscious as imaginative and plugged-in 21st-century musicians. Klezmer-haunted wails dart in and out between disco thumps. The swooning, hot romance of [Yefikir Wegene] bursts up from the same ground as the funky horns of Ney Ney Weleba. From that hazy shimmer of musical heat from faraway Addis, a thoroughly American sound emerges.”

In an interview with Tadias Magazine, Danny Mekonnen, the group’s Ethiopian-American founder, agreed with NPR’s description, yet also pointed out that even he finds it difficult to explain the music. “It’s funny now that I am talking to the press more and more I am asking myself the same question”, Danny told TADIAS. “What is it?,” he said, admitting that he is not sure how he would categorize Debo’s music genre.

“I don’t think its Ethio-jazz because to me Ethio-jazz is a very specific thing branded by Mulatu Astatke. Its gentle,” he said. “Initially I didn’t want to start an Ethio-jazz band because I was interested in a lot of different things and influenced by unapologetic funk music as well, such as someone like Alemayehu Eshete, which is really about groove, dancing, and strong lyrics. That kind of energy.”

Debo’s debut album features originals, such as DC Flower and Habesha, the latter based on the Diaspora experience where a young man is mesmerized by an attractive East African woman walking down the street that could be either Ethiopian or Eritrean, while the former is an instrumental giving prominence to Embilta flutes and traditional drums. “The two songs are noteworthy because we are carving our space as a Diaspora, Ethiopian-American band,” Danny said.

Danny, who holds a Master’s degree in Ethnomusicology from Harvard University, said he became exposed to Ethiopian music at an early age while growing up in Texas, mostly from his parents cassette-tape collections of old songs from the 1960′s and 70s. “I was just soaking it up like a sponge,” he said. “I was attracted to it because of its horn melodies and its closeness to American jazz.” He continued: “Later, in the early 2000′s I was introduced to the Éthiopiques CD series, which gave me really accessible context including photos. That also led me to meet some great people in the Diaspora. So when I entered Harvard I had already started Debo band and my scholarly focus was on Ethiopian music.”

Even though Debo’s sound is heavily indebted to the classics of the 1960′s and early ’70′s, Danny said he is sympathetic to those who say the overwhelming focus on that era alone undercuts the contributions of subsequent generations of Ethiopian musicians. “Unfortunately the focus on the so called ‘Golden Age of Ethiopian music’ sort of discredits what came after it,” he said. “For example, if you listen to Teddy Tadesse’s Zimita album, that was a pretty heavy record, very progressive, and at least ten years ahead of its time. You can hear its influence in singers that came later like Gossaye and Teddy Afro.” He added: “Zimita was entirely arranged by Abegaz Shiota. Abegaz and bass guitarist Henock Temesgen are two of the many contemporary Ethiopian musicians that I have the highest respect for. They were part of Admas Band that worked with everyone from Aster Aweke to Tilahun Gessesse and Mahmoud Ahmed.”

Danny said his friend Charles Sutton, Jr. – the Peace Corps volunteer who in 1969 arranged for Orchestra Ethiopia, then led by Tesfaye Lemma, to tour the United States under the name “The Blue Nile Group” – was also instrumental in helping him to connect with older Ethiopian musicians in the U.S. “Charlie arranged for me a private lesson with Melaku Gelaw, one of the top washint and kirar players of that generation,” Danny said.

According to Danny, Mr. Sutton was also responsible for suggesting the name “Debo” as the group’s identity. “I told Charlie I was searching for a band name and he spoke to an Ethiopian lady friend of his and she came up with the word,” Danny shared.

“Debo means communal labor or collective effort in Amharic” Danny said. “An easy word to pronounce for non-Ethiopians, short four-letter word and very simple. But it also strikes up a fun conversation among Ethiopians because it’s an old archaic word and not part of their daily usage.”

“Ethiopians tell me that it sounds like Dabo (bread),” Danny said laughing.

If You Go:
Debo Band is getting ready for their CD release tour starting next week and will be performing at The Bell House in Brooklyn, the U Street Music Hall in Washington D.C. as well as at the renowned Philadelphia Folk Festival in Schwenksville, PA. For a detailed listing of their upcoming tour please visit Debo Band’s website. You can learn more about Debo’s new album and pre-order at www.subpop.com.

Watch: Debo Band Live (NPR)


Related:
Golden Age Pop – from Ethiopia (WNYC)

Business Insider: Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu Among Africa’s Top 5 Women Entrepreneurs

Business Insider Magazine names Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu (above) among "Africa's Top 5 Women Entrepreneurs" whose innovative business approach is receiving recognition. (Photo credit: AARON MAASHO/AFP/Getty Images)

Business Insider
By Greg Voakes, Hack College

Having risen to glory with their entrepreneurship skills in very less time, these women have proven their mettle and talent to the world. From being featured on Forbes Top List, to receiving global honor for their enterprise and their work, these women entrepreneurs are going places. Here’s a closer look at the five leading women entrepreneurs of Africa.

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
When she started in 2004 with the name soleRebels, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu exactly knew where her enterprise of making hand-crafted shoes would take not only her but also her local community in Addis Ababa. According to her, the fine and skilled artisans employed from her local community (in Ethiopia) form the backbone of the company and the essentials of the company’s ethics. With the joy of spreading a bit of their cultural heritage with every shoe crafted, Alemu has emerged as a commendable entrepreneur consolidating her business in less than a decade with her gumption. Owing to Alemu’s grits and dedication towards soleRebels today, the company is the only achiever of WFTO fair Trade Certified Footwear Company title worldwide. Following the success of her business, Alemu was invited by Bill Clinton for addressing as a speaker by The Clinton Global Initiative’s panel. Subsequently in the year 2011, Alemu was again given the distinct honor by the World Bank Managing Director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, she was the first African woman entrepreneur to get the invitation ever. In the same year, she received global recognition for entrepreneurship by different institutions. soleRebels was among the top 5 finalists of the 2011 Legatum Africa Awards For Entrepreneurship. Alemu gives workshops & mentorship to young rural girls for their economic empowerment and to equip them with self-reliance. Alemu envisages coming 3 years as the period of expansion of her business beyond Ethiopia in more than 10 locations with annual revenues topping $10 million.

Read more at www.businessinsider.com.

BBC Breakfast: Interview With Emilia Mitiku

Singer Emilia Mitiku of Sweden performs and chats to Charlie and Louise on BBC Breakfast about her new album. She is the daughter of legendary Ethiopian musician Teshome Mitiku. (Photo: Courtesy of Emilia's Facebook page)

Watch:

NYC: Taste of Ethiopia is About to Get a Taste of Stardom

As much as 70% of New Yorkers employed by the food industry are immigrants. (Photo: Hiyaw Gebreyohannes, the founder of Taste of Ethiopia, at Hot Bread Kitchen in Harlem / New York Daily News)

NY Daily News

Taste of Ethiopia, a food business launched in Harlem less than one year ago, is about to get a taste of stardom.

The fledgling company, which makes fresh Ethiopian dishes sold at local markets like Whole Foods and Foragers City Grocer, is one of four New York food manufacturers who’ve won the city’s first ever competition to be showcased at the Summer Fancy Food Show.

The winners also include Chulita’s Famous, a Latin sofrito maker in Long Island City; Morris Kitchen, an artisanal syrup company in Williamsburg; and Davidovich Bakery, a Queens bagel manufacturer.

They’ll all be heading to the Fancy Food Show in Washington D.C. on June 17, where their products will be sampled by some of the country’s premier food buyers, the kind of exposure that is rare for startups.

“It’s a huge deal,” said Hiyaw Gebreyohannes, 31, Taste of Ethiopia’s founder.

Read more at NY Daily News.

Related
Taste of Ethiopia Launches Organic, Packaged Ethiopian Food (TADIAS)

Amha Eshete & Contribution of Amha Records to Modern Ethiopian Music

Amha Eshete is the Founder of the trailblazing Ethiopian music label "Amha Records." (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Friday, May 25, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Five decades ago, when the Italian owner of the only record store in Addis Ababa could not keep up with growing local demand for more music variety, an Ethiopian music enthusiast named Amha Eshete opened his own shop. “I ended up opening the first music shop owned by a native Ethiopian, diversified the import and started buying directly from New York, India, Kenya, and West Africa,” Amha recalled in a recent interview with Tadias Magazine. “But there was one very important ingredient missing — I was selling foreign music labels, all kinds of music except Ethiopian records, which was absurd,” he added.

Amha Eshete is the Founder of Amha Records – the pioneering record company whose work from the “golden era” of Ethiopian music is now enshrined in the world-famous éthiopiques CD series.

“There was a government decree that granted music publishing monopoly to the national association Hager Fikir Maheber, but they did not produce a single record of modern Ethiopian music.” He continued: “After many sleepless nights I was determined to take a risk of probable imprisonment and decided to ignore the decree to start producing modern Ethiopian music.”

Referring to his first client on the Amha Records label Amha said, “Alemayehu Eshete was willing to take that risk with me.”

Amha describes the music scene in Ethiopia then as almost similar to that of today — buzzing with the mixture of international sounds, Ethio-jazz, and traditional music. “During the 1960s and ’70s modern Ethiopian music was emerging at an incredible pace even though there was an extensive government control and censorship every step of the way,” he said. “It was the first time that new and modern night clubs were being opened, records players were being installed in cars, and enjoying music was the spirit of the time.”

Professionally, Amha said he had no role models and that he learned through trial and error, often making business decisions based on “just gut feeling.”

“I had no experience, for example, on how to negotiate with the artists,” he said. “I did what I thought was right and fair to me and all the others involved at the time.” He added: “It was a lifetime experience and believe you me it worked because I was able to produce one hundred and three 45s and a dozen LPs in a few years.”

Amha leased the distribution rights of his originals to the French label Buda Musique in the ’90s. “My work is not owned by Buda Musique but it is definitely pressed and distributed under an exclusive license by them,” he noted. “The main credit should be given to Mr. Francis Falceto to bring about this re-birth of the golden age of Ethiopian music into reality in the form of the éthiopiques series.” He continued: “Mr. Francis was the one who was adamantly determined to reproduce this music and introduce it to the outside world. He should get all the credit because this music would have been buried and stayed buried somewhere in the suburbs of Athens, Greece where all the masters were stored until then.”

For Amha, the most dramatic recent change in the Ethiopian music industry has been the size of compensation packages for singers. “The Ethiopian superstar Tilahun Gessesse used to be paid about 200 birr per month,” he said. “I paid Alemayehu Eshete and Mahmoud Ahmed 2,000 birr for a single recording of an album.” He added: “This was all unheard of at the time, and in fact I can say it was the talk of the town.”

“Things have very much changed now,” Amha noted. “Payment of one million birr is no more a topic of conversation. The recent sales and revenue from Teddy Afro’s recording might gross millions of dollars.” he added: “This is definitely progress in the right direction and it is the beginning of good things to come.”

Related:
How Ethiopian Music Went Global: Interview with Francis Falceto

Bruktawit Tigabu : The 100 Most Creative People in Business 2012

Bruktawit Tigabu is the Founder and Director of the Ethiopia-based Whiz Kids Workshop. (Photo: Fast Company magazine)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Thursday, May 17, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – What do Marcus Samuels­son, acclaimed chef & author, and Bruktawit Tigabu have in common? They both have been named among The 100 Most Creative People in Business 2012 by Fast Company magazine. Bruktawit, who lives in Ethiopia, is the Founder and Director of Whiz Kids Workshop, which produces educational programs for children, including Tsehai Loves Learning , a popular television series that is broadcast twice a week on Ethiopian national TV.

“Whiz Kids has a staff of nine, but Tigabu sews the puppets, outlines the story, reads Tsehai’s part, and supervises editing–when she’s not securing grants from UNESCO and others to meet her meager $100,000 annual budget,” noted Fast Company in its recognition of Bruktawit’s work. “Prior to shooting, she takes storyboards of an episode into schools to show young students.”

“I observe their attention,” she says. “If the storyboards work, the live action will too.”

As for Marcus, Fast Company notes that “after a celebrated run as executive chef at Aquavit Restaurant, the Ethiopia-born Marcus Samuels­son performed gustatory magic in Harlem.” The magazine adds “he built a spot both critically heralded and reflective of the area’s many cultures.”

“I bike and I walk every corner of Harlem, and see so much diversity that’s unexpected,” Marcus says. Then he builds a menu around those encounters.

We congratulate both Bruktawit and Marcus for their achievements.

Read more at Fastcompany.com.

Adanech Admassu: From Vendor to Film Prize Winner

Adanech Admassu, one of Ethiopia's few female film-makers, has won a prize at the One World Media Awards ceremony in London. (Photo from BBC Video)

BBC News

Film-maker Adanech Admassu tells the BBC about her award-winning film about forced marriages in Ethiopia.

She took the Special Award for her film Stolen Childhood, which tells the true story of a young girl who is forced into marriage.

She says it is a fate she managed to avoid with the help of The Ethiopian Gemini Trust.

Ms Adanech, who grew up in a one-room house in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, and sold snacks on the street to help her mother, told BBC Africa’s Akwasi Sarpong how she made the journey from vendor to award-winning film-maker.

Watch the video at BBC.

WEF Africa 2012: Bethlehem T. Alemu Named Social Entrepreneur of the Year

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu has been named Social Entrepreneur of the Year at the 2012 World Economic Forum's meeting on Africa being held this week in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. (Photo courtesy of SoleRebels)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Thursday, May 10, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – As the World Economic Forum’s meeting on Africa wraps up in Ethiopia, The Schwab Foundation announced six winners of the Social Entrepreneur of the Year in Africa award that were presented at the Addis Ababa event on Thursday by the Forum’s Founder and Executive Chairman Klaus Schwab. The winners include Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu of Ethiopia, Co-Founder and Managing Director of SoleRebels; Sameer Hajee of Rwanda, Chief Executive Officer of Nuru Energy Group; Paul Scott Matthew of South Africa, Director of North Star Alliance Africa; Andrew Muir, also from South Africa who is Executive Director of Wilderness Foundation; and Seri Youlou & Thomas Granier of Burkina Faso, Co-Founders of the Association la Voute Nubienne.

According to The Schwab Foundation, the awardees are among a group of the foundation’s 17 social entrepreneurs from around the world who took part in the meeting. “Africa has seen tremendous growth over the past decade,” said Hilde Schwab, Co-founder and Chairperson of the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. “Social entrepreneurs use innovative approaches to extend access to healthcare, education, energy and housing to marginalized populations that may not otherwise be included in the traditional markets. They ensure that growth, such as that Africa has experienced, is and will be inclusive.”

“I am truly honored that the Schwab Foundation Board has chosen to recognize me in this manner,” the Ethiopian winner Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu said in a statement. “I proudly share this recognition with every single one of the talented, industrious, committed and cultured people who everyday work alongside me to make soleRebels what it is – the coolest artisan driven footwear company on the planet.”

The ceremony, which was broadcast live via a web-stream on the forum’s website, was attended by hundreds of global leaders from various sectors and dignitaries from around the continent, including former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, the secretary-general of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies Bekele Geleta, and heads of state from South Africa, Rwanda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Gambia, Gabon, and host nation Ethiopia.

“We deeply believe that economic as well as social progress can best be achieved through entrepreneurship.” said Schwab Foundation Chairman & co-founder Klaus Schwab. “Bethlehem embodies the vision and values of the global social entrepreneur community, and we are proud to honor her exemplary work in creating a highly innovative, ethical and sustainable business that continues to make a strong social impact with this special award.”

The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship was founded by Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, and his wife, Hilde. Since its inception in 2000, the foundation has recognized the world’s leading social entrepreneurs in over 40 countries.

Below are the 2012 Social Entrepreneurs of the Year in Africa:

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Co-Founder and Managing Director, SoleRebels, Ethiopia
SoleRebels taps into Ethiopia’s rich artisan heritage to create durable, stylish and eco-friendly footwear for international markets. The company offers training and employment to hundreds of underprivileged workers in Ethiopia, creating a new employment model for local enterprises. By using recycled automobile tires for the rubber soles and other environmentally friendly practices, soleRebels is committed to a zero carbon footprint.

Sameer Hajee, Chief Executive Officer, Nuru Energy Group, Rwanda
With many homes in sub-Saharan Africa not connected to electricity grids, Nuru Energy works with microentrepreneurs to disseminate its Nuru LED light, which can be recharged using an off-grid, pedal-powered platform. The LED light gives up to 26 hours of light and costs one-sixth of kerosene to recharge. To date, Nuru Energy has set up 70 village-level entrepreneurs who have sold 10,000 Nuru lights.

Paul Scott Matthew, Director Africa, North Star Alliance, South Africa
In the 1990s, Paul Matthew saw the alarming impacts of HIV/AIDS on mobile workers such as truck drivers and realized these workers lacked access to basic healthcare. North Star Alliance provides mobile workers and related communities with sustainable access to high-quality health and safety services through a network of interlinked clinics known as “Roadside Wellness Centres”. Since opening its first center in 2005 in Malawi, North Star has grown to 22 centers in 10 countries.

Andrew Muir, Executive Director, Wilderness Foundation, South Africa
The Wilderness Foundation, founded in 1972, integrates conservation programmes with social and educational programmes. It has trained thousands of youth to be community leaders and national park rangers. Through its social intervention projects, young people are empowered to become financially independent entrepreneurs andbreadwinners for their families. Under the stewardship of the Wilderness Foundation, over 200 000 hectares of African wilderness has been rehabilitated and expanded in the interests of conservation and environmental protection. More than 100 000 disadvantaged/vulnerable youth have benefited from the Wilderness Foundation through our social intervention and environmental education programmes.

Seri Youlou and Thomas Granier, Co-Founders, Association la Voute Nubienne, Burkina Faso
More than a decade ago, Seri Youlou, a farmer from Burkina Faso, and Thomas Granier, a French mason, built a Nubian vault home in Burkina Faso that inspired them to establish the Association la Vaute Nubienne. By training farmers in the construction of homes with vaulted earth-brick roofs they are providing an affordable, ecologically sustainable housing alternative and source of income during the off-seasons. Today, more than 200 masons have built over 1,300 Nubian vault homes in West Africa.

Related:
Balancing Economic Growth With True Sustainability (The Huffington Post)
World Economic Forum on Africa Goes Social (Voice of America)
Addis Ababa Hosts World Economic Forum & Ethiopia Investment Summit (TADIAS)

Editorial: Ethiopia Honors Dr. Catherine Hamlin with Honorary Citizenship

Australian-born Dr. Catherine Hamlin, who is known for her work with childbirth injury patients, has lived in Ethiopia for over 50 years. (Photo credit: Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital)

Tadias Magazine
Editorial

Published: Sunday, April 29, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Ethiopia’s recent conferring of an honorary citizenship on Dr. Catherine Hamlin, founder of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital, is a well-deserved recognition for a remarkable woman who has spent a better part of her life in the service of her adopted home. According to The Ethiopian News Agency (ENA), Prime Minister Meles Zenawi vested the honorary citizenship at a ceremony held at his office in Addis Ababa on Thursday, April 26th. Meles announced: “Dr. Hamlin was awarded the citizenship for serving the fistula patients for more than five decades by establishing a fistula hospital in the country.”

“When we first arrived we were rather taken with the country because we saw our eucalyptus trees,” Dr. Hamlin, had told Tadias Magazine a few years ago in an interview recounting her memories of arriving in Ethiopia in 1959. The Australian native initially traveled there on a three-year government contract to establish a midwifery school at the Princess Tsehay Hospital. “I felt very much at home straight away because the scenery seemed very familiar to us,” she said. “We got a really warm welcome so we didn’t really have culture shock.”

Until her journey to Ethiopia, Dr. Hamlin, a gynecologist, had never met a fistula patient. “We had read in our textbooks about obstetric fistula but had never seen one,” she admitted. After arriving in Ethiopia with her husband Dr. Reginald Hamlin – a New Zealander who was also an obstetrician and gynecologist – she was warned by a colleague “the fistula patients will break your heart.”

Obstetric fistula is a childbirth injury that affects one out of every 12 women in Africa and approximately three million women worldwide. In developing nations where access to hospitals in remote areas are difficult to find, young women suffer from obstructive labor which can otherwise be successfully alleviated with adequate medical support. Unassisted labor in such conditions may lead to bladder, vaginal, and rectum injuries that incapacitate and stigmatize these women. Most patients are ousted from their homes and isolated from their communities.

Dr. Hamlin described the professional environment in the country as one where they “worked in a hospital with other physicians who were trained in Beirut and London.” However, as the only two gynecologists on staff they found it difficult to get away even for a weekend. For the first 10 years of their work with the hospital Reginald and Catherine Hamlin took weekend breaks at alternate times so as to have at least one gynecologist on call at all times, barely managing to take a month off each year to travel to the coast in Kenya. It is during their time at Princess Tsehai hospital that they first encountered fistula patients.

Since surgeries to cure fistula were not considered life-saving, few operating tables and beds were available for such patients at Princess Tsehai Hospital. Fistula patients were also not welcome and were despised by other patients and it wasn’t long before Reginald and Catherine decided to build a hospital designed to help these women, some of whom traveled hundreds of miles to seek treatment.

Speaking of her late husband, Hamlin noted, “When he saw the first fistula patient he was really overwhelmed. He devoted his whole life to raising money to help these women. He was a compassionate man and if he took on anything he would take it in with his whole heart and soul. He worked day and night to build the hospital.” The dream was realized in 1974 and soon the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital received 1 to 10 fistula patients at its doorstep on a daily basis. Women who heard about the possibility of being cured traveled to the Capital from distant villages across the country. Today the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital is a state-of-the-art, full-service medical facility entirely dedicated to caring for women with childbirth injuries.

Asked what her greatest satisfaction has been in this endeavor, Dr. Hamlin responded “It is in knowing that I am working somewhere where God has placed me to work. And I think that we gained more by living [here] and working with these women than we lost by leaving our own countries.” She fondly speaks of her late husband and his infinite compassion for his patients and his attachment to the country. “He loved the whole of Ethiopian society and when he was dying in England it was his final wish to return and be buried in Ethiopia,” she stated.

Dr. Hamlin equally enthused about her ‘home away from home’, emphasizing the joy she feels in seeing a happy, cured patient and her continued enjoyment of the landscape of Ethiopia and its people. Amidst her busy life she had found time in the “early hours of dawn” to write down the story of her life in her book The Hospital by the River, which was a bestseller in Australia. Her humble personality is evident as she replies to our inquiries about her past nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize by saying she didn’t know about it. Indeed along with being nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999 she has also been awarded the Haile Selassie Humanitarian Prize in 1971, the Gold Medal of Merit by Pope John Paul in 1987, and an Honorary Gold Medal from the Royal College of Surgeons in England in 1989. In 2003 she was nominated as an Honorary Fellow of the American College of Surgeons, and she was the co-winner of the 2009 Right Livelihood Award.

At the ceremony last week, she said: “Although I was not born in Ethiopia, I love the country very much.”

We welcome Dr. Catherine Hamlin’s induction as a fellow Ethiopian!

Celebrating Women’s History Month 2012: Tadias Interview with Birtukan Midekssa

Birtukan Midekssa is currently the Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the International Forum for Democratic Studies in Washington, D.C. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Friday, March 30, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – We conclude this year’s Women’s History Month series with a Q & A with political leader, human rights activist, and former judge Birtukan Midekssa who joined the Ethiopian Diaspora community in the United States last year. She is currently a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the International Forum for Democratic Studies in Washington, D.C., which is supported by The National Endowment for Democracy. The program offers a select group of global leaders with a scholarly environment to reflect on their experiences, conduct research, write, consider best practices and lessons learned, and develop worldwide professional networks.

Prior to her arrival in the United States, Birtukan, who is a mother of a young daughter, had been twice imprisoned as leader of an opposition party in Ethiopia that won more than one-third of the seats during the 2005 elections. On January 6th, 2012 Birtukan spoke at the memorial tribute for Vaclav Havel, the former President of the Czech Republic who was also a playwright and poet, and recalled her imprisonment experience. Of the first 21 months behind bars following the 2005 elections Birtukan stated: “though going to prison despite not committing a criminal offense is a painful experience of every political prisoner, the pain didn’t make us weaker.” However, she described her second imprisonment for 19 months in solitary confinement as being “alone in every sense of the term.” Birtukan was released in October 2010. She noted: “coincidentally Aung San Syu Ki and I were released just days apart from each other. However, unlike her I found my party weakened when I went out. After all the pain that was inflicted on me and my dear ones, I had to ask myself if the struggle was worth it.”

At Vaclav Havel’s memorial tribute Birtukan referred to a book authored by Havel and acknowledged, “the truth illustrated in The Power of the Powerless has always preserved my fervent dedication for the cause of free and dignified human life.” She added: “So we should be vigilant and remind ourselves that the power of the powerless is directly correlated with features like friendship, compassion, forgiveness, and humility which might seem weak and meek rather than vanity, hate, and anger. Only the politics of the heart, which bases itself with capacities of love, friendship, solidarity, sympathy and tolerance are worthy of hardship.”

Birtukan Midekssa is the most prominent Ethiopian female political leader of our generation. Below is our Q & A with her:

TADIAS: As a fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy you have spoken about pathways to peace in the Horn of Africa. Can you share more about your current work? What do you enjoy most about it?

Birtukan Midekssa: As a Regan Fascel Democracy fellow, I am primarily engaged in an academic exploration focusing on the basic challenges of democratization in our country Ethiopia. The program gave me an opportunity to reflect on the issues and analyze the root causes underpinning the core political problems of the country.

The National Endowment for Democracy is a venue where political activists from across the globe come together to exchange views and experiences. What is so fascinating in my stay here has been observing the similarity in the challenges that citizens across borders have to overcome to realize their aspirations for free and dignified life. Yet, this comparative examination also helps one to realize that this noble cause eventually triumphs. That in turn is inspiring. Besides, as a fellow based in Washington, DC, I have lots of opportunities to shed light on the plight inflicted on my fellow Ethiopians by an authoritarian and unaccountable regime ruling the country.

TADIAS: Who are your female role models?

BM: One might say she was from the world of legend and myth. But, the heartfelt desire of the Queen of Sheba to acquire the wisdom and art of governance is celebrated by both major religions in our country. I am fascinated by her story, a story that is perhaps one of the most ancient ones showing a woman who did not consider her femininity as an inhibition for achieving something great and worthwhile.

Of course, there are lots of contemporary women, both Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian whose life is inspiring. I have, however, to single out Aung San Suu Kyi as one whose life has immensely influenced mine. Her courage, her moral integrity and her rigorous adherence and commitment to non-violence are unique in the stage of world politics. This woman who looks weak and frail, who has nothing to do with anger or malice, and who is often low-key and modest has exerted such a huge influence on world leaders, policy makers and more importantly millions of fellow humans including her countrymen and countrywomen. She showed fearlessness without foregoing her humility. She defied the rulers in the Military Junta of Burma without becoming hateful towards them. She is my icon who always affirms to me that it is possible to advance politics guided by moral principles based on respect and love for humanity.

TADIAS: What are some ways you have personally chosen to overcome the hurdles that you have faced both as a woman and as a leader in law & politics?

BM: What helps me most to survive the hurdles I faced is the depth and intensity of the ideal and vision I have with regard to the worth and dignity of the individual citizen and the way our society should be organized based on this universal ideal of human rights and the rule of law. My belief and conviction that we can and should change the status quo, though it appears to be daunting, has kept me going. And my trust in the power of the individual to bring about change enables me to consider the price I paid as a sacrifice made for a worthy causes and purpose.

TADIAS: What are some practical tips you can give for young women who want to follow in your footsteps?

BM: I would like to remind young women that public service or political engagement is not a domain exclusively reserved for men. In fact, I don’t think we can truly succeed in transforming the political system into a system which incorporates equality and fairness at its epicenter, unless Ethiopian young women are determined to contribute something significant to the process.

So I would like to encourage our young women to dream a future for our nation with a dignified and flourishing life for all citizens. And it’s important to believe in the ability of everyone of us to champion change. It is obvious the public discourse and the political process of our country is complex and traversing through it is an uphill journey. But if we stay committed and if we focus on the things we can offer and the societal issues we can be engaged in, all of us can play a role to lead our country towards freedom and democracy eventually.

TADIAS: Please tell us more about yourself (where you were born, grew up, school and how you developed your passion for your work?)

BM: I was born and brought up in the Ferensay Legacion neighborhood of Addis Ababa. I went to a public mid school called Miazia 23 and Yekatit 12 (Menen) for my elementary and high school education respectively. And I graduated from Addis Ababa University with a degree in law. I believe my passion for politics has a strong correlation with the fact that I was brought up in a community whose members are strongly committed to maintaining healthy social relations and to looking after the well-being of individual members. My training as a lawyer later on gave me some coherent narrative and vision for this aspiration of mine.

TADIAS: What would like to share on Women’s History Month with Tadias readers that we have not asked you about?

BM: I think we need to celebrate our unsung Ethiopian heroines who really made it in every realm of life. From the queens and wives and mothers of kings who take part in leadership to promote peace and security, to women advocates of change in Ethiopian popular revolution who paid dearly as equal with their male partners deserve our respect and commemoration for what they did and attempted to achieve in securing better societal destiny for our nation.

Most importantly, we should cherish and recognize the Ethiopian mothers and wives who bear tremendous burden and tirelessly struggle amidst challenges of impoverishment to feed their family, and to send their kids to school to get an education that perhaps they never had an opportunity to access themselves.

TADIAS: Thank you and happy Women’s History Month from all of us at Tadias.
—-
Click here to watch Birtukan Midekssa’s tribute to Vaclav Havel.

Related Women’s History Month Stories:
Interview with Artist Julie Mehretu
Interview With Model Maya Gate Haile
Interview with Nini Legesse
Interview with Sahra Mellesse
Interview with Lydia Gobena
Interview with Author Maaza Mengiste
Interview with Grammy-nominated singer Wayna
Interview with Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
Interview with Journalist Fanna Haile-Selassie
Interview with Dr. Mehret Mandefro
New Book Highlights Stories of 70 Accomplished Ethiopian Women (TADIAS)

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook

Tadias Interview with Julie Mehretu: Celebrating Women’s History Month 2012

Julie Mehretu is an artist best known for her large scale abstract paintings and drawings. She lives and works in New York City. (Photo Credit: ©Sarah Rentz)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Updated: Friday, March 30, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Julie Mehretu is one of the most celebrated contemporary artists in the United States, and one of two Ethiopian-born artists whose work is part of the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art. Julie, who currently lives and works in New York, has received numerous international recognitions for her work including the American Art Award from the Whitney Museum of American Art and the prestigious MacArthur Fellow award. She had residencies at the Core Program at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston (1998–99), the Studio Museum in Harlem, New York (2001), the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, Minnesota (2003), and the American Academy in Berlin (2007).

Julie was born in Addis Ababa in 1970 and immigrated to the United States with her family in 1977. Speaking about her upbringing Julie tells Tadias: “I was then raised in East Lansing, Michigan, where my father was professor of economic geography at the university and my mother a montessorian for young children.” Julie completed her undergraduate studies at Kalamzoo College and her MFA at RISD. “I was always drawing and painting since very young,” she said. “My parents always encouraged me to draw and pushed us to think differently.” She added: Although, it wasn’t until I was in graduate school that I really thought it could be possible to make a life as an artist. I think it is super important to realize that given a privileged circumstance you can craft a life like you can an object or a picture, with deep intention and vision.”

What does she most enjoy about her work? “Making art is difficult and intense work that consumes all of me,” Julie said. “Even still, I am so grateful and privileged that I am able to spend my time dedicated to painting and making art.”

In celebration of Women’s History Month, we asked Julie who her female role models are. “My mother, Doree Mehretu, my sister Neeshan Mehretu and my partner Jessica Rankin,” she shared, adding a few practical tips for young women who want to follow in her footsteps: “Work hard, don’t hesitate, and trust your intuition. Take deep care of your work and it will take care of you.”

Correction:
We have updated this story and made the following correction: Mehretu is one of two Ethiopian artists whose work is part of the permanent collection at MOMA. The other artist is Skunder Boghossian.

Click here to watch Video of Julie Mehretu from Art 21 Season 5 Preview.

Related Women’s History Month Stories:
Interview with Birtukan Midekssa
Interview With Model Maya Gate Haile
Interview with Nini Legesse
Interview with Sahra Mellesse
Interview with Lydia Gobena
Interview with Author Maaza Mengiste
Interview with Grammy-nominated singer Wayna
Interview with Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
Interview with Journalist Fanna Haile-Selassie
Interview with Dr. Mehret Mandefro
New Book Highlights Stories of 70 Accomplished Ethiopian Women (TADIAS)

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook

Celebrating Women’s History Month 2012: Tadias Interview with Nini Legesse

Nini Legesse is the founder of the Virginia-based Wegene Ethiopian Foundation. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Monday, March 26, 2012

New York (TADIAS)- Nini Legesse was one of the fourteen community leaders from the East African Diaspora that were honored at the White House as “Champions of Change” last month. Her organization Wegene Ethiopian Foundation provided, among other services, financial support to build an elementary school in Abelti-Jimma, Ethiopia. The White House said: “These leaders are helping to build stronger neighborhoods in communities across the country, and are working to mobilize networks across borders to address global challenges.”

Below is our Q & A with Nini Legesse.

TADIAS: Please tell us about Wegene Ethiopian Foundation. What inspired it?

Nini Legesse: I founded Wegene in 2000 with similarly inspired friends who like me had left their home country in their teenage years. We felt morally obligated to give back. Even though my friends and I feel grateful for the security, opportunity, education and better life that we enjoy in our adoptive country, the United States, we wanted to assist those who have less opportunities in Ethiopia. The goal of Wegene is to enable hardworking, poor families to meet their daily needs and send their children to school in a sustainable way.

We also have Wegene Kids Club. The club raises funds through bake sales, movie nights, crafting, and other various activities in order to create awareness and reach out to Ethiopian American youth. In addition to our projects in Ethiopia, the Wogene Kids Club also volunteers by feeding and distributing clothing to the homeless in the Washington, D.C. area. One of Wegene’s unique features is that it is 100% volunteer based. As a result, our overhead cost is near to nothing, because everyone involved is donating their time, money, and other in-kind donations.

TADIAS: What do you most enjoy about your work?

NL: My work for Wegene is more of a mission and it’s something that I’m very passionate about. It is meaningful and intensely rewarding. Also, I’m grateful that Wegene has created an opportunity to cultivate social ties to my home country and to make a difference in someone’s life at a personal level. This work offers me fulfillment and civic satisfaction beyond imagination. I think we each have to realize our human potential for compassion and love. I see our world as a generous place where we reach out to others as we move through life. It doesn’t matter if our contribution is large or small; doing what we can to positively affect the life of a single person provides immense gratification. I also work full time as a patent examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. I have been working at this job since 2001.

TADIAS: In a celebrating Women’s History Month, who are your female role models?

NL: I have numerous. One of my role models is Dr. Catherine Hamlin. I admire her lifetime devotion and mission to treating childbirth-related injures of disadvantaged women in Ethiopia. I’m amazed at how humble and loving she is. Her book, The Hospital by the River, is one of my favorite books. My other role model is Mrs. Marta Gebre-Tsadick, the founder of Project Merci. Marta is a remarkable woman. It is incredible what she and her husband have created. They built a school and hospital and established agricultural development programs. To me, she is a woman who has become a force of nature. Lastly, but equally as important, my mother and each of my six sisters have been my role models especially because I am the youngest child in my family.

TADIAS: Please tell us more about yourself (where you were born, grew up, school and how you developed your passion for your work).

NL: I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. My parents are Mrs. Kebrework Senke and Dejazmach Legesse Bezou. I have five sisters and two brothers. Now I lost one of my sisters to Lou Gehrig’s disease. I came to the United States at the age of 17. The school that I attended in Ethiopia was Nazareth School, of which I have many good memories. I received my undergraduate degree from Berea College in Kentucky and my Master’s Degree in Industrial Technology from Ball State University in Indiana. I am happily married to Eskinder Teklu for over 17 years and I have three wonderful children ages 16, 15, and 11. I have many relatives and friends I love and adore. In addition to a lot of new friends I have made each year, I am lucky that I also still have my kindergarten friends actively involved in my life. In my spare time, I love to read, listen to music, write poems, watch movies, decorate, help my kids with their school projects, garden, and do craftwork.

TADIAS: What are some practical tips you can give for young Ethiopian women who want to follow in your footsteps?

NL: It’s okay to fail, as long as you learn from your mistakes and avoid making the same mistakes again. There is no single problem that can’t be solved through determination. Understand that hard work will pay off. The main thing is to find your purpose in life. Find something that gives your life meaning.

TADIAS: Is there anything else you would like to share with Tadias readers that we haven’t asked you?

NL: I just want to thank all of your readers for taking their valuable time to read about me and the Wegene Ethiopian Foundation. My heartfelt thank you to Tadias magazine for the opportunity given to me to share about my passion.

For more information about Wegene, visit their website at www.wegene.org. Stay tuned for more highlights celebrating Ethiopian women role models and change agents.

Video: Photo slide show of Wegene’s School Project in Abelti, Jimma – Ethiopia


Related Women’s History Month Stories:
Interview with Birtukan Midekssa
Interview with Artist Julie Mehretu
Interview With Model Maya Gate Haile
Interview with Sahra Mellesse
Interview with Lydia Gobena
Interview with Author Maaza Mengiste
Interview with Grammy-nominated singer Wayna
Interview with Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
Interview with Journalist Fanna Haile-Selassie
Interview with Dr. Mehret Mandefro
New Book Highlights Stories of 70 Accomplished Ethiopian Women (TADIAS)

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook

Celebrating Women’s History Month 2012: Tadias Interview with Lydia Gobena

Lydia Gobena is an Intellectual Property attorney and a partner at the law firm Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu in New York. She is also the owner of the jewelry line, Birabiro. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Updated: Saturday, March 24, 2012

New York (TADIAS)- Our next interview for Women’s History Month features Lydia Gobena, a partner at Intellectual Property law firm Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu and a designer who recently launched her own jewelry line, Birabiro. As a legal professional Lydia has represented diverse international clientele including those in the sports, fashion, architectural, engineering, music, and pharmaceutical sectors. She launched her own jewelry line at the end of 2011.

Below is our Q&A with Lydia Gobena.

TADIAS: Please tell us more about yourself and your interest in a legal career.

Lydia Gobena: I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and moved to the U.S. when I was 2 years old. I grew up in Northern Virginia, where I graduated high school, and received a B.A. at the University of Toronto in Philosophy and History. After college, I worked in retail and at a law firm for a year and then studied law at the University of London, School of Oriental and African Studies (“SOAS”), receiving an LL.B. While working at the law firm, I realized that I enjoyed the intellectual aspects of the law. I was particularly interested in comparative law, having traveled extensively as a child. The program at SOAS appealed to me as it enabled me to take the more traditional legal courses while also studying different legal systems in Africa and Asia. After completing my law degree in London, I received an LL.M. at Georgetown University Law Center in International Law. I joined Fross Zelnick Lehrman & Zissu, an intellectual property boutique, in 2000 as an associate in the International Group. I became a partner in December 2005. I counsel and advise clients on international trademark, industrial design, copyright, and unfair competition issues. I have represented a diverse international clientele, including well-known fashion and apparel brands, a luxury goods company, a leading provider of engineering and architectural software, one of the world’s largest music and entertainment companies, leading pharmaceutical companies and beverage and sports brands.

TADIAS: You have recently also launched a jewelry design business called Birabiro. Can you tell us a bit more about this venture?

LG: I have enjoyed making beaded necklaces since I was a child. I started silversmithing in 2001, initially out of necessity. I love large rings and bracelets but could not find ones to fit my small fingers and wrists. While I have been making jewelry for friends and family over the years, I decided to launch my own jewelry line, which can now be viewed and purchased at birabiro.com, in order to make the designs available to a larger audience.

My love of jewelry most definitely came from my mother, who collects unique pieces from around the world. I love large, bold pieces of an artistic nature and this aesthetic is reflected in my line. Jewelry for me is an expression of who I am, and I am happy that I can share my creative expression with people outside my everyday circles.

TADIAS: Who are your female role models?

LG: In terms of career, I would have to say that my mother and her friends inspired me to pursue a challenging career. They were university-educated women in Ethiopia in the 60s/70s, who worked fulltime but yet managed to have a family. This career/life balance is something that I strive to have today, with a full-time career, a developing side business and a family life. I also have a number of female colleagues and clients at work, who have also helped guide my legal career. With respect to jewelry and style, my role models tend to be women, who push the boundaries when it comes to adornment. I was also inspired by my late sister, a fantastic artist, who had a unique worldview and aesthetic.

TADIAS: What are some practical tips you can give for young women who want to follow in your footsteps? (Both in law and in the arts).

LG: Find mentors at all stages of your career: I have had male and female mentors throughout my career and I actively seek them out to guide me in my professional life. I believe that it is particularly important, as a woman, to have female mentors, because they have been where you are and are good sounding boards when you need advice.

Follow your dreams: Many years ago, when reading The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, I came across the following quote that has guided me in my life and career “…[W]hen you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.” In other words, desire, determination, dedication, and, above all, belief in your dreams, coupled with hard work, will enable you to achieve your goals. Be a mentor: Just as others have guided you, it is important to help others in their journeys. You will learn and grow from the experience of mentoring as well.

TADIAS: What are some ways you have personally chosen to overcome the hurdles that you may have faced as a woman executive?

LG: I am fortunate to work at a law firm where being a minority woman was irrelevant as I am judged based solely on my work product. Thus, I do not believe that I have faced significant hurdles in my current work environment because of my gender or color. To the extent there have been any during my career, I have tried to ignore them and focus on trying to be the best in my field (a byproduct of how I was raised). Initially, I faced hurdles because I took an untraditional route in my legal career. It took a fair amount of networking to secure my first IP job. However, my perseverance paid off. You have to realize that disappointment is a part of life. However, you need to use it to your advantage: You may not necessarily win every case, or get every client that you pitch, but each of these experiences can make you into a better lawyer and individual.

TADIAS: What would like to share on Women’s History Month with Tadias readers?

LG: It is OK to march to the beat of your own drum. My approach to my legal career was not traditional; neither was my path to being a jewelry maker. At the end of the day, you just have to love what you do.
—-
Stay tuned for more highlights celebrating Ethiopian women role models and change agents.

Related Women’s History Month Stories:
Interview with Birtukan Midekssa
Interview with Artist Julie Mehretu
Interview With Model Maya Gate Haile
Interview with Nini Legesse
Interview with Sahra Mellesse
Interview with Author Maaza Mengiste
Interview with Grammy-nominated singer Wayna
Interview with Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
Interview with Journalist Fanna Haile-Selassie
Interview with Dr. Mehret Mandefro
New Book Highlights Stories of 70 Accomplished Ethiopian Women (TADIAS)

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook

Celebrating Women’s History Month 2012: Tadias Interview with Maaza Mengiste

Maaza Mengiste is a writer based in New York City. (Photo credit: Miriam Berkley)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Updated: Thursday, March 22, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Maaza Mengiste is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Beneath the Lion’s Gaze. She was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and graduated with an MFA in Creative Writing from New York University. Maaza is also the writer for the Ethiopia segment of the “Ten by Ten” project, a feature film that tells the stories of 10 extraordinary girls from 10 developing countries around the world. These stories, written by a female writer from the girl’s country and narrated by a celebrated actress, describe a unique personal journey of triumph and achievement against incredible odds.

Maaza ‘s book Beneath the Lion’s Gaze has been translated into several languages and her work has appeared in The New York Times, BBC Radio 4, The Granta Anthology of the African Short Story, and Lettre International, to name a few. She is a Fulbright Scholar who has also received fellowships from the Emily Harvey Foundation, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, the Prague Summer Program, and Yaddo. She teaches at NYU and lives in New York City.

Below is our Q & A with Maaza Mengiste:

TADIAS: What would you like to share about Women’s History Month with Tadias readers?

Maaza Mengiste: As I continue my reading and research and learn more about Ethiopian history, I’ve become increasingly aware of how significant women have been throughout that history. Can we talk about Ethiopian history without mentioning Saba or Zewditu or Taitu or so many of the women whose names aren’t in history books but in their families’ memories? I’m so proud of all the heroines, famous and unsung. My hope is that somewhere, there is a writer putting some of their stories down on paper.

I think it’s hard to consider Women’s History Month and consider Ethiopian women without thinking of what’s happening to domestic workers across the Middle East. In particular, the horrible and tragic death of Alem Dechassa. I still don’t have the right words to describe how I feel. I swing between so many emotions, most of them degrees of sorrow and anger. I think as women and as Ethiopians, we are each other’s sisters. In 10×10 film, through Azmera’s story and those young girls in her school who are saying ‘no’ to forced marriage and supporting each other to study hard, I’m hopeful of the potential we unleash when we band together. If we can reach even one woman trapped in an abusive household, if we can give her a place to tell her story and a place to turn for help, then maybe, in some small way, Alem’s death will not have been futile. It is a horrible price to pay, and one that I hope no other woman chooses, thinking it is her only way out of a terrible situation. It’s wonderful to see people, men and women, coming together to do something as a result of Alem’s death. I know events are happening in many places and social media is spreading the word and it’s great.

TADIAS: What do you enjoy most about being a writer?

MM: Most of the time, writing is hard work. It requires hours of solitude and many, many weeks and months and years of conceptualizing, writing, then revising again and again. It can often be the most difficult thing I’ve ever done, but it is also the most rewarding. One of the most rewarding aspects of my current life, as a writer with a published book, is the opportunity to meet so many people with incredible life stories. Writing demands that I am alone most of my days, but being able to interact with so many whose lives in some way echo those of my characters, or to connect with people who worked in Ethiopia or are students of Ethiopian history, has been a wonderful experience.

TADIAS: You are the writer for the 10×10 segment on Ethiopia. Can you share with us a bit more about your work on this project?

MM: The 10×10 documentary is a film focused on girls’ education as a means to positively impact a community and a country. The producers and director chose 10 countries and looked at the biggest obstacle to girls’ education in those countries. For Ethiopia, that issue was forced early marriage. I had the opportunity to meet Azmera, a young girl from a village outside of Bahir Dar. She was going to be married at age 12, but reported this to her teachers and the marriage was stopped and she was allowed to continue school. My role in the documentary was to spend time with Azmera and her family, which included her mother and grandmother and her aunts, uncles and cousins, and get to know her and learn more about her life. Then, I would write a script based on my time with Azmera and the director would take that and use it to shoot the documentary.

What I realized through this process was that, contrary to so many stories we hear about cruel parents forcing children into these marriages, Azmera comes from a loving, caring family. They adore her. Her mother was doing her best to make the right decisions for her child. She began to understand the physical and psychological damages inflicted on young girls when they’re married too young, and she was determined that her daughter finish school and improve her life. What was important to me as a woman, as an Ethiopian and as a writer was to convey this mother’s love but also talk about the thousands of young girls who are not as lucky as Azmera. The experience has been life-changing, I’m excited to see the finished film, which will be released sometime in 2013. But most important, I am so grateful for the kindness Azmera and her family extended to me and their willingness to let me into a small part of their lives. We will continue to stay in touch.

TADIAS: Who are your female role models?

MM: My grandmother and my mother. I learned kindness from one and stubbornness from the other, and it’s good to have both in this world, I’ve found.

Tadias: What challenges have you faced as a writer and how did you overcome those hurdles at work or life in general?

MM: Maybe the hardest thing is to maintain the daily discipline of writing, no matter what. It is often a juggling act between work, family and writing. Sometimes one outweighs the other, but the most important thing is that every day, I’ve spent some time focused on my writing.

TADIAS: What are some practical tips you can give for young women who want to follow in your footsteps?

MM: There will be many, many people who will find many, many reasons to discourage you from writing or from the arts. But the best advice I’ve ever received was from one of my aunts, who told me that no one lives with your decisions except you. So no matter what you want to do, do it well. Practice discipline. Be fearless. And be kind to people.

TADIAS: Please tell us more about yourself (where you were born, grew up, school and how you developed your passion for your work?)

MM: I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia but came to the U.S. when I was a child. I’ve grown up in the States but maintained ties to Ethiopia through family, friends and my work. I got my Masters in Fine Arts at New York University and I teach creative writing there. I developed my passion for my work by reading writers I admire. My passion for reading came much earlier than my passion for writing. I still love to read, I read every day, and that’s continuing to help me become a stronger writer.

TADIAS: Thank you so much and Happy Women’s History month from all of us at Tadias!

Stay tuned for more highlights celebrating Ethiopian women role models and change agents.

Related Women’s History Month Stories:
Interview with Birtukan Midekssa
Interview with Artist Julie Mehretu
Interview With Model Maya Gate Haile
Interview with Nini Legesse
Interview with Sahra Mellesse
Interview with Lydia Gobena
Interview with Grammy-nominated singer Wayna
Interview with Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
Interview with Journalist Fanna Haile-Selassie
Interview with Dr. Mehret Mandefro

Watch: Maaza reading from “Ten by Ten” (The story of Azmera, a young girl from Bahir Dar)


‘Girl Rising’ Film & Campaign Coming in 2013 (TADIAS)

Related:
New Book Highlights Stories of 70 Accomplished Ethiopian Women (TADIAS)

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook

Celebrating Women’s History Month 2012: Interview with Wayna

Woyneab Miraf Wondwossen (Wayna ) - is an Ethiopian-born American singer and songwriter. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2012

New York (TADIAS)- Our next highlight for Women’s History Month series features Grammy-nominated singer and songwriter Wayna. The Ethiopian-born artist moved to the U.S. when she was a toddler and grew up in the suburbs of D.C. After graduating from the University of Maryland where she double majored in English and Speech communication, Wayna worked for three years as a writer at the Clinton White House before launching her music career. Her debut album ‘Moments of Clarity’ was released in 2004. Five years later, she was nominated for Best Urban/Alternative Performance at the 2009 Grammy Awards. Wayna is currently back on tour and gearing up for another album. In honor of Billie Holiday’s birthday Wayna will be performing at the Blue Note in New York on April 6, 2012.

Below is our Q & A with Wayna.

TADIAS: What do you most enjoy about your work?

Wayna: I most enjoy writing and performing when it’s in the zone — and by that I mean the moment when you lose yourself in what you’re doing and something special happens that’s beyond you. It’s like all your daily thought and effort at honing your craft goes out the window, and you really let go in front of a crowd or in a writing session, and something better than you comes out. It’s awesome. I usually don’t sleep after days like those.

TADIAS: Who are your female role models?

Wayna: My late aunt, Yeshie Immebet Emagnu. She was a real pioneer — one of the first women to graduate from Addis Ababa University and one of the first Ethiopian graduate students to come to the States on a scholarship at a time when very few women, Black people and/or immigrants were earning advanced degrees. They urged her to study Education, because that was one of the few programs acceptable for women at the time, but her interest was in Political Science. So without her funder knowing, she enrolled in both programs and completed two masters in the amount of time allotted for one. At the end of her studies, she had to fight for them to honor the second degree. I admire that self-determination, and all while being very young and very far away from your family and all that’s familiar. I hope she passed a little bit of that down to me.

TADIAS: What challenges have you faced as a female artist? How did you cope?

Wayna: Sometimes, people will welcome your opinions about vocals or what you’re going to wear, but not about which drum sound you want in the song or how you want the video edited. Because I’m executive producing my albums, I have to be involved in all kinds of decisions, and it was striking to me in the beginning how frequently people thought they could talk me out of my opinions or how often they assumed the good choices were someone else’s — something I don’t see a lot of male artists or producers encountering. In fact, it seems like women at every level of success in the industry still experience this, no matter how accomplished. So I had to learn very early on to trust my instincts and to not look for validation for everything. I more than welcome input, and I take advice that feels right, but at the end of the day, its my call, and I am comfortable with that and with accepting whatever comes as a result.

TADIAS: What are some practical tips you can give for young females who want to follow in your footsteps?

My best advice for young women pursuing music is to really find themselves personally and creatively and to figure out what absolutely unique thing it is they have to give, whether it’s the story they’re telling or something about their voice or their background or the way they play. Above all, it should be unique and honest. That takes experimentation and trying things out of the comfort zone, and not protecting our ego. You can’t grow and inspire anybody if you’re not willing to be vulnerable. So everyday try to give yourself the gift of imperfection and to dig a little deeper into who you are. It’s not easy, but it’s worth it, because at the end of the day, none of this is really even about how well we do what we do, it’s about who we’re become along the way.

TADIAS: Please tell us briefly about yourself (where you were born, grew up, school and how you developed your passion for your work?)

Wayna: I was born in Addis Ababa, I immigrated with my mom to the U.S. when I was a toddler and grew up in the suburbs of D.C. I graduated from University of Maryland and worked for 3 years as a writer in the Clinton White House. I stayed there because I felt like I owed it to my family, who made a lot of sacrifices to raise me in the States and give me the best opportunity at a stable life and “a real job.” But one thing I was always clear on, from as early as I can remember, was that I wanted to sing. It took a while before I was willing to risk disappointing my family to make music my main goal, but once I did, I found that it came as no surprise to anyone and that everybody was really excited and pulling for me.

TADIAS: Is there anything else you would like to share with Tadias readers that we have not asked you about?

Wayna: My third album is the culmination of a tremendous amount of musical and self-exploration, coming off the biggest highs and challenges of my career and the birth of my daughter. I was determined to make something honest and unique, so I got out of my element and went to Toronto, where a friend had encouraged me to come and jam with some musicians. These guys were from all over the world and understood every genre of music from habesha to arabic to reggae to rock. A year later, we’re putting the finishing touches on the LP, ‘Freak Show,’ a blend of african and reggae-infused soul mixed with alternative rock. I am going to be offering some of these songs for free soon and playing them live at the Blue Note Friday April 6th at 12:30am, so please join us if you’re in NYC and/or follow me on Twitter @waynamusic or find me on Facebook, so you can hear and have the new material. I hope you love it as much as I do.

TADIAS: Thank you so much and Happy Women’s History month from all of us at Tadias!

Wayna: Thank you Tadias, for all your support over the years.

Video: In honor of Billie Holiday’s birthday Wayna performed in NYC on April, 6, 2012

Photo Slideshow: Wayna at “The Shrine” in Chicago on Thursday, February 16, 2012

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Related Women’s History Month Stories:
Interview with Birtukan Midekssa
Interview with Artist Julie Mehretu
Interview With Model Maya Gate Haile
Interview with Nini Legesse
Interview with Sahra Mellesse
Interview with Lydia Gobena
Interview with Maaza Mengiste
Interview with Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
Interview with Journalist Fanna Haile-Selassie
Interview with Dr. Mehret Mandefro
New Book Highlights Stories of 70 Accomplished Ethiopian Women (TADIAS)

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Celebrating Women’s History Month 2012: Tadias Interview with Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu is the Founder & Managing Director of SoleRebels — a fair trade certified green footwear company based in Ethiopia. (Photo: Courtesy of SoleRebels)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Monday, March 19, 2012

New York (TADIAS)- Our third highlight for Women’s History Month series is Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Founder & Managing Director of SoleRebels, the internationally recognized green footwear company based in Addis Ababa. Bethlehem was born, raised and educated in Ethiopia. Since she launched her company in 2005, allowing for the creation of hundreds of local jobs, she has garnered international recognition. Last year she was named one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders. And most recently Forbes Magazine declared her one of Africa’s Most Successful Women. She is currently an NYC Venture Fellow, a program established by Mayor Michael Bloomberg two years ago that is designed to connect promising entrepreneurs from around the world with mentors and investors from leading companies in New York City.

Below is our Q&A with Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu.

TADIAS: What do you most enjoy about your work?

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu: I really love sharing Ethiopia’s artisan heritages with the world and combining our cultural products with modern design sensibilities. For example, our sandals and shoes are lined with fabric produced from organic cotton, which we hand-spin and loom. So working in this manner not only preserves local assets, but also provides our customers with stylish and comfortable footwear. And we are constantly taking our idea further and pushing the boundaries.

TADIAS: Who are your female role models?

BTA: My mother is my role model. A simple hardworking woman who taught me the value of hard, honest work, encouraged me to get a good education and supported my desire to dream! I am also surrounded by strong, talented creative women in my company, who put in a full day of honest work in order to both elevate this company and provide for their families. Their work ethic inspires me daily.

TADIAS: What challenges have you faced as an entrepreneur and business executive?

BTA: Any entrepreneur building something from scratch is bound to face obstacles and a myriad of challenges. Its been interesting because my experience in running my company has been a very positive one. I don’t feel limitations because of my gender nor allowed myself to be limited by others’ perceptions of my gender. However, I am well aware that there have been many times when people attempted to limit me because of my gender. My belief has been in never allowing those limitations to take hold. It always carried me through and let me transcend those obstacles placed in front of me. Such experiences have made me aware of the challenges faced by women, and has made me passionate about ensuring that women around me are given all the tools they need to not simply cope with these challenges, but to flourish in spite of them. At the end of the day, the best weapon for success is performance.

TADIAS: What are some practical tips you can give for young Ethiopian women who want to follow in your footsteps?

BTA: First and foremost, I would say get a good education. That’s critical. And never be afraid of hard work. Believe me there is no such thing as “overnight success.” So get ready for reality. And never ever be afraid to dream big.

TADIAS: Please tell us briefly about yourself (where you were born, grew up, school and how you developed your passion for your work?)

BTA: I was born and raised in the Zenabwork/Total area of Addis Abeba, which is one of the most impoverished and marginalized communities in Ethiopia. When I was growing up, Ethiopia had plenty of charity “brands” but not enough grassroots effort for development. I was fresh out of college in 2005 when I embarked to shift the discourse on development from one of dependecy only on foreign aid and NGOs to maximizing local talent and resources. Our vision was to provide solid community-based jobs while creating a world class brand, which we have done.

TADIAS: Is there anything else you would like to share with Tadias readers that we have not asked you about?

BTA: We are aiming to open at least fifteen stores outside of Ethiopia by 2015. we have already implemented franchise agreements in Taiwan and are currently finalizing retail proposals in China, US, UK, Australia, Italy, Canada, Spain and Japan. We have many more exciting initiatives in the pipeline so stay tuned!

TADIAS: Thank you so much, Bethlehem, and Happy Women’s History month from all of us at Tadias!

Stay tuned for more highlights celebrating Ethiopian women role models and change agents.

Watch: Bethlehem Tells SoleRebels’ History (2011 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship)


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Interview with Artist Julie Mehretu
Interview With Model Maya Gate Haile
Interview with Nini Legesse
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Interview with Maaza Mengiste
Interview with Grammy-nominated singer Wayna
Interview with Journalist Fanna Haile-Selassie
Interview with Dr. Mehret Mandefro
New Book Highlights Stories of 70 Accomplished Ethiopian Women

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook

Tadias Interview with Fanna Haile-Selassie

Fanna Haile-Selassie is a correspondent for ABC-affiliated WSIL-TV's News 3 - a television station that covers parts of Illinois, Missouri, and Tennessee. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Monday, March 12, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Our second interview for the Women’s History Month series features broadcast journalist Fanna Haile-Selassie, a political reporter for the ABC-affiliated WSIL-TV – a television station that covers Southern Illinois, Southeastern Missouri, and parts of West Tennessee.

Fanna joined WSIL-TV’s News 3 team in August of last year. She was previously in Rochester, Minnesota, where she worked as the political, crime, and courts reporter for a local TV station for more than three years. Fanna has been honored for her work by the Minnesota Associated Press and the Minnesota Society of Professional journalists. She is a graduate of University of Missouri’s School of Journalism.

Below is our Q&A with Fanna Haile-Selassie:

TADIAS: What do you most enjoy about your work?

Fanna Haile-Selassie: I love that I am always learning something new at my job. Each day means a new story, whether I am heading to the state Capitol or into a medical clinic to learn about the latest scientific breakthroughs; my job is always exciting.

TADIAS: Who are your female role models?

FH: I admire all women who have the gumption and perseverance to reach their goals. Christiane Amanpour has always been a long-standing favorite of mine, but I actually find new role models almost on a weekly basis in my career. I have told many stories about strong women breaking barriers in their industry, or making a difference in their community while battling cancer, or even giving up everything to provide for their families. I find renewed strength in myself every time I get to meet one of these women and tell their story.

TADIAS: What challenges have you faced as a female reporter?

FH: The stereotype of broadcast journalism being dominated by men is quickly changing. More women are graduating from journalism schools than ever before. My journalism graduating class had more females. Currently, my newsroom has only one male reporter. As my industry recognizes more women in the field, the challenges have also reduced professionally.

TADIAS: What are some practical tips you can give for young women who want to follow in your footsteps?

FH: I would classify journalism almost like a calling. Reporters do not make a lot of money on average, they work long hours, sometimes get a bad reputation from the public, and have to report on some pretty terrible things. So before I recommend anyone to become a journalist, I would have them make sure this is truly what they wanted to do. The true satisfaction I get from my job is knowing that I am making a difference in this world by informing the public. People who are not in this career for the right reasons don’t know that satisfaction, and they rarely stay in this career.

TADIAS: Please tell us briefly about yourself (where you were born, grew up, school and how you developed your passion for your work?)

FH: I was born and raised in Minneapolis, Minnesota. My parents always encouraged me to strive to be the best, and I believe my pursuit of success led me to be a bit of a control freak. I always need to know what is going on around me at all times, and I never like being “out of the loop”. I figured out in high school that journalism would allow me to investigate all the things that made me so curious. I chose to go to the Missouri School of Journalism, one of the best broadcast journalism schools in the country. There, I discovered my passion for political reporting while working at a radio station in the state Capitol. Since graduating, I have worked as a general assignment reporter, but am the “go-to” person for all the political stories.

TADIAS: Thank you so much and Happy Women’s History month from all of us at Tadias!

Stay tuned for more highlights celebrating Ethiopian women role models and change agents.

Video: Collection of Recent News Reporting by broadcast journalist Fanna Haile-Selassie


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Celebrating Women’s History Month 2012: Tadias Q&A with Dr. Mehret Mandefro

Physician Mehret Mandefro is co-founder of Truth Aid, an organization that produces multimedia content about social issues affecting vulnerable populations around the world. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Thursday, March 8, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – In celebration of Women’s History Month, Tadias is interviewing extraordinary Ethiopian women who are blazing trails in various fields including science, art, philanthropy, and business. We launch our series with a Q&A with Dr. Mehret Mandefro, physician, film producer, anthropologist and social change activist. She is a former White House Fellow, Fulbright Scholar, and currently teaches at the Department of Health Policy at George Washington School of Public Health & Health Services.

Mehret is also the co-founder of Truth Aid, an organization that produces visual ethnographies of health and social issues. Their current film project entitled Oblivion is based on a true story about a legal precedent-setting case that outlawed abduction for marriage in Ethiopia.

Below is our Q&A with Dr. Mehret Mandefro:

TADIAS: What do you most enjoy about your work?

Mehret Mandefro: I love teaching and working with students. I find the next generation to be very inspiring. I also like having the time to think, write, and create new forms of knowledge that will challenge audiences to think different about health and human rights.

TADIAS: Who are your female role models?

Mehret: My mother, Tsedale K. Mandefro, Abebech Gobena, Sister Zebider, Meaza Ashenafi.

Tadias: What challenges have you faced as a leader and how did you overcome those hurdles at work or life in general?

Mehret: In some work environments where I have been the youngest and happen to be the only woman sometimes it was a challenge to have my voice heard. So I went to great lengths to be very clear about what I thought. Learning to express your opinions in forums that are not necessarily friendly is an important skill for women to develop.

TADIAS: What are some practical tips you can give for young women who want to follow in your footsteps?

Mehret: You have to believe in your vision above all and be willing to put in hard work to execute. You also have to surround yourself with a support network that can nurture your growth. That’s very important.

TADIAS: Please tell us more about yourself (where you were born, grew up, school and how you developed your passion for your work?)

Mehret: I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and I grew up in Alexandria, VA. I attended Harvard for college and medical school. I also received a Masters in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. My passion for public health and medicine emerged out of a study abroad trip I took to Kenya as a junior in college.

TADIAS: What would like to share on Women’s History Month with Tadias readers that we have not asked you about?

Mehret: Dream big. Work hard. But most of all never be afraid to do something different.

Thank you Dr. Mehret and best wishes with your endeavors.

Stay tuned for highlights celebrating Ethiopian women role models and change agents.

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Interview with Artist Julie Mehretu
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Interview with Grammy-nominated Singer Wayna
Interview with Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu
Interview with Journalist Fanna Haile-Selassie
New Book Highlights Stories of 70 Accomplished Ethiopian Women (TADIAS)

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African American Women in the Obama Administration: Yeshimebet Abebe

Ethiopian American Yeshimebet Abebe serves as the Advisor to the Secretary of Agriculture for Special Project at the U.S. Department of Agriculture. (Photo: The White House Blog)

Black History Month | By Christopher R. Upperman

Each year America recognizes the month of February as National African American History Month. We reflect and celebrate the heritage and legacy of African Americans and many of their achievements. The theme for this year’s African American History Month is focusing on, “Black Women in American Culture and History.” In his 2012 proclamation, President Obama says, “During National African American History Month, we pay tribute to the contributions of past generations and reaffirm our commitment to keeping the American dream alive for the next generation.”

Yeshimebet Abebe serves as the Advisor to the Secretary of Agriculture for Special Projects, where her portfolio includes USDA’s Strike Force Initiative. She recently served as the Acting Chief of Staff for Research, Education and Economics (REE) where her responsibilities included the managing of the daily priorities of the four agencies that comprise REE, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS), National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA), Economic Research Service (ERS), and National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS).

Yeshi also served as the Special Assistant to the Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development and the Special Assistant to the Administrator for Rural Utilities Service. Prior to arriving at USDA, Yeshi practiced law in both the private and non-profit sectors, worked in the office of Congressman Bruce Braley and worked on the Obama campaign.

An Iowa native, Yeshi has a Bachelor of Science in Urban and Regional Studies from Cornell University, a Juris Doctor from the University of Miami School of Law, and a Master’s of Arts in International Law and the Settlement of Disputes from the University for Peace in Costa Rica.

Click here to read a Q & A with Yeshimebet Abebe.

White House Highlights Diaspora Trailblazers from East Africa

President Obama has highlighted fourteen community leaders in American Diaspora with roots in the Horn of Africa. The White House says these leaders are helping to build stronger neighborhoods in communities across the country, and are working to mobilize networks across borders to address global challenges. In the next few weeks Tadias Magazine will feature series of interviews about their work. (Photos: White House)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Monday, February 6, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – Each week, as part of President Obama’s Winning the Future initiative, the White House recognizes champions from various sectors — ranging from educators to entrepreneurs and community leaders — and honors them for the work they are doing to serve and strengthen their communities.

Last week the White House recognized 14 “Champions of Change” who are leaders in American Diaspora communities with roots in the Horn of Africa. In the next few weeks Tadias Magazine will feature an interview series with several of the champions.

We start with Ethiopian-born Solome Lemma, a philanthropist, activist, and organizer. She is currently a grantmaking program advisor at The Global Fund for Children (GFC). Solome is a graduate of Stanford and Harvard Universities.

TADIAS: Solome, please tell our readers about yourself, where you grew up, your passions and top priorities?

Solome Lemma: I was born in Ethiopia and migrated to the US when I was 11. I lived in Marietta, GA for a year and spent the rest of my childhood in Los Angeles, California, until I went off to college. Since then I have lived in New York, DC, Boston, and Ethiopia and traveled to many countries in Africa. My passion is in seeing an Africa that is in charge of its own development and progress. An Africa that tells its own story, drives its own change, and sets its own agenda.

TADIAS: Through your non-profit work with the Global Fund for Children you have worked with grassroots organizations in over 25 countries in Africa. Can you share some of the highlights of that experience?

SL: Wow, so many incredible memories and highlights. I loved organizing a knowledge exchange conference in Senegal for grantee partners in English and French-speaking parts of West Africa. We held the exchange in Toubab Dialow, right on the beach and it was incredible to see people forge connections and lasting relationships despite the linguistic divides. After the conference, I had an opportunity to visit and stay with the great writer Ayi Kwei Armah. I will never forget him cooking dinner. We had a great conversation about Africa, literature, and following one’s authentic purpose. Throughout that Senegal trip, I remember saying to myself I can’t believe this is my life over and over again.

Sierra Leone was such a beautiful surprise. Before I traveled there, all I knew about the country was the long conflict . Once I got there, I found the most breathtaking, stunning place I have ever visited. Rolling hills, lush green trees, gorgeous white sand and Turuquoise water. River number two is a must visit. And While I am on that, Zanzibar still has a piece of my heart.

The most inspiring part of that work was meeting the incredible grassroots leaders who are the backbone of change in their communities. I have met the most driven, resourceful, creative, and impactful organizations in Africa. During my last visit in Mombasa, Kenya, I met with two brothers who were forced into the streets at the ages of 4 and 7. They lived on and off the streets into their teenage years. Today, they run am organization that works with children who live on the streets called Total War Against AIDS Foundation (TWAAYF). These two young men have turned their misfortunes into an incredible organization that uses the creative arts, music, education, and love to prevent other children from experiencing their fate.

Visiting the Joy Center in Ethiopia is always a great source of inspiration. The Joy Center is the first and only school for children with autism. I have visited the organization every two years since 2006 and it’s incredible for me to see the change in the students overtime. One particular young lady couldn’t move, speak, or eat on her own when I visited the first time. When I returned two years later, she was playing basketball and communicating with her teachers. Another two years later, she was talking to me. It’s a place where love and care make miracles.

TADIAS: Describe the project you are currently working on to focus on members of the Diaspora as agents of change.

SL: I am working to establish an organization that will promote philanthropy among the African Diaspora Community. We are the most educated immigrant group in America. The global African Diaspora sends $40 billion in remittances each year. Imagine how much change we can advance if we consolidate our resources to engage in collective philanthropy, supporting the work of African social change organizations. It’s time for us to step outside of the shadows of development and philanthropic organizations and take our rightful place as resources, sources, and agents of change.
—-
Watch: Champions of Change in American Diaspora Communities Honored at the White House

Yared Tekabe Uses Molecular Imaging for Early Detection of Heart Disease

Dr. Yared Tekabe runs studies in cardiovascular disease detection and prevention at Columbia University. (Photo: Tekabe at his office at William Black building in upper Manhattan - Courtesy photograph)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Wednesday, January 25, 2012

New York (TADIAS) – In Spring 2009, we featured Dr. Yared Tekabe’s groundbreaking work on non-invasive atherosclerosis detection and molecular imaging, which was published in the American Heart Association´s journal, Circulation. As in most chronic heart disease conditions, the plaque that accumulates in blood vessels is usually not detected until it leads to serious, and often fatal, blockages of blood supply such as during an episode of heart attack or stroke. Having received a $1.6 million grant from the National Institute of Health Tekabe’s research focused on the use of novel molecular imaging techniques to identify sites of inflammation that can help us with early detection of atherosclerosis.

In 2010, his work was highlighted in Osborn & Jaffer’s review entitled “The Year in Molecular Imaging,” noting that Tekabe and colleagues had developed a tracer that imaged RAGE — a receptor for advanced glycation end products, which is implicated in a host of inflammation-related diseases including artherosclerosis, cancer, diabetes and alzheimer’s. Tekabe’s group, along with his colleague Dr. Ann Marie Schmidt, holds a patent for this RAGE-directed imaging technology.

Tekabe’s lab also used similar imaging technology to detect RAGE in mouse models who had artifically-induced ischemia (restriction of blood supply) in their left anterior descending coronary artery, which is the main supplier of blood to the left ventricle. When blood supply is restored (reperfusion), the sudden change may also cause further inflammation and tissue damage from impact. By being able to trace RAGE and pathways of inflammation using molecular imaging techniques, Tekabe has demonstrated that the highest RAGE expressing cells were the injured heart muscle cells undergoing programmed cell death.

Tekabe’s research in myocardial ischemic/reperfusion injury showed that RAGE could be traced in areas of inflammation in a non-invasive manner in live mouse subjects. The findings were presented at the 2011 World Molecular Imaging Congress scientific session, and was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology in January 2012. An editorial entitled ‘Visualizing the RAGE: Molecular Imaging After MI Provides Insight Into a Complex Receptor” accompanied Tekabe’s article, and emphasized that Tekabe’s research “continues to provide a solid foundation and proof of concept” that non-invasive imaging of RAGE following induced myocardial ischemia “is feasible” in live subjects.

Tekabe’s findings also have important implications for future antibody therapy formulations that can be used to treat RAGE-related chronic conditions. Tekabe hopes to translate his studies on mouse models to larger mammals and eventually to humans. Molecular imaging studies such as the one Tekabe has undertaken are critical in prevention of chronic cardiac conditions and could potentially decrease the number of sudden deaths from heart attack as it may allow physicians to make early and life-saving diagnoses.

When asked if there was anything else that he’d like to share with our readers, Dr. Tekabe replied, “Oh yes, since childhood, apart from my research, I’ve always wanted to involve myself in an Ethiopian movie, acting as the main character. Like in a love story. I hope to do this someday.”

Related:
Yared Tekabe’s Groundbreaking Research in Heart Disease (TADIAS – March 17th, 2009)

Join the conversation on Twitter and Facebook.

Forbes: Africa’s Most Successful Women – Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu (left), pictured at the 2011 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship ceremony held in Nairobi, Kenya on December 8th, 2011. (Courtesy photo)

Forbes Magazine
By Mfonobong Nsehe

January 5, 2012

Every now and then, I profile outstanding African women who’re making giant strides in business, politics, technology, entrepreneurship and leadership on the continent and elsewhere around the world. This week, I profile the spectacular Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, an Ethiopian entrepreneur and the founder of SoleRebels, a thriving eco-sensitive footwear brand that pundits hail as Africa’s answer to brands such as Nike, Reebok and Adidas.

Bethlehem is relentlessly pursuing her dream of building an international footwear brand right from the heart of Ethiopia. And she’s making significant progress. SoleRebels has opened up a retail outlet in Taiwan and has franchise proposals for Canada, Italy, Australia, Israel, Spain, Japan and the United States among other countries. In a recent interview with Tadias Magazine, Bethlehem estimated that revenues from Sole Rebels retail operations will hit the $10 million mark by 2016. Considering the exceptional success she’s achieved in less than 8 years, she’ll probably exceed her estimations.

Read the full article at Forbes.com.

Sole Rebels Honored with the 2011 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship

Bethlehem and soleRebels' Director of Retail Operations with winners' plaque at the 2011 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship ceremony held in Nairobi, Kenya on December 8th, 2011. (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
News Update

Monday, December 12, 2011

New York (TADIAS) – Sole Rebels, the world’s first fair-trade certified green footwear company based in Ethiopia, has been recognized with the 2011 Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship at a ceremony held in Nairobi, Kenya on December 8th.

Sole Rebels is one of six finalists that were recognized as Africa Awards Winners and each granted a prize of US $50,000. The grand prize of US $100,000 went to the Harare based SECURICO, which provides guarding services and electronic security solutions, and is the first security company in Zimbabwe to be ISO (International Organisation for Standardisation) certified. SECURICO has more than 3,400 employees, 900 of which are women, making it the largest employer of women in the private sector. The award for Outstanding Women Entrepreneur was granted to Victoria Seeds, an agribusiness based in Kampala, Uganda.

Click here to view photos

Below is a video played by Sole Rebels at the Award:

Obama Honors Physicist Solomon Bililign With Presidential Award

President Obama has named Ethiopian American Physicist Solomon Bililign as one of the nation's "Outstanding Science, Math, and Engineering Mentors." He will receive his award at a White House ceremony later this year. (Photo credit: Courtesy photo of Solomon Bililign and official White House photo by Pete Souza)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Thursday, November 17, 2011

WASHINGTON, DC (TADIAS) – When Physicist Solomon Bililign was a young teacher imprisoned in Ethiopia during the “Red Terror” era, he never imagined that he would one day receive a Presidential Award in the United States.

Now a professor at North Carolina Agricultural & Technical State University, Dr. Bililign is one of nine individuals whom President Obama this week named recipients of the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics, and Engineering Mentoring. The honorees will receive their awards at a White House ceremony later this year. The award recognizes the role that mentoring plays in the academic and personal development of students studying science and engineering. According to the White House, candidates are nominated by colleagues, administrators, and students at their home institutions.

“Through their commitment to education and innovation, these individuals are playing a crucial role in the development of our 21st century workforce,” President Obama said. “Our nation owes them a debt of gratitude for helping ensure that America remains the global leader in science and engineering for years to come.”

“I am humbled by the honor,” Dr. Bililign said in an interview with Tadias Magazine following the announcement. “I am just one of thousands of mentors who happened to be nominated.” He added: I am sure there a lot more deserving mentors. The recognition would motivate me to do more.”

Dr. Bililign said that success in science, engineering or math is not as glamorous as success in performing arts or sports in the U.S., but the economic competitiveness of the nation, depends on a solid foundation in the sciences. “Young people need to be encouraged, pushed, persuaded to do it,” he said. “Not for the money or fame but for the love of discovery and innovation. I believe every one has a gift, and a mentor’s role is to identify the gift and nurture it.”

Dr. Bililign was born in Dessie, Ethiopia. He left the country in 1987 to pursue a PhD in Physics at the University of Iowa. “Both my parents were teachers,” he said. “They are actually the first graduates of the Debre Berhan Teachers Training program then run by the US Point Four program.” He continued: “Their first assignment was in Mekele, Northern Ethiopia where they started school under a tree by collecting shepherds from the field… that modest start grew into a big elementary school where my father served as a Principal for over 10 years and my mother taught home economics, until they transferred to Dessie. I did all my school grades one through eleven at Atse Yohannes Elementary and Secondary School.”

Dr. Bililign said he followed in his parents footsteps to be trained as a high school teacher and joined the Prince Bede Mariam Laboratory School in grade eleven. “ I graduated as a physics teacher from Addis Ababa University (AAU), but ended up as a graduate assistant at AAU and taught there as a lecturer for several years,” he said.

But Dr. Bililign’s life-journey has not always been easy. He was imprisoned and tortured during the “Red Terror” era. His father died in a car accident on his way to visit his son in prison.

“While no one had to go through [what I went through], I think I have turned that negative and hard experience to my advantage, where I spent most of my time teaching young prisoners during the day and prison guards during the night, trying to give hope in a seemingly hopeless situation, and keeping myself busy and overcoming negative feelings and bitterness,” he said. “The experience also gave me time to reflect on my life and see the bigger picture in life.”

And what is his advise to a new generation of aspiring scientists? “For the young people who are intimidated by the hard work needed in science, math and engineering, I say nothing in life is easy, it is all about deciding to do it with passion. Every thing will give up its secrets if you love it enough,” he said.

We congratulate Professor Solomon Bililign on his accomplishments.

Update: Dr. Bililign Visits White House, Receives Award (Monday, Dec. 12, 2011)

President Barack Obama greets Dr. Solomon Bililign (left) and other recipients of the 2010 Presidential Awards for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring in the Oval Office, Dec. 12, 2011. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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National Law Journal Names Gejaa Gobena To Minority 40 Under 40 List

Gejaa Gobena (right), a lawyer for the U.S. Justice Department, has been named by the National Law Journal as one of the 40 minority lawyers under 40 and profiled in a special report. (Photo: Diego M. Radzinschi / NLJ)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Monday, November 14, 2011

New York (TADIAS) – Ethiopian American attorney Gejaa Gobena was recently chosen by the National Law Journal as one of 40 distinguished minority lawyers, all under the age of 40, who have been honored for their accomplishments within the legal profession.

“The lawyers profiled were all born in the 1970s, a decade when law schools and law firms were just beginning to welcome minorities in significant numbers,” the publication said. “The thriving careers of these lawyers — at law firms and in government, academia and public interest — attest to the greater opportunities available to them, as well as to their talents.” NLJ added: “But progress has been mixed. As Paulette Brown notes in her commentary, the economic crisis of 2008 took a great toll on diversity. And ethnically diverse lawyers still comprise only about 6 percent of equity partners.”

About Gejaa Gobena:
By Mike Scarcella

When it comes to health care fraud enforcement, the U.S. Justice Department’s Gejaa Gobena has seen both sides. A former associate at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson, where he had a white-collar defense practice focusing on False Claims Act matters, the 36-year-old Gobena is now a leading trial attorney working on criminal health care enforcement actions in Detroit. Gobena, a lawyer in the Criminal Division’s fraud section since September 2009, works on the department’s Medicare Fraud Strike Force in Detroit, a targeted operation that has netted charges against 84 people for alleged schemes that bilked the government out of $85 million.

DOJ put together investigation and prosecution teams to focus on cities where statistics showed a spike in fraud. “I’m motivated by the fact health care fraud is a major problem out there,” Gobena said. The victims, he said, are not just the federal government. “There’s a human element to the story,” said Gobena, addressing elderly patients who get caught up in scams. In a recent case that Gobena prosecuted, a Detroit-area clinic owner was sentenced this month to 10 years in prison for his role in a $9.1 million scheme.

Gobena is a 1998 graduate of Columbia Law School. His expertise in the criminal arena is complemented by his work in DOJ’s Civil Division for nearly seven years. Gobena on Oct. 19 was named one of several recipients of the Attorney General’s Award for Fraud Prevention for his work on the team that recovered more than $680 million from pharmaceutical manufacturers that included Abbott Laboratories. That investigation revealed the companies had falsely inflated drug prices.

Gobena describes himself as a mentor to younger lawyers, helping them prepare for grand juries and discussing trial strategy. “In the near term, I can’t see myself doing anything other than public service,” he said.
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Click here to read the rest of the list at National Law Journal.

Watch: Victory Dinner for NYC Marathon Champions

Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba, the top-two finishers at the 2011 New York City Marathon, share a toast with friends and fans at the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant.

Tadias Magazine
Events News

Updated: Thursday, November 10, 2011

New York (TADIAS) – Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba were greeted like homecoming queens with cheers and applause as they arrived for dinner at the Queen of Sheba Ethiopian Restaurant in Manhattan on Sunday evening, following their stunning victory at the 2011 ING New York City Marathon.

Firehiwot Dado, 27, won her debut NYC Marathon in 2:23:15, followed by her childhood friend, New Yorker Buzunesh Deba, four seconds later. It was one of the closest women’s finish in the race history.

“This is my first time coming to New York,” Firehiwot said. “It’s one of the top five [international] competitions. That I won prepares me and gives me hope for the next Olympics.” She added: “My goal is to win gold at the Olympics.”

The New York media had shown up at the midtown eatery after learning that the local hero would be dining there. Buzunesh Deba was visibly emotional as fans, friends, and strangers waited for a chance to hug and kiss her.

Buzunesh, 24, who led Firehiwot until the two overtook Mary Keitany of Kenya, said running in her Bronx neighborhood had inspired her to pick up the pace and added that she was pleased with the result because “my friend won.”

“We lived in the same town, and ran on the same team,” Buzunesh told Tadias earlier in the day.

“I want to thank the people of New York and the people of my country and everyone that supported us,” Buzunesh said. “Frehiwot and I showed good competition and with God’s grace we were victorious.”

Watch: Homecoming Reception For New York Marathon Winners at Queen of Sheba Restaurant

Watch: Firehiwot Dado & Buzunesh Deba take the top-two spots at 2011 NYC Marathon

Watch: Geoffrey Mutai Wins 2011 Men’s NYC Marathon – From Universal Sports

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Photo credit: Firehiwot Dado and Buzunesh Deba, 1-2 in New York. (Getty Images)

Buzunesh Deba Eyes NYC Marathon

Buzunesh Deba training at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx on Monday, October 24, 2011. (Photo by Jason Jett for Tadias Magazine).

Tadias Magazine
By Jason Jett

Updated: Thursday, October 27, 2011

New York (TADIAS) – Buzunesh Deba “is not in the local race, she is in the big race this time,” her husband-coach Worku Beyi emphasized last week in reference to the Ethiopian-born runner’s bid to become the first New Yorker to win the New York City Marathon since 1976 — before the race left Central Park to touch all five boroughs and become the world’s largest marathon.

On November 6 she will pursue the $130,000 overall top prize that goes to the first man and woman finishing the 26.2-mile race through Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx and Manhattan.

Deba has the runner’s resume to be considered among the top five in the elite women’s field at the 2011 New York City Marathon.

Last June she won the Rock n’ Roll San Diego Marathon in 2:23:31, blazing the first half of the downward course in 1:09:53. Three months earlier she won the Honda Los Angeles Marathon. Last year she was victorious at the Twin Cities and Grandma’s marathons in Minnesota.

Deba was among the top-10 finishers both times she competed over the marathon distance in New York City, finishing 10th, in 2:29:55, last year and seventh two years ago in 2:35:54.

The New York City Marathon is a demanding 26 miles, 385 feet (42.195 kilometers), with five climbs onto bridges, that runners seeking fast times typically avoid in favor of running over relatively flat courses in Berlin or Chicago.

Beyi insists if the weather is pleasant, Deba has a good chance of beating the New York City Marathon course record of 2:22:31.

“In San Diego she ran the first 5K in 16:0-something,” he said. “Her 10k time was 32 minutes, she was on world-record pace. Then until 23 miles, she was on sub-2:20 pace.”

The husband-coach told Tadias that he first met Deba when she was age 13, and a year later attended one of her races, positioning himself along a clearing about 400 feet from the finish line.

“Buzunesh was second, a good distance behind the leader, when she came by,” said Beyi. “I shouted ‘go, go, go’ the next thing I knew she began to run faster. She passed the other girl and won the race.”

“When I congratulated her after the race I asked her how did she manage to pass the other girl so quickly?” he continued. “She said, ‘You gave me power. You are my power.’”

His wife’s pre-New York marathon workout routines peaked this fall to 130 miles a week, covered in two-a-day training sessions. Recently, Deba has slowed to about 90 miles a week with robust-morning and easy-evening sessions.

“Nutrition is very important for running a marathon,” Beyi said. “Marathon training is very hard, you have to eat properly. Up to one month before the marathon we ate a lot of meat and injera, but injera makes you heavy. Now we eat mostly vegetables, with a little chicken and some lamb soup.”

Deba gives a lot of credit for her success to Beyi — both his training and cooking.

Beyi, a world-class athlete, competes less now because of a medical condition and instead focuses on coaching Deba. Quite a cook also, friends say, Beyi said he prepares their meals so Deba can stay off her feet after training.

For Deba, the ascension was gradual. She arrived in New York on an athlete’s visa in 2007, and her early performance was hampered by chronic ankle problems.

With uneven success, she competed across the country at various races. It was not until September 2009 that Deba ran her first race over a 26.2-mile course — The Quad Cities (Iowa) Marathon — and won.

She found her winning stride, and with coaching from Beyi and altitude training in New Mexico, victories followed at the 2009 and 2010 California International Marathon as well as in Minnesota, Los Angeles and San Diego.


Buzunesh Deba trains under the watchful eye of husband-coach Worku Beyi as members of the Manhattan College Jaspers track and field team look on at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx on Monday, October 24, 2011. (Photo by Jason Jett for Tadias Magazine).


Buzunesh Deba, far right, holds trophy after winning the 2010 Chris Thater Memorial 5K in Binghamton, New York. (Photo by Jason Jett)

Now Deba is on the brink of a life-changing achievement. If she wins the New York City Marathon next week, it would mark the first time a female runner has left her homeland as an adult and rose to world-class status on the North American road-racing circuit. Only Khalid Khannouchi, who was born in Morocco and lived first in Brooklyn and then in Ossining, NY, has done that to date, winning the 1999 Chicago Marathon in a world-record time of 2:05:42 that since has been broken. Meb Keflezighi, winner of the 2009 New York City Marathon, was born in Eritrea but as a child moved with his family to the United States and grew up in San Diego.

In recent days, Deba has been besieged with media requests – which included interviews with The New York Times and The New York Daily News.

With a victory in New York, Deba would take a big step from her colleagues who survive by the same pattern she had followed in the U.S. until this year — racing here and there, virtually anywhere, to secure enough funds to support themselves and send home to family in Ethiopia.

More than dozen Ethiopian runners living in New York and Washington, D.C., are pursuing with season-highlight anticipation that New York City Marathon race-within-a-race from which Deba is attempting to move on. For them there is still gleam in the prospect of being the first city resident or New York Road Runners member to finish, and the money that comes with the distinction.

Pride unites the network of Ethiopian runners who live in and around New York, training in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx, Rockefeller State Park in Tarrytown and in Manhattan’s Central Park.

The pride is both for their homeland and in their resettlement in a country that offers greater opportunities — if they can find them amid all the competition from other Ethiopian nationals not to mention Kenyans, and East Europeans on the running circuit.

Friendships survive the race competitions, in which one runner’s success often means another’s failure in monetary terms ranging from several hundred to thousands of dollars.

Schadenfreude is a reality after each race, with everyone getting to share in it at some point as they hope for better for themselves in their next competition.

That is the manner in which relations within the network are affected by the hands of fate. One’s success is shared; one’s failure means there is opportunity for some other runner to move up.

The New York City Marathon brings local media attention to the running community each year. The scrutiny has not always been embraced by its members.

Nearly three years ago Village Voice reporter Graham Rayman extensively interviewed Ethiopian and Kenyan runners living in the Bronx for a post-New York City Marathon story. Rayman and photographer Jesse Reed spent days into weeks interviewing and photographing the runners in their homes as well as at training grounds in Van Cortlandt and Rockefeller State parks.

The result was a front-page story with a full-page picture of Ethiopian runner Abiyot Endale, who has photogenic looks to match his athletic prowess. However, photoshopped onto the bib of Endale’s running shirt was the headline: Will Run For Food.

The Ethiopian running community in New York was outraged.

Kassahun Kabiso, a Bronx runner who was featured in the report, said Rayman had befriended the runners and they had accepted him and his photographer into their homes and apartments. “He was our friend,” Kabiso said. “Maybe his editors changed the story.”

Rayman did not respond to a request for comment sent to his email account at the Village Voice.

The article, published December 17, 2008, is still viewable online along with additional comments but sans the cover photograph shown below.

The Ethiopian running community in New York is still stinging from the article, and wants the world to know that while their lifestyle is not luxurious neither is it impoverished.

“That was a bad article,” Beyi said, shaking his head, after leading Deba through a training session last week.

Endale and Derese Deniboba, who live at a Perry Avenue address in the Bronx that for the past six years has been home for Ethiopian runners, note that while they may live four people to an apartment the conditions are clean and well-maintained, if not spartan.

Deniboba recently recalled a conversation he had last summer with his absentee landlord.

“He called me over and said, ‘You know, you are not like the tenants I used to have. You guys are quiet, and never cause any trouble. Where are you from?’”

“I told him Ethiopia,” said Deniboba. “Then he asked, ‘What you do?’”

“I told him we are runners,” added Deniboba. “Then he said, ‘You guys are disciplined, you are in good shape. None of you are fat. I think I will take up running, too.’”

Will Run For Glory

Deba is running the New York City Marathon for the glory and the money.

Her six-figure annual earnings and a $40,000 Mizuno sponsorship, along with a 2011 Honda Insight hybrid car that was part of her prize for winning in Los Angeles, has her and Beyi preparing to buy a house in their adopted city — as she pursues United States citizenship.

Should Deba not win the New York race, but finish second, she would earn $65,000; plus bonus. A third-place finish would net her $40,000, fourth $25,000, fifth $15,000, and so on, plus bonuses.

November 6 likely will be a big payday for all the hard work and discipline Deba has put in every day the past few months, including rainy days on which Beyi suggested she rest but she insisted on going out and running in the rain for hours.

“I will do my best,” Deba said this week with a confident smile, which may have been a bit of humility coming from a runner who, when asked by a reporter after winning the 2009 California International Marathon at what point did she know she had won the race, replied: “At the start line.”

Related:
View more photos of Buzunesh Deba on our Facebook page
Buzunesh Deba: New York’s Hope at ING NYC Marathon

Ethiopia Habtemariam: The New Boss at Motown

Ethiopia Habtemariam (left) has been promoted to senior VP of the storied Motown Records label.

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Friday, August 12, 2011

New York (Tadias) – A young Ethiopian American music executive has been appointed as the new head of the legendary Motown label now owned by the Universal Music Group.

The company has named Ethiopia Habtemariam, 31, senior vice president of Universal Motown Records. Ms. Habtemariam will also serve as Executive Vice President and head of Urban Music for Universal Music Publishing Group.

The promotion will make Ms. Habtemariam one of the most prominent women, as well as one of the most influential blacks in the music idustry. She follows in the footsteps of Sylvia Rhone, one of the most powerful women in the field and the first black woman to lead a major record company.

Ms. Habtemariam, who began her career as an intern at LaFace Records in the 90s, is credited for signing publishing deals for artists such as Justin Beiber, Ciara, Polow Da Don, Chris Brown and Ludacris.

According to The New York Times: “The label was careful not to name Ms. Habtemariam as the new president of Motown, but she will have the top position at the label and will report directly to Barry Weiss, Universal’s top executive in New York. It is expected that if she is successful in the new job, she will most likely be promoted.”

“Ethiopia represents the new breed of today’s best creative music executives,” Mr. Weiss said in a statement. “There is no one more relevant and credible in the creative community to help us build upon Motown’s fantastic legacy and move the company into its next groundbreaking era.”

Ms. Habtemariam said she was honored to accept the appointment: “It is an extraordinary opportunity to call Motown home,” she said in a statement. “And I am grateful to Barry for giving me the honor and challenge to put a new creative stamp on a label that has such a rich history.”

She added: “I am truly excited to work at the label that cultivated the musicians who have inspired me over the years. Motown artists created the soundtrack to my life, and I can’t wait to develop acts that not only have cross-genre and cross-generational appeal, but can reach worldwide notoriety.”

We congratulate Ethiopia Habtemariam on her accomplishments.

Related:
Ethiopia Habtemariam, Senior VP of Motown, Makes Billboard’s 40 Under 40 List

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Liya Kebede Named New Face of L’Oreal

Above: Liya Kebede photographed at the 2010 annual Time 100 Gala in NYC, has been named the "new face" of L'Oréal.

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Wednesday, June 22, 2011

New York (Tadias) – The Ethiopian-born supermodel, actress and maternal health advocate, Liya Kebede, has been named the “new face” of L’Oréal – joining Beyonce, Gwen Stefani, Jennifer Lopez, Julianna Margulies and Freida Pinto- in her new role as the global beauty brand’s spokeswoman.

“It is important for me that I represent a brand that reflects my personality,” the 33-year-old said in a statement. “I’m pleased to play a part in sharing the uniqueness, the charisma, and the incredible stories of women of all origins and from all regions of the world.”

Liya Kebede, who is a mother of two children, was first spotted by a modeling agent while attending high-school at Lycee Gebre Mariam in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. She has since become one of the best-known and successful models in the world. She was the first black face of Estée Lauder.

In 2005 she was appointed as the World Health Organization’s Goodwill Ambassador, and in recent years, she has been focused on that role advocating on behalf of maternal, newborn and child health issues. The same year she established the The Liya Kebede Foundation, an organization designed to provide women access to life-saving care in partnership with governments, non-governmental organizations, corporations and affected communities.

In 2007, she launched her green clothing line Lemlem (Amharic for “flourish” or “to bloom”), which features handcrafted collection of women’s and children’s clothing that is made by traditional Ethiopian weavers from her homeland. Lemlem is carried by Barney’s, J.Crew, Net-a-Porter.com and numerous boutique shops.

Liya has also made a successful transition to the big screen starring in the film-adaption of the autobiography Desert Flower, the true story of fellow model Waris Dirie, who escaped a childhood nightmare in Somalia and became a global supermodel, as well as acting in movies such as The Good Shepherd and Lord of War.

She was named one of Times Magazine’s 100 influential people in 2010.

We congratulate Liya on her accomplishments.

Learn more about Liya Kebede at www.liyakebede.com.

Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu Named Young Global Leader (New Photos)

Above: Bethlehem Alemu addresses WWF's 50th Anniversary Annual Conference in St Gallen, Switzerland on May 11, 2011.

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Wednesday, March 9, 2011

NewYork (Tadias) – Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Founder and Managing Director of the eco-fashion footwear company SoleRebels, has been honored as one of the World Economic Forum’s Young Global Leaders in 2011. The honor bestowed each year by the Forum recognizes and acknowledges outstanding young leaders from around the world for their professional accomplishments, commitment to society and potential to contribute to shaping the future of the world.

Bethlehem joins the ranks of a distinguished list of previous winners including Google co-founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Newsweek columnist Fareed Zakaria, as well as Ethiopian-American supermodel Liya Kebede and journalist Abebe Gellaw.

“On a personal level it is humbling. It’s beyond anything I ever expected,” Bethlehem said in an interview with Tadias. “I am excited because the award represents a recognition of the power of our core aim at soleRebels — to show that development and trade go hand in hand, and that delivering a world class brand to the global marketplace is perhaps the most potent key to creating real and sustained prosperity in Ethiopia.”

Beethlehem, who was born and raised in the Zenabwok (Total) area of Addis Ababa, one of the city’s most impoverished neighborhoods, established soleRebels in 2005 in order to help increase community-based jobs. Since then the venture has created over 75 full time and over 120 part-time jobs while becoming an internationally recognized brand. SoleRebels is now available in major global retail outlets such as Urban Outfitters as well as online including at Endless.com and Amazon.com.

Bethlehem’s company was also winner of the 2010 Eco-Bold Green Award — a recognition of soleRebel’s environmentally friendly, vegan footwear that is produced using indigenous materials such as hand-spun organic cotton and artisan hand-loomed fabric. Tires are also recycled and used for soles.


XoDus iration (Photograph courtesy of SoleRebels).


As featured on African Entrepreneur Ads – PureLOVE homegrown LUX. (Courtesy photo)


EasyRidin sunrise (Photograph courtesy of SoleRebels).

Asked about her secret to success, Bethlehem says, “My ‘secret to success’ is to be committed 100% to my goals and to the people I have entrusted to help me achieve those goals. Here we are like a big family so an achievement like this is an achievement for each and every person at soleRebels.”

Drawn from a pool of more than 5,000 high level global candidates, the 2011 honorees will become part of the broader Forum of Young Global Leaders community that currently comprises of 660 outstanding individuals. “The World Economic Forum is a true multi-stakeholder community of global decision-makers in which the Young Global Leaders represent the voice for the future and the hopes of the next generation. The diversity of the YGL community and its commitment to shaping a better future through action-oriented initiatives of public interest is even more important at a time when the world is in need of new energy to solve intractable challenges,” said Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum.

The Young Global Leaders participate in an annual summit – this year it will be taking place in Dalian, China from September 12th through 16th – as well as in additional World Economic Forum events throughout the year. As Young Global Leaders these promising individuals will have the opportunity to engage in initiatives that help build stronger and more diverse communities, and to engender a better understanding of global and regional agendas.

And what’s Bethlehem’s advice to young people worldwide who aspire to become entrepreneurs and business leaders? “I would say have a clear vision of what you want to achieve and the path to get there. Then work hard, and then work extra hard. Seek advice and counsel from diverse places – don’t just stick to one “voice” or source for input. And never ever be deterred no matter the obstacle or the setback. Setbacks and obstacles are a natural part of life. It is how you overcome those obstacles and setbacks that will make you a great person no matter what endeavor you choose to devote yourself to. ”

We congratulate Bethlehem on her accomplishments and wish her continued success.

Update:
Photos: Bethlehem addresses the 50th anniversary of the World Wildlife Fund (May 1, 2011)


Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Founder and Managing Director of SoleRebels, speaks at the Opening Conference Symposium panel discussion facilitated by Veronica Pedrosa of Al-Jazeera, Malaysia. Speakers left to right are Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Founder and Managing Director of SoleRebels, Orazio Bellittini Cedeno, co-founder & Director of Grupo Faro, and Wang Shi, chairman of China Vanke, at the WWF Annual Conference in St. Gallen, Switzerland on May 1, 2011.


Speakers left to right: Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Founder and Managing Director of SoleRebels, and Orazio Bell.


Speakers left to right: Paul Polman, Tim Brown, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Orazio Bellittini Cedeno and Wang Shi at the WWF Annual Conference in St. Gallen, Switzerland on May 1, 2011.


Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu Founder and Managing Director of SoleRebels speaks at the Opening Conference Symposium panel discussion at the WWF Annual Conference in St. Gallen, Switzerland on May 1, 2011.


Panel discussion facilitated by Veronica Pedrosa of Al-Jazeera, Malaysia. Speakers left to right: Paul Polman, CEO of Unilever, Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, Bethlehem Tilahun, Alemu Founder and Managing Director of SoleRebels, Orazio Bell.


Left to right Paul Polman, Tim Brown, Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Orazio Bellittini Cedeno, and Wang Shi at the WWF Annual Conference, St Gallen, Switzerland on May 1, 2011.


Yolanda Kakabadse presents Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Founder and Managing Director of SoleRebels with a gift after the Opening Conference Symposium panel discussion facilitated at the WWF Annual Conference in St. Gallen, Switzerland on May 1, 2011.

Photo credit:
All images are courtesy of Solerebels.

Related story:
CNN’s African Voices features Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

Watch: Turning old tires into shoes (7:10)

Video: Young SoleRebel (8:07)

Video: Creating window to world market (7:24)

Alfa Demmelash: Transforming Lives and Communities Through Entrepreneurship

Above: Alfa Demmellash, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Rising Tide Capital, develops entrepreneurship programs.

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Thursday, January 27, 2011

New York (Tadias) – After graduating from Harvard University, Alfa Demmellash launched Rising Tide Capital, a non-profit based in Jersey City that develops and implements entrepreneurship programs focusing on women, minorities, immigrants and other socio-economically underserved communities. Since its inception in 2004, Rising Tide Capital has successfully helped approximately 400 entrepreneurs in New Jersey to build small businesses. Nearly 70% of Rising Tide Capital clients are women and over 90% are minorities. In 2009 Alfa Demmellash was featured as a CNN hero. President Obama also cited Rising Tide Capital’s influential work and stated: “If we empower organizations like these, think about the number of young people whose lives we can change, the number of families whose livelihoods we can boost, the number of struggling communities, we can bring back to life.”

“Did you know? The phrase “a rising tide lifts all boats” is often used to describe a top down approach to economic revitalization” states the non-profit’s web site. “But we believe it is important to help entrepreneurs see the tide and build strong boats that could rise with it – hence our name Rising Tide Capital.”

Below is our interview with Founder and Chief Executive Officer Alfa Demmellash as she discusses her work to build and support small business owners through entrepreneurship training.


CBA Winter 2009 Graduation (Courtesy Photo)

Tadias: Please tell us about where you grew up, where you went to school.
What was your catalyst to get into non-profit ventures? Your role models?

AD: I grew up in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I attended Cathedral Nativity School for girls in Addis. In the US, I attended high school at Boston Latin School and completed my studies at Harvard University. The catalyst for starting Rising Tide Capital, a non-profit venture, was the influence of my entrepreneurial mother and my experiences and family. I knew I wanted to be involved in alleviating the suffering of others by recognizing the best in them and helping them overcome challenges that trap their creativity and stifle their ability to realize their full potential. I was also greatly influenced by my studies and experiences in Rwanda as I learned about the 1994 genocide and its aftermath. My role models are too many to name, especially amongst my family and clients, but Dr. Muhammad Yunus, the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, Oprah, and Barack and Michelle Obama are a few of the most well-known ones.

Tadias: You’ve described the vision of Rising Tide Capital, your non-profit organization, as an effort “to harness the entrepreneurial community that already exists in underserved communities, to strengthen lives, to transform communities, and to create vibrant, thriving communities from within.” Can you tell us more about your work with business owners in the State of New Jersey?

AD: We have worked with about 400 entrepreneurs and small business owners in New Jersey. Nearly 70% are women and over 90% are minorities. We are building a model for assisting individuals who are looking to start a business but don’t know where to begin or to take those who have already started a small business to the next level. For many of the entrepreneurs we work with, they are looking to start or grow their business as a way to generate more income to supplement their low-wages from another job or out of necessity because they are unable to secure a job. New Jersey, one of the most expensive states to live in, has a big problem when it comes to the gap between those who are wealthy and those who are barely trying to survive. Many, especially in the distressed urban areas, are minorities and immigrants that make up a large segment of the “working poor.” Rising Tide Capital works with those that are already entrepreneurial to help them find ways of breaking the cycle of economic marginalization.

Tadias: In your speech at the United Nations Global Summit for Women in 2008 you described Rising Tide clients as follows: “The average entrepreneur at Rising Tide Capital is a 39-year-old woman, a single mom of three children, earning less than 27,000 dollars a year.” Why did you choose to primarily focus on women entrepreneurs?

AD: Actually, it is the other way around. More women chose to work with us and take advantage of our programs. This is the case across the globe where women who are often the primary providers for poorer households are seeking ways to improve their economic standing so they can feed, shelter and educate their children. However, I believe it is important to educate and empower both women and men. At the end of the day, if the men in a community are disenfranchised and undereducated, they are likely to cause a lot of problems that produce tremendous distress and barriers to the success of women and children. Men have to be a huge part of the solution. We are really happy to see that in those households where the men support and encourage the entrepreneurial spirit of their wives, partners, and siblings the likelihood of business success is very high. I have witnessed this in my own mother’s case who was fortunate enough to have found a partner, her husband and my adopted father, who was supportive of her goals and her business. He was always there to encourage her and to affirm her efforts as contributing to a shared vision of success. I hope more men take that to heart and invite the grace and joy that can come into their lives as a result or at the very least, commit to do no harm.


Spring 07 graduation (Courtesy Photo)


Spring 07 graduation (Courtesy Photo)


Portraits and PPG lunch 2-26-08 (Courtesy Photo)


Courtesy Photo

Tadias: You also said most of your clients remind you of your mother. Can you say more?

AD: Many of the clients who come to us remind me of my mother because they are pursuing their business dreams primarily as a vehicle to achieve a bigger dream –that of giving their children more opportunities than they had been afforded. They are often single mothers, almost always struggling with extreme economic hardship and face barriers that seem impossible to overcome. In my mother’s case, she arrived in America without any money, separated from her baby and not sure how she will support herself let alone reunite with her child. But, like many of our clients, she made a decision that regardless of how long it took her – she would work all the hours she could, educate herself and start a business to generate more money that she could save for her larger goal. When she got off her job as a waitress – where she stood all day starting at 4am, she would go home to cook, clean and spend the evening sewing gowns, fitting customers and planning fashion shows until well past midnight. She did this for over 10 years before she saved enough to bring me to America and provide me with a stable home and a solid education. When I got to the airport finally, she showered me with her tears and showed me the baby picture of me she carried in her wallet every day to remind her of her big dream starting from her days as a refugee.

Tadias: What are some of the challenges you faced when starting and running Rising Tide Capital? What are some of most memorable and rewarding experiences?

AD: The first big challenge to starting anything – a business or a non-profit – is that you are the “center of energy” for the whole project. You have to show why something is valuable and start effecting change and adding value even before you ask people to join you or to give you money. For the first two years of the project, my co-founder (Alex Forrester) and I did all the work never being sure of what the next moment would bring. We were forced to be creative and entrepreneurial. We would run our seminars out of community centers and meet with people at their businesses or we would conduct house visits where we would sit with mom-entrepreneurs working on their plans over the kitchen table as the kids were running around. They loved it because we were not a social agency or a big government program – so they didn’t feel like they were getting a handout. We were just two young people who really believed in them and their dreams and were willing to apply our education and work extremely hard on their behalf to get them on a stronger path for success. Most importantly, we were always careful to uphold their dignity and never make them feel like they didn’t know enough or a dream was too big for them. But of course, our passion alone was not enough to pay all the bills. I remember one time when we had no money left and knew we would have to go back to sleeping on our parents sofa again. So we decided to take all the money we had and bought tickets to Ethiopia. I had promised Alex that regardless of what happens, I would show him the beauty of my country and the resilience of its people. So, we got to Addis, quickly dropped off our luggage at the very affordable and centrally located Wutuma hotel in Addis and hit the road to see Ethiopia. It was much cheaper than trying to survive in America! The love, the kindness, the generosity and faith of the people of Ethiopia was on display everywhere from the rock-hewn churches of Lalibela and Gondor to the lush breadbasket of my grandfather’s farm in Becho. When we left, we were inspired and reminded to be more faithful, to work harder and to have even more grit and determination. Shortly after our return, we learned that Goldman Sachs has seen our work in our community and would like to support the project. From that moment on, we never looked back and just worked harder and stayed true to our mission. Five years later, a fellow Ethiopian living nearby (Berhan Tsehai – who now runs www.TsehaiNY.com) nominated us to be CNN Heroes and we were selected out of many thousands from all over the world to be featured. That was a huge honor and definitely one of the most memorable moments of running Rising Tide Capital. Thousands of people sent us messages of support from all over the world in different languages and many more sent requests for our programs and services than we could have ever imagined. While we were sad not to be able to accommodate all the requests for services, we were affirmed that we were on the right track and that the world is full of entrepreneurial people busily changing their local economies and communities the world over.

Tadias: In June 2009, you were featured on CNN Heroes, and also invited to the White House. President Obama commended your work and noted: “70% of their clients are single moms. All of them rely on their businesses to support their families. So far Rising Tide has helped 250 business owners in the State of New Jersey. So imagine if they could help 500 or a 1000.” How do you seek to expand your organization’s reach in the next five years?

AD: We are currently seeking support from individuals, corporations and foundations to grow our programs and impact more individuals and communities. People from all over who believe in our mission send us as little as $5 to help support the project and we are humbled and grateful. In 2011, our programs will be offered in more distressed communities surrounding our city. We are also working with other organizations around the nation to explore opportunities to benefit more people living in financial distress who may not live near us but need our services. Our goal within the next 3-5 years is to double the number of people we work with annually while we offer even deeper assistance to those who have started their businesses and need further support to grow and create jobs for others beyond themselves. This is a grassroots movement that will someday be a very loud voice for economic hope and possibility coming out of places we least expect and from people who are, for the moment, invisible.

Tadias: Where do you see yourself ten years from now?

AD: Ten years from now, I hope to continue my advocacy and work for entrepreneurship education and empowerment amongst the least privileged in countries struggling to rebuild a more equitable, peaceful and just society. There are many lessons from the process of starting and building Rising Tide Capital that can be applied anywhere in the world where there are individuals seeking to turn ideas into reality. I am particularly excited to look towards Africa and my homeland of Ethiopia to see in what ways we can invest in the entrepreneurially driven in both the social and business sector. And of course, I also hope to become a mom (my grandpa is asking when he will see his grandchildren) and hopefully do my part in inspiring the next generation of change makers who will build on the progress and sacrifices of the generation before them.

Tadias: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?

AD: I would like thank your readers and Tadias magazine for taking the time to learn about my journey and Rising Tide Capital. I would also like to challenge your readers to think about philanthropy, to seek out organizations that do work on the ground at a grassroots level and support them. They should abolish cynicism from their hearts and minds — it only eats away at the precious time they have left to do something positive and make a difference. Finally, they should take action in pursuit of their dreams even when don’t know how it will all work, never give up and keep working hard towards what they know to be right. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”

Tadias: Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us, and best wishes in your endeavors.

You can learn more about Rising Tide Capital at risingtidecapital.org.

Photo credit: All images are courtesy of Alfa Demmellash.

Watch: Obama Recognizes Alfa Demmellash

Alfa Demmellash reacts to being recognized by
President Obama for her nonprofit work


Video: Alfa Demmellash on One-On-One with Steve Adubato

Spotlight On Fashion Designer Amsale Aberra

Above: CNN International's African Voices highlights Amsale Aberra, one of America's top bridal & evening-wear designers. (Photo: WE TV)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Friday, Januray 7, 2011

New York (Tadias) – Ethiopian American fashion designer and entrepreneur Amsale Aberra is the subject of this week’s African Voices on CNN International. The program “highlights Africa’s most engaging personalities, exploring the lives and passions of people who rarely open themselves up to the camera.”

Amsale, 57, who came to the United States from Ethiopia in 1973, is a New York-based bridal and evening-wear designer whose sophisticated and elegant dresses are favorites among celebrities. Academy Award Winner Julia Roberts wore an Amsale gown in the movie Runaway Bride. Aberra’s most talked about sale came in 2007 when ABC purchased an Amsale wedding dress for use in the season final episode of Grey’s Anatomy. As Time magazine noted: “When the producers of ABC’s Grey’s Anatomy were looking for a wedding dress for Sandra Oh’s no-nonsense character, Cristina, to wear on the season finale of the hit medical show, they chose a $6,600 strapless mermaid style by Aberra.”

According to CNN: “Aberra is now gearing up for a new chapter in her career — her bridal boutique on New York’s Madison Avenue is going to be the subject of a new reality TV show, scheduled to air in the United States in April. She says she was initially anxious about the idea. “Many reality shows are about drama, about conflicts, and I wasn’t interested in that. But the concept is a pursuit of perfection. And it fits my principle, it fits the philosophy,” she said.

“When I design Amsale, I have to keep that bride in mind. She is simple, she is clean and sophisticated.”

Watch:


Cover photo via Saharan Vibe.

CNN’s African Voices Features Daniel Yohannes

Above: This week CNN African Voices profiles Ethiopian native Daniel Yohannes, CEO of the Millennium Challenge Corporation.

Watch: An Ethiopian’s Remarkable Rise

Watch: Fighting Against Global Poverty

Watch: Relationship with Obama

Meet Young Entrepreneur Eskat Asfaw: College Shuttle

Ethiopian American Eskat Asfaw is the founder and owner of College Shuttle, a company that provides shuttle services to students in seven colleges & Universities in the DC metro area. (Courtesy image)

Tadias Magazine
By Martha Z. Tegegn

Published: Monday, December 13, 2010

Washington, D.C. (Tadias) – When Eskat Asfaw joined the Entrepreneurship Club in Frostburg State University’s business department as a student, he had no idea a great business venture would soon be born. When his professors pointed out that there was an unfulfilled need for transporation for college students, Asfaw had a moment of enlightenment and immediately set to work to address that gap.

“I have always wondered how students without cars moved around,” said Asfaw, who immediately brought his exciting idea to his colleagues and advisors: to provide transportation to students who reside a good two and half hours away from major public transportation stops. Asfaw then presented his idea alongside his two major investors — his parents who agreed to help him finance the purchase of his first van.

From there College Shuttle was born — “an innovative business addressing a need that is largely not met,” says his sister Alegnta Asfaw.

Today, after two years in operation College Shuttle has become a company with 7 colleges and university clients and serving close to 100 students in any given week. Asfaw runs three more vans and provides access to a dozen more.

To meet the growing demand, this young entrepreneur runs his business literally all day and night. “If I am not responding to a phone call I am checking the website (Collegeshuttles.com), or driving occasionally when the demand is high. I will take a break when my company grows to its potential.”

The self-professed music lover admits that before he bumped into this great venture he had always wanted to own a nightclub. In the past, he had supplemented his living through parties that he organized in the Metro Washington region and at Frostburg State University, where he earned his business degree.

Asfaw’s business is not only a pioneering idea but also a great job opportunity that pays well for students who are looking for weekend jobs to supplement their income. He has more than a dozen students working for him as web developers, marketers, and van drivers.

College Shuttle transports student to and from public transportation stops throughout the Baltimore and DC metro regions. “It was an instant success” said Eskat (short for Eskatnaf). “All I had to do was put some flyers up with my number and email address.” Although starting up any business includes some level of risk, his family says “he is always careful and makes sure ….he is responding to a need.”

Dr. Marty Mattare, one of his professors who was instrumental in the success of his company and still lends a hand when needed, says “Eskat has shown great persistence in his pursuit of College Shuttle. He worked very hard to make it a success and sought feedback and advice from a number of people. College Shuttle has also provided great opportunities for students to work in an entrepreneurial environment and contribute to a successful small business startup. I have no doubt that Eskat will go far with this enterprise!”

College Shuttle has received the Trident Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Asfaw is recognized in the Frostburg/Alleghany area for creating jobs and stimulating economic growth. According to his professor, he has inspired other students to become entrepreneurs and has himself mentored more than 15 students in Frostburg and continues to do so. His sister Alegnta says, “I believe this is the kind of leadership and innovative thinking that we want to showcase among young Ethiopians in America.”

The 26 year-old businessman left Ethiopia as a young boy in the early 90s has never been back. However, someday he wants to return with “some philanthropic project in Ethiopia—particularly in the education area.”

Eskat Asfaw of College Shuttle won the 2010 Young Entrepreneur of the Year award. He “was very enterprising; he had a vision of a company and worked diligently to make it successful,” says Dr. Marty Mattare, his former professor. (Courtesy Photograph

MT: How do you feel about the award and your professor’s comment?

EA: It is very humbling and nice to get everyone’s support.

MT: Tell us a bit about yourself. Where were you born? Where did you grow up?

EA: Well I was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, we lived in Bole area; and then migrated to Kenya when I was about 7, then moved to America in 1996.

MT: What was it like growing up in Kenya?

EA: Kenya was nice, I went to elementary school there. I liked Kenya. I have more memories of Kenya than Ethiopia — I only remember our dog and house {in Ethiopia}.

MT: You went to college in Frostburg, Maryland. Tell me about Frostburg.

EA: Frostburg is in Western Maryland. That is where I went to school. I was a business major. I went to Montgomery college first and then transferred to Frostburg State University, and I graduated from there in 2009.

MT: I read in one of your college newspapers that your idea for College Shuttle was appluaded by the business department at Frostburg State University. Can you tell us more?

EA: I joined the Entrepreneurship Club as soon as I heard about it. I used to go to all the business conferences religiously, and when I heard about this club I had to go — who better to join than me [laughs]. The club advisor was a really nice man. He was telling us about different things that the school needs….since he was there for 27 years. One of the needs was transportation. I was wondering about transportation myself so I kind of took it to heart and kept thinking about it, writing down numbers and stuff in class. My advisors were very impressed with my idea.

MT: Transportation for whom?

EA: For the students in Frostburg. It is about 2 and 1/2 hours away…and there is no way to get there except by train or car.

MT: Where are the students from?

EA: Most of the students are from Baltimore and DC metro area.

MT: So, you were still in school when you got started.

EA: Yes, it started there and then. I didn’t know anyone. I used to go to class and then back to my apartment. I met with one guy and I asked him if he can help me to get to know people. That summer I put together some flyers with my personal information. I did the flyers a week before school started …….and the calls started coming. The majority of our customers are freshmen or sophomores and don’t own cars yet.

MT: How do you handle the logistics of running such a business?

EA: We now have an 877 toll free number as well as a web site. Most of our customers go online and register and pay online. Once they do that we send them a pickup time.

MT: Your shuttle service is limited to weekends. Why?

EA: The whole point is to get the students home for the weekend. They have different reasons for going home every weekend, leaving on Friday and returning on Sunday.

MT: Do you drop off the students at their homes?

EA: We drop off our customers at public areas close to their home such as metro stations, malls etc. It is a lot easier for their parents to pick them up when they are at a closer location. The majority of the time it is parents who make the arrangement for their kids. They would rather do that than driving two and half hours to come get their kids.

MT: How large is your customer base?

EA: We serve seven colleges now: Frostburg, West Virginia, Allegany College, Petomac State College, and three more colleges in Eastern Maryland. Our focus is just students. Our motto is students need their own transportation services. As students they have already a lot to deal with. We are just trying to fulfill the transportation part of it. Our time slots and services are flexible to students to meet their need. Students are very rash themselves. We work with their ever changing last minute decisions.

MT: What makes your business different than other shuttle services? Do you have any competition?

EA: Yes, there is a competition such as the bus line and train stations….but what we do is quite different. The way we treat our customers and the simple fact that our business is solely dedicated to students makes us preferable and it makes a world of difference to our success.

MT: How many employees do you have?

EA: I am the sole owner but I have many drivers. I also drive when necessary. I love driving. I have a lot of students that work for me, about a dozen. They work on graphic design, web designing, marketing; a lot of the work is done by the students themselves. So it is kind of a great side job for them. I set high standard for them and if they meet that standard they get paid more and they stay with me longer.

MT: How many vans do you have?

EA: We have three of our own but we do have access to many more on a need basis. Our vans are 15 passenger buses.

MT: Where do you say your entrepreneurial spirit comes from?

EA: Well, I always enjoyed business. Even when I was in high school in Silver Spring I had a lawn mowing business. My sisters used to work for me and we worked in a couple of areas in the neighborhood. I just enjoy business. When I got to college I started promoting parties. That is how I made most of my money. Then this came along and I just knew I wanted to make it a success and I truly believed in it.

MT: Do you have role model?

EA: Nick Friedman from College Hunks Hauling Junk. We have a lot of similarities and the way he transformed a simple idea to a nationwide success impresses me. I met him for a coffee once and he gave me few feedbacks and it helped shaped my business. I still communicate with him when I need to. He is my strong role model in business. On a personal level, I also look up to my father and older brother; they are great individuals that see the future clearly. And one thing I figured out as I matured is that my father is always right. Sometimes I wish I listened to him more. Another thing is my father supported all my decisions in life. He cares about my business as much as I do.

MT: Tell me about your family. How have they influenced you?

EA: Family means a lot to me. We are very close family. Everyone knows everything about everyone…my mom calls about ten times a day to checkup on me. My mom and dad were my main investors when I started the business. Without them I wouldn’t have been a business owner. They helped me buy the first van. To this day I turn to them for advice. In Ethiopia my grandparents were business owners. My mom was also into coffee business. In this country, my parents own a popular store in Chevy Chase. So from early on I understood that business played a huge role in American lifestyle. I would say, the culture in whch I grew up has a big influnce in me. Even if I grew up in America, I feel like how I was brought up makes it easier to respect my customers and easier to talk to them without feeling of entitlement. And I get a lot of positive feedback from customers saying, you are very down to earth and I think it is an Ethiopian thing.

MT: What’s the long-term plan for College Shuttle?

EA: I want to go national and hire a lot of college students. My goal, in about 6 years or so, to be in as many universities and colleges as possible. I am doing the research on the need. I see it happening already. A lot of rural universities and colleges have transportation gaps. Most of the colleges we service right now, we were asked to be there. I feel like we are doing a community service as well. Parents can have safe transportation for their kids to and from colleges. We service everyone and our customers are from all walks of life. I think it is also a great idea to explore what you can do as an individual and contribute to the work force. You will end up creating a job not only for yourself but for others too.

MT: Thank you and we wish you great success.

EA: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to share my story.

Related:
FSU Alumni Runs Shuttle Service for Students (The Bottom Line)
Filling a Need for a Ride Home From College (Frostburg State University eNEWS)

Other profiles by Martha Z. Tegegn
Exclusive Interview With Ethiopian Legend Teshome Mitiku (Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3)
Why Girls Gotta Run: Interview with Dr. Patricia E. Ortman
A Conversation with filmmaker Haile Gerima

Watch: Interview With Maya Haile

Model Maya Gate Haile is represented by the world's top modeling agencies including IMG, Elite and Ford. (Tadias)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Thursday, June 17, 2010

New York (Tadias) – This week Tadias TV highlights international model Maya Gate Haile. The Ethiopian-born model grew up in Holland before relocating to New York where her fashion modeling career has flourished. She is represented by the world’s top modeling agencies including IMG, Elite and Ford.

The choice to become a model as a teenager was a tough, personal decision for Maya. Her parents, who migrated to the Netherlands when Maya was 13, pushed their daughter to focus on learning a new language, excelling in school, and perhaps consider becoming a doctor or a nurse.

“For a long time I had [modeling] on my mind, but I could not bring it home,” Maya says. And those who saw the tall, somewhat shy, and elegant girl with an infectious smile would often remark “Are you a model?” At 20 Maya finally decided to tell her decision to her family.

Maya recalls “My brother was really shocked: ‘You’re going to be a model? Are you kidding me?’” But Maya took the opportunities before her and delved into the world of fashion. As much as she loves her work, Maya points out that modeling for her is not “a final destination.”

“I love modeling because from modeling you can become something else,” she says with enthusiasm. She points out that one can grow from the networking opportunities modeling affords and get involved in other entrepreneurial or humanitarian ventures. “You could take advantage of modeling and you could be activists, film-makers, photographers. It is not only about modeling,” she emphasizes.

Which leads us to ask her what other projects she has been working on.

“I have several projects in mind but one that I am currently working on is to provide opportunities for girls in Ethiopia to get access to my world. I would like to give those who aspire to become models an opportunity to come to Europe and to get a taste of what fashion and modeling career is all about. I want to provide access and mentoring, so that they can see that it’s possible to be successful and to go after their dreams. I want to share what I have learned.”

Maya also works closely with UNICEF’s New Generation program. Her husband, Chef Entrepreneur and Author Marcus Samuelsson, introduced her to UNICEF and currently serves as Ambassador for the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. Both Maya and her husband are particularly committed to supporting the organization’s immunization programs and its efforts to deliver clean and accessible water to millions of children around the world. Maya also focuses on providing entrepreneurial opportunities for youth aged 18-34 who are residing in developing countries.

Asked how her work with UNICEF has enriched her personal life, the model says it helps her to put her own life in perspective. “I could be one of the kids in Ethiopia,” she says. “I compare it to myself and my husband Marcus. Everyday we think about those kids in Ethiopia.”

On a lighter note, we asked Maya about her hobbies including basketball. “Who wins when the two of you play?” “I always win,” Maya says with a smile, “but you have to ask [Marcus]. He should tell you about it.” In the couples interview last summer Marcus confirmed her side of the story. “She kicks my ass in basketball!” Marcus told Glamour magazine. “Also, Maya translates so much for me—not just words, but culturally. When my sisters call with a problem, she takes the phone. I can’t give advice—unless it’s about cooking. Before Maya, my primary relationship was with food. Luckily, she loves to eat!”

Below is part of Tigist Selam’s conversation with Model Maya Haile at home in Harlem.

Watch: Tadias’ Interview With Model Maya Haile

Tigist Selam interviewed Maya Haile at home in Harlem on Tuesday
June 15, 2010. (Video by Kidane Films)


About the Author:
Tseday Alehegn is the Editor-in-Chief of Tadias Magazine.

Watch Related Tadias Video:
Video – Tadias’ Interview with Meklit Hadero

CNN’s African Voices: Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu

Above: Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, co-founder of SoleRebels, eco-friendly footwear company from Ethiopia, is highlighted in this week's CNN's African Voices. (Photo. Screen shot)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Wednesday, June 2, 2010

New York (Tadias) – This week CNN’s African Voices features Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, Co-Founder and Managing Director of SoleRebels, Ethiopia’s first fair trade footwear company.

Introducing her eco-fashion products, Tilahun described her work to Tadias Magazine last year as “a story of fair trade, eco-sensibility, and great innovative footwear products.”

“One of the truly unique and exciting things about soleRebels is that we are green by heritage, and not because some marketing folks told us to be,” she said. “We maximize both recycled inputs and craft our materials in the traditional manner — the way they have always been made in Ethiopia – by hand.”

She summarizes SoleRebels’ ethos in three words: “Roots, Culture, Tires.” The shoes are created using indigenous practices such as hand-spun organic cotton and artisan hand-loomed fabric. Tires are also recycled and used for soles. The end result is environmental friendly, vegan footwear. “Historically that is the way things have been done,” Tilahun says, and it not only makes great sense to continue the tradition, it also has generated income for local artisans.

African Voices, which explores the lives and passions of Africa’s most engaging personalities, airs weekly on CNN International: Saturdays at 11.30 & 18.30 GMT and on Sundays at 17.00 GMT.

WATCH
Video: Turning old tires into shoes (7:10)

Video: Young SoleRebel (8:07)

Video: Creating window to world market (7:24)

CNN’s African Voices Profiles Marcus Samuelsson

Above: Every week CNN’s African Voices highlights some of
Africa’s most engaging personalities, and this week the show
features Marcus Samuelsson and his wife, model Maya Haile.

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Tuesday, May 25, 2010

New York (Tadias) – This week CNN’s African Voices, a weekly show which explores the lives and passions of Africa’s most engaging personalities, profiles celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson.

The Ethiopian-born Chef, who lives in Harlem with his wife, model Maya Haile, was invited by the White House last fall to prepare the Obama’s first State Dinner. First Lady Michelle Obama called him “one of the finest chefs in the country.” Samuelsson was the youngest-ever chef to receive a three-star restaurant review from The New York Times in 1995. He has won three James Beard Awards, a prestigious recognition that is akin to “winning the Olympic gold medal for chefs.” Samuelsson has been named as one of “The Great Chefs of America” by the Culinary Institute of America.

WATCH
Video: Marcus tells CNN how he got his break

Video: From Ethiopia to Cooking for President

Video: Going Back to His Roots

Related from Tadias Magazine:
Interview With Marcus Samuelsson:
White House State Dinner, His New Book And More

New Eatery To Pay Tribute To A Harlem Speakeasy

Liya Kebede Makes TIME 100 List

Above: Liya Kebede has been named by Time Magazine as one
of the 100 influential people who “most affect our world.”

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Friday, April 30, 2010

New York (Tadias) – President Barack Obama, Sarah Palin, Oprah Winfrey, Glenn Beck, Lady Gaga, and Liya Kebede are among the 100 individuals who made the cut into Time Magazine‘s annual list of influential people.

The 2010 TIME 100 – categorized as Leaders, Heroes, Artists and Thinkers – is made up of a diverse group of global newsmakers who are known for their powers of persuasion as well as for sparking controversy.

The Ethiopian-born model ranks number fifteen out of 25 “Heroes” on the 2010 list and joins notable personalities, such as former President Bill Clinton and Iranian reformist politician Mir-Hossein Mousavi.

Kebede, 32, who is being recognized mostly for her role as the World Health Organization’s Goodwill Ambassador, has focused her advocacy work on maternal, newborn and child health issues since her appointment in 2005. She is also one of two Ethiopians who were recently named “Young Global Leaders” by the World Economic Forum.

“I first met Liya Kebede about 10 years ago in Paris. I was casting models for a show, and Liya came in. She looked me in the eyes, and I was quite literally stunned…,” writes fashion designer and film director Tom Ford in Time Magazine. “In today’s world, celebrity advocates are not rare. What is rare is to encounter one whose devotion and drive come from a genuine desire to better our world. Liya’s work comes from a place of sincerity, and her beauty is much more than skin-deep.”

We congratulate Liya Kebede on the honor given to her by Time Magazine.

Video: Liya Kebede on World Health Day in 2005

Video: Riz Khan – Supermodel Liya Kebede – 11 Oct 07 (Al Jazeera)

Cover photo: FRANCO ORIGLIA / GETTY IMAGES

Video: TIME 100 Unvailed (NYPost.com)

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Samuel Getachew Enters City Council Race In Toronto

Above: Samuel Getachew faces two challengers in the fall 2010
election for City Council seat in Toronto to represent E. Ward 43.

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Thursday, April 8, 2010.

New York (Tadias) – Samuel Getachew, an Ethiopian-born Canadian citizen, has announced his candidacy for the 2010 City Council election in Toronto.

Mr. Getachew, 33, is seeking to represent Scarborough East Ward 43 in the eastern part of Toronto, a diverse neighborhood long known as a magnet for newly arriving immigrants to Canada.

Getachew says he is running because he believes in public service and would like to address the crime and housing issues in his district.

“Politics and public service at their very best give us a rare opportunity to connect with people in our community and discuss issues that benefits the public,” Getachew said in an exclusive interview with Tadias Magazine. “Ward 43 has a large concentration of public housing; crime is a serious concern.”

Mr. Getachew, who studied Political Science and History at Carleton University in Ottawa, and who is currently employed by the provincial government in Toronto, says the city needs to do more to keep children of recent immigrants away from crime.

“It is a very diverse neighborhood and people who live here include Sri Lankans, Tamils, Iranians, Chinese, and as I knock on doors, I often learn the reasons why most young people get into crime…it is a direct result of a broken government system. Often times, immigrants are allowed to come to Canada because of their educational and work qualifications, but are not able to find work in their field of expertise once they land here. They are often forced to work double shifts to survive and their children are forced to grow up without much supervision, making them vulnerable to criminal behavior.”

According to Statistics Canada, a national census collecting agency, in 2006 Scarborough’s population was over 600,000 with approximately 57% percent of the residents being foreign born immigrants. “Visible minorities” – a demographic terminology used by the statistical organization – constitute over 67% of the population. These groups include South Asians, Chinese, Filipinos, Black Canadians and others. Toronto, with a population of 2.48 million, is also home to a growing and active Ethiopian community. “The greater Toronto Area has upwards of 30,000 Ethiopian residents, “ said Addis Embiyalow, Managing Director of Ethiopian Students Association International’s 10th Anniversary Summit. “Most Ethiopians do not know about the vibrant, dynamic Ethiopian community here.”

Mr. Getachew, who was born in Addis Ababa and arrived in Canada via Zambia, says his political ambitions began when he was volunteering within the Ethiopian-Canadian community.

“At age 17, I founded and hosted the first Ethiopian radio show in Ottawa and what an experience it was. I started a great conversation on the radio program at that very young age and it is a conversation that has not stopped after all these years,” he said. “I interviewed personalities such as White House fellow Dr Meheret Mandefro while she was at Harvard pursuing her undergraduate degree, artist Senait Ashenafi when she was still on the show ‘General Hospital,’ as well as musicians Muluken Melesse, Ephrem Tameru and many others.”

Mr. Getachew was an early proponent of naming a street in Toronto similar to the official Little-Ethiopia strip in Los Angeles.

“I was an advocate for Little Ethiopia and if Los Angeles can do it, I am sure a more diverse city like Toronto can do it as well,” he says pointing out that the idea is still possible. “And when I win, I want to ensure that the people I hire in my office will reflect the residents of the ward. I want to ensure that we take advantage of our diversity. I know of so many people including Ethiopian Canadians who should be given that opportunity.”

The candidate admits that compared to his challengers, he lags behind both in fundraising and organization. “I admit our campaign is the underdog at this time, both in money and grassroots support, but we have hope and we are determined,” he said. “We will work hard to ensure that we meet all of our expectations, and we will win. I look forward to recieve the support of those willing to contribute to my campaign ”

Mr. Getachew, however, is not the only contender with cash-flow problems. John Laforet, one of his opponents, recently warned his supporters that he maybe forced to quit for lack of funds. “ I remain the only candidate that lives in the Ward, the only candidate stepping up to fight for the community and sadly the only candidate who could be forced from the race over a lack of financial support,” he wrote on his blog. “Those who believe I would be a good Councillor need to get involved and take ownership of the fate of my campaign. Our community’s future hangs in the balance.”

Mr. Getachew still faces formidable opposition from the incumbent Paul Ainslie, who enjoys a superior campaign network and a wider name recognition. But he says that he feels confident that he can mount a worthy campaign of his own.

“I like to think our campaign as a movement. It is really a coming of age for our Ethiopian Canadian community here in Toronto and in many ways for all of Canada,” he notes. “The position of Councillor gives one a very powerful outlet to advocate for true change and I know there are many people in this city who can truly help us achieve our objective. I believe I have a unique perspective of the diversity issues from a personal experience and I have a better plan than my opponents to tackle problems surrounding housing and crime issues.”

The municipal election will take place on Monday, October 25, 2010.
—–
You can follow the 2010 Toronto elections at: www.toronto.ca/elections.

Samuel Getachew’s campaign can be reached at 647 456 9690.

(Cover image: Courtesy Photo)

Q & A With Maaza Mengiste

Maaza Mengiste was born in Ethiopia. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from NYU. A recent Pushcart Prize nominee, she was named “New Literary Idol” by New York Magazine. (Photo © Miriam Berkley)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Monday, January 11, 2010

New York (Tadias) – In the last few years we have witnessed the emergence of Ethiopian-American authors who are making their mark on the tapestry of American literature. The latest such work comes from Maaza Mengiste, a Pushcart Prize nominee who was recently named “New Literary Idol” by New York Magazine.

Her debut novel, Beneath the Lion’s Gaze depicts Ethiopia in the 1970s, when the country was undergoing a political revolution. The military had just deposed an archaic monarchy system with a promise of peaceful change. But what followed Emperor Haile Selassie’s removal was anything but peaceful. The country would soon plunge into unimaginable violence.

Following in the footsteps of other highly acclaimed works by Ethiopian-American authors including Nega Mezlekia (Notes Form the Hyena’s Belly) and Dinaw Mengistu (The Beautiful Things That Heaven Bears), Maaza delivers what Chris Abani calls “an important story from a part of Africa too long silent in the World Republic of Letters.”

The Library Journal adds “Although the depictions of brutality are extensive, they are also realistic and captivating, helping place Beneath the Lion’s Gaze into a small cadre of Ethiopian fiction, including Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone and Camilla Gibb’s Sweetness in the Belly.”

Below is our Q & A with Maaza Mengiste:

TADIAS: Please tell us a bit about yourself. What/who motivated you to become a writer?

Mengiste: I was born in Addis Ababa, and lived in Nigeria and Kenya before coming to the US. While living in the US, I made visits back to Ethiopia to see my family. I received my undergraduate degree from the University of Michigan and my MFA from NYU. I don’t know who specifically motivated me to be a writer. I’ve always loved to read and write. I think a combination of many writers gave me the courage to make the move into the literary world, especially world/international writers.

TADIAS: Can you share more about other writing projects you completed prior to this debut novel?

Mengiste: Though this is my first major writing project, I have written a few short stories as well as some nonfiction pieces. My main focus over the past several years was this novel, however, and this didn’t give me very much time to do other writing.

TADIAS: Are your own memories of Ethiopia similar to the ones that you describe in your novel? If not, how are they different?

Mengiste: Yes, some of my own memories shape this book, but I was also very young. Only after I was older was I able to put events and certain memories into historical and political context. As a child, all that you know is that there are gunshots at night, people are taken away, and you see soldiers, you’re afraid and you sense the fear, but you don’t necessarily understand the reasons.

TADIAS: Do any of the characters depicted in your novel mirror people that you know?

MENGISTE: Hailu, who is the central character and a doctor in my book most closely resembles my grandfather. However, my grandfather was not a doctor. He (and so many men of his generation) seemed to have a certain dignity and strength that I wanted to convey in Hailu. Most of the other characters are a combination of personalities I know, or purely fictional.

TADIAS: Your book is now part of a growing library of works which NPR has said is coming from a generation of Ethiopian Americans who are “part of a wave of young people whose families fled Ethiopia in the 1970s and who came of age in the United States…adding a new chapter to the epic of American immigration.” Is this something you identify with?

MENGISTE: I do see myself as part of a wave of Ethiopians who have left Ethiopia and are continuing to express that journey in one way or another. I am excited to see this “wave” grow, there is a new generation of Ethiopians who are telling their own stories through music, art, literature, science, through so many fields. It is impressive, and it reminds me that despite everything that has happened in Ethiopia, we will always continue to strive for a better future for ourselves and our families.

TADIAS: What do you enjoy doing in your spare time?

MENGISTE: I enjoy reading and spending time with friends and family. I enjoy photography.

TADIAS: Is there anything else that you’d like to share with our readers?

MENGISTE: Thank you all for the support and encouragement. If you know of an artist, a writer, someone struggling to live their dreams, please encourage them also. We need many different voices and perspectives.

TADIAS: Thanks for the interview and congratulations on the new book release.

If you Go:
Upcoming Book Talks by Maaza Mengiste:

January 22, 2009
Politics and Prose, Washington DC
7:00PM Reading & Talk

January 24, 2010
A girlhood in war-torn Ethiopia – Interview with the Boston Globe

January 24, 2009
Magers and Quinn, Minneapolis, MN
5:00PM Reading & Talk

January 25, 2009
Elliott Bay at Northwest African American Museum, Seattle, WA
7:00PM Reading & Talk

January 26, 2009
Book Passage, San Francisco, CA
7:00PM Reading & Talk

January 28, 2009
Vroman’s Bookstore, Los Angeles, CA
7:00PM Reading & Talk

January 30, 2009
Tattered Cover Book Store, Denver, CO
9:00am-4:30pm Event (Check store website for details)

February 5, 2009
Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, NY
7:30PM Reading & Talk

Cameroon Honors Ted Alemayhu (Video Added)

Above: Ted Alemayhu, pictured here addressing the African
First Ladies Health Summit in Los Angeles last Spring, was
honored in Cameroon last week. (Courtesy photo).

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Saturday, January 2, 2010

New York (Tadias) – Ted Alemayhu, Founder and Chairman of U.S. Doctors for Africa (USDFA), was honored in Cameroon last week for his organization’s work tackling Africa’s enormous health care problems.

Mr. Alemayhu, who convened the African First Ladies Health Summit in Los Angeles last Spring, says the acknowledgment of his service brings needed attention to USDFA’s work in Cameroon and other nations in Africa.

“The President and The First Lady of Cameroon were kind with their generous recognition of our efforts in bringing the highly needed medical manpower and other resources to the continent,” Mr. Alemayhu told Tadias Magazine. “The recognition would simply raise the level of attention and awareness of the needs for organizations like U.S. Doctors for Africa to be more engaged in providing much needed medical care and services to the people of Africa who continue to suffer from the lack of basic medical care.”

According to Mr. Alemayhu USDFA is currently working with three local organizations in the country: The African Synergy organization, the First Lady of Cameroon’s Foundation, and The Chantal Biya Foundation. “All of the organizations are our strategic partners in Cameroon and their missions are directed to providing access to health care to under-served communities, mainly targeting women and children,” he said. “U.S. Doctors for Africa brings volunteer medical manpower as well as medical supplies and equipments to further assist several clinics that are currently being managed by these organizations. Currently we are working toward sending an estimated $500,000 Dollars worth of medical supplies and equipments to Cameroon.”

Mr. Alemayhu tells us that he has also traveled to his native country, Ethiopia, and that a medical project there may also be imminent.

“During my recent yet very brief trip to Ethiopia I’ve had the opportunity to meet with the Health Minister and other senior officials of the government. We’ve had some productive discussions in regards to USDFA’s possible new engagement in the country,” he said. “I will be back in Addis soon for further discussion and action plans. In the past, USDFA has developed several successful medical missions to Ethiopia, and we hope to expand on our efforts in accordance with the country’s health plan and strategic approach.”

Asked about what he considers to be the biggest health care challenge facing the African continent today, Mr. Alemayhu is quick to answer that lack of trained medical professionals is the number one chronic problem. “Unfortunately, and despite the great effort that is underway by several thousand organizations across the continent, the biggest challenge continues to be the extreme shortage of medical manpower,” he points out. “According to some credible sources, the ratio of doctors per population in most African countries remains 1 doctor per 100,000 people. This staggering and disturbing statistic further complicates the situation despite the fact that more vaccines and other medical supplies are being provided to the continent. Our effort is not only to bring in U.S. trained volunteer medical personnel to the continent but to also help train more local health care providers as well.”

And what is he looking forward to in 2010? “We plan to host the second-annual African First Ladies Health Summit in 2010,” Mr. Alemayhu said during an interview conducted on New Year’s day. “However, it will be held in Africa. At this time we are considering several possible hosting countries.”

Video: Ted Alemayhu in Cameroon

Related Video:
Ted Alemayhu’s Keynote at Columbia University (NYC)

Notable Ethiopian Americans of 2009

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Updated: Wednesday, December 23, 2009

New York (Tadias) – Tadias Magazine is proud to present our list of people of the year for 2009. The list includes researchers, social entrepreneurs, authors, filmmakers, artists and musicians, whose inspiring work has made an impact far beyond their individual accomplishments.

Below is our top ten list of Ethiopian-Americans. As always, we welcome your additional suggestions.

Dr. Gebisa Ejeta

The 2009 World Food Prize, considered by many to be the Nobel Prize of agriculture, was awarded to Dr. Gebisa Ejeta, a Purdue University Professor, whose sorghum hybrids resistant to drought and the devastating Striga weed have dramatically increased the production and availability of one of the world’s five principal grains and enhanced the food supply of hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa. We congratulate Dr. Ejeta on his accomplishments.

Dr. Yared Tekabe

Dr. Yared Tekabe’s groundbreaking work on non-invasive atherosclerosis detection and molecular imaging was published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, along with an editorial citing its clinical implications. Tekabe, who runs studies in cardiovascular disease detection and prevention at Columbia University, has helped his laboratory, headed by Dr Lynne Johnson, to receive another $1.6 million four-year grant from the National Institute of Health to continue his research. Tekabe hopes that in a few years time his work can similarly help heart disease prevention efforts and early detection of atherosclerosis in humans. We extend our heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Tekabe for his his continued scientific efforts.

Judge Nina Ashenafi

Nina Ashenafi Richardson, who was elected to the Leon County bench in Florida on November 4th, 2008 and received the oath of office from Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court Peggy A. Quince on Friday, January 30, 2009, is the first Ethiopian-American judge. Born in Ethiopia, Nina came to the U.S. as a young girl and was raised by her late father Professor Ashenafi Kebede, the renowned Ethiopian composer and musicologist, who was the Founder and first Director of the National Saint Yared School of Music in Ethiopia. Judge Nina, a mother of two, was also the the first African-American woman to head the Tallahassee Bar Association and the first African-American to lead the Tallahassee Women Lawyers (TWL). Tadias congratulates Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson on her accomplishments!

Marcus Samuelsson

In a rare gesture by the White House, chef Marcus Samuelsson was invited to prepare the Obamas’ first State Dinner honoring Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. First Lady Michelle Obama called Marcus “one of the finest chefs in the country.” And as Politico reported: “The importance was not lost on Samuelsson. Waking up on Wednesday morning, after about three hours of sleep, he had not yet come down from his high. ‘It was the biggest dinner I cooked in my life — in terms of the occasion,’ said the chef, born in Ethiopia, raised by a Swedish couple in Sweden and now a naturalized American.” We extend our congratulations and wish Marcus Samuelsson continued success!

Dr. Mehret Mandefro

Mehret Mandefro was named by President Obama as one of the 2009/2010 White House Fellows. Mandefro is a Primary Care Physician and HIV prevention researcher. She was a Robert Wood Johnson Health and Society Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania and a Senior Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics. Her research addresses the intersection of violence prevention and HIV prevention and the application of digital media in translating research. She completed a Primary Care internal medicine residency at Montefiore Hospital where she founded a nonprofit called TruthAIDS that is focused on health literacy efforts among vulnerable populations. She received a BA cum laude in Anthropology and a Medical Doctorate from Harvard University, and a Masters of Science in Public Health from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine as a Fulbright Scholar. We congratulate Dr. Mehret Mandefro on her accomplishments!

Dr. Abraham Verghese

Dr. Abraham Verghese is the author of the well received Cutting for Stone, an epic novel about a young man’s coming of age in Ethiopia and America. From fascinating social and political portraits of Ethiopia in upheaval, Cutting for Stone zooms into a territory where few have gone before: the drama of the operating theater and the mysteries inside the human body. There can be no doubt that Verghese is one of the most seasoned writers of his generation. Verghese’s own career as a physician in the United States has taken him from his grueling days as a foreign medical graduate (recounted in The New Yorker article, The Cowpath to America) to becoming the voice of empathetic medicine. As Founding Director of Center for Medical Humanities & Ethics at the University of Texas and in his current role as a Professor at Stanford University, Dr. Verghese is a champion in the field of Medical Humanities.

Haile Gerima

Haile Gerima, the internationally acclaimed director of Teza, Sankofa, Adwa, Bush Mama and other feature films and documentaries, sparked a healthy discussion among the Ethiopian American community this year about the tumultuous years of the Mengistu era as depicted in his latest film Teza as told by an idealistic Ethiopian doctor who recounts dreams and nightmares. The film made its U.S. premiere in Washington D.C. this past fall.

Ted Alemayuhu

Ted Alemayuhu, founder & CEO of U.S. Doctors for Africa, a California based non-profit organization, played host to the first-ever African First Ladies U.S.-based health summit on Monday, April 20, 2009 in Los Angeles. The event, which included a performance by Natalie Cole and a luncheon hosted by California first lady Maria Shriver, engaged the First Ladies in identifying top priorities for the coming year related to maternal and child health, HIV/AIDS and Education. We congratulate Mr. Alemayuhu on his continued innovative approach to bettering the lives of millions of Africans!

Julie Mehretu

Ethiopian American artist Julie Mehretu was a subject of a PBS documentary that aired on October 28, 2009. Mehretu has exhibited in some noteworthy venues – The Museum of Modern Art in New York (the only Ethiopian artist whose work is represented in MoMA’s permanent collection), The Whitney Biennial, The Istanbul Biennial, The Busan Biennale in Korea, The Walker Art Center, and her work is currently on display at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Museum of Contemporary Art in San Diego.

Thomas T. Gobena

Tommy T, bass player for the New York-based multi-ethnic gypsy punk band Gogol Bordello, released his first solo album entitled The Prestor John Sessions this year. The album includes collaborations with Gigi, Tommy T’s brother & bassist Henock Temesgen, members of the Abyssinnia Roots Collective, and a bonus remix including Gogol Bordello bandmates Eugene Hütz and Pedro Erazo. Tommy describes The Prestor John Sessions as “an aural travelogue that rages freely through the music and culture of Ethiopia.” Most importantly, the title of his album has inspired scholars to research the true identity of Prestor John. We congratulate Tommy on his album!

Interview with Paleoanthropologist Zeresenay Alemseged

Dr. Zeresenay Alemseged, Director and Curator of the Department of Anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences. (Courtesy photograph).

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New York (TADIAS) – You may have noticed the recent news coverage of an anthropological discovery in Ethiopia. The journal Science published a collection of eleven papers explaining the findings of an international group of scientists regarding the bones of a human-like species named Ardi, short for Ardipithecus ramidus, who roamed the Earth 4.4 million years ago. The researchers concluded that Ardi is now the oldest known fossil of human ancestor; effectively unseating the famous 3.2 million years old Lucy (Dinqnesh) — whose skeletal remains are currently touring the United States.

In order to understand the meaning of this new discovery, we contacted Dr. Zeresenay (Zeray) Alemseged, the paleoanthropologist who discovered the 3-year-old Selam (nicknamed Lucy’s baby), a fossilized skull and other bones of a female child australopithecus afarensis, which is estimated to have lived 3.3 million years ago in Dikika, Ethiopia. The bones were found in 2000.

Dr. Alemseged, who was born in the ancient city of Axum, is currently serving as the Director and Curator of the Department of Anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences. Below is our interview with Zeray Alemseged:

TADIAS: Dr. Zeresenay, thank you so much for your time.

Zeresenay Alemseged: It is my pleasure and thanks for the invitation.

TADIAS: We wanted to ask you few questions about the newly famous Ardi bones from Ethiopia. They are said to be much older than Lucy. How significant is the new discovery in terms of our understanding of human origins?

Zeresenay: The discovery is very significant and I would like to commend the discoverers and their leader Prof. White on their hard work both in the field and in the laboratory. I know first hand how exigent this endeavor is. After many years of painstaking process, they have provided us with a lot of new information about Ardipithecus ramidus, which existed 4.4 million years ago. This means that it predates the Lucy group (genus) known as Australopithecus by 200, 000 years, since the earliest representatives of Australopithecus are dated back to 4.2 million. If you were comparing individuals however, the difference would be 1.2 million years.

TADIAS: Some anthropologists are now humorlessly referring to Lucy as the “former First Lady Australopithecine.” Is that a fair description in light of Ardi’s discovery?

Zeresenay: I also find this remark amusing. When I announced the discovery of Selam in 2006, journalists had asked me the same question, because Selam is 150,000 years older and more complete than Lucy. My answer was no and still is with the discovery of Ardi. Each of these finds is a great source of scientific information, national pride and heritage for humanity. These skeletons are so rare that each contributes uniquely to answering questions as to what makes us human and how we became who we are. One can not replace the other. Lucy continues to play a comparative role when new fossils are discovered. If some are saying this in reference to the age difference, then Ardi is not the earliest human fossil either; we have fossils that are about 2 million years older than Ardi from Chad, Kenya and Ethiopia.

TADIAS: Can you describe to us the difference between Lucy, Selam, the one discovered by your team, and Ardi?

Zeresenay: What they have in common is that they are all remains of female individuals. The three of them were small-brained, lived in woodland environments, did not make stone tools and were all discovered in Ethiopia, which shows that indeed this country is not only the cradle of mankind but also home to the three most spectacular fossils. But they differ also. Lucy lived about 3.2 million years ago and is an adult who belongs to a species known as Australopithecus afarensis. Because 40 % of her skeleton was recovered, she has played a critical role in helping us answer questions related to body size, stature, differences among males and females and how this ancient species moved around. Selam also belongs to Australopithecus afarensis, a species that researchers think is our direct ancestor. She lived about 3.4 million years ago and over 60% of her skeleton, including an intact skull and face, has been recovered; what is most extraordinary about her is that this skeleton belongs to a 3-year-old child, and finding fossil children is extremely rare. By looking at her still developing skeleton, teeth and brain, one can investigate issues pertaining to growth rate, maturity time, how the brain developed etc. Selam even helps us to ponder the type of voice produced by her species. Ardi is a partial skeleton including the crushed skull of an adult individual and belongs to Ardipithecus ramidus, a species first named in 1994. She dates back to 4.4 million years ago and preserves characters that show that she walked upright like Lucy and Selam but also climbed trees. Important questions pertaining to the social behavior of early hominins have also been addressed based on this fossil. Ardi also shows that the earliest hominins were not necessarily chimpanzee-like. We have learned a great deal about human evolution in general from Ardi, Lucy and Selam. In short the three fossils are great Ethiopian fossils contributing uniquely to science.


Image: Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

TADIAS: The news also highlights Africa and specifically Ethiopia as the location where most of these ancient fossils are found. How important is the Afar Triangle region’s contribution in answering anthropology’s paramount question: “Who are the ancestors of modern human beings?”

Zeresenay: Anthropological sites in the Afar region and the southern continuation of the Ethiopian Rift to the Omo Valley represent “hotspots” for paleoanthropological studies. Ardi, Selam and Lucy, many extinct hominin species, a huge number of non-human animal fossils and primitive stone tools come from the Afar and other localities around the Omo River in the South. The earliest known Homo sapiens (modern human beings, very much like you and me), dated back to 195, 000 years ago, come from a site called Kibish in Southern Ethiopia. These finds are still ancient, but come from a much later time than do Selam and Lucy. Younger H. sapiens remains dated to 160, 000 years ago were also discovered at Herto in the Afar. Furthermore, DNA evidence shows that every human being living in any part of our planet today can trace back his or her ancestry to a woman who lived somewhere in southern Ethiopia 100,000 years ago. Combining the fossil and genetic evidence we can say that we all are Africans and our ancestors probably came from the present day Ethiopia, hence we are all Ethiopians.

TADIAS: How does the new discovery further explain the ancestral chain?

Zeresenay: The ancestral chain of humans is still being explored and each fossil discovery contributes to fill in a gap in our understanding of the family tree and its different stages. Particularly when you find remains, like Ardi, that are comprised of skeletal elements from the same individual, you are able to look into questions related to limb proportion, stature, body mass etc., which you can not do if you only have fragmentary fossils. Additional significance of the new find emanates from the potential contribution it could make to bridging the knowledge gap between the earliest known human ancestors, such as Sahelanthropus tchadensis (Toumai) and Australopithecus. The new discovery is not the earliest human ancestor known today, since we have Toumai from Chad dated to 6.5 million years, but Ardi’s discoverers suggest that she sheds some fresh light on what the common ancestor of humans and chimpanzees might have looked like. She also helps explain questions related to the mode of locomotion and behavior of early hominins among others.

TADIAS: What are some questions that we are still longing to answer? Missing links?

Zeresenay: Over the past three decades, tremendous progress has been made in the field of paleoanthropology. We know that the very first upright walking human ancestors emerged around 6-7 million years ago, the Lucy group appeared just before 4 million years ago, and Homo sapiens emerged only 200,000 years ago. We know that the earliest technology, in the form of stone tools, appeared just over 2.5 million years ago, that most of our evolution took place in Africa, and that human ancestors left Africa for the first time only 2 million years ago. So we have answered many important questions. Only fifty years ago, this knowledge did not exist and it would have been unthinkable for many to see Africa as the birthplace of humanity. Yet, scientific research is a living and dynamic process and new answers spark additional questions. Accordingly, there are many outstanding questions in our field today. First, though we have a reasonably well-established record of the human fossil record the dearth of information on the chimp line is frustrating. Secondly, we do not have solid evidence on what the common ancestor of humans and chimps looked like. Third we do not know much about the babies of these ancient species because they are missing from the fossil record; Selam helps a lot in this regard, but we need more. Fourth, the link between Australopithecus and our genus, Homo, and that between Australopithecus and earlier species is not clearly established. These are among the major issues for which we need further data.

TADIAS: Is there anything else you would like to share with the Tadias audience?

Zeresenay: Ethiopia/Africa is where humanity originated! This was established scientifically. I take tremendous pride in being part of the scientific process that demonstrated this, yet I wonder if we can make this place not just the origin of humanity but also a place where humanity thrives? My answer is a resounding YES! Let me speak a bit beyond the realm of my specific expertise and touch on the scientific process in general. Science changed and will change the world! Suffice to reflect for two minutes on the number of scientific achievements made between 1909 and 2009, and their impact. Science is all about asking a question (often out of curiosity), acquiring tangible data and trying to answer it. This simple logic is applicable to many aspects of our lives. We know the many difficulties our nation and Africa in general are faced with and I am strongly convinced that whatever we do in life, wherever we are and whatever our aspirations and opinions are, if we all attempt to reason based on what is OBSERVABLE to the best of our abilities then we would have contributed enormously to the betterment of our nation, continent and humanity.

TADIAS: Thank you so much again for your time, and we wish you all the best.

Dr. Zeresenay: You are most welcome and thanks for letting me share my views with your audience.

Related:
The Top Ten Human Evolution Discoveries from Ethiopia (Smithsonian Magazine)

Watch: Dr. Zeray explains the discovery of Selam

Why Girls Gotta Run: Interview with Dr. Patricia E. Ortman

Dr. Patricia E. Ortman, founding member of the Girls Gotta Run Foundation. (Photo by Michelle Mikki Parrish).

Tadias Magazine
By: Martha Z. Tegegn

Published: Thursday, October 29, 2009

Washington, D.C. (TADIAS) – “Why shouldn’t a girl have a pair of sneakers?” That’s the question that Dr. Patricia E. Ortman, a Washington, D.C.-based retired Women’s Studies Professor and artist, posed to herself as she embarked upon the task of raising money for Girls Gotta Run Foundation (GGRF), a volunteer organization she helped establish three years ago to provide new shoes for girls in Ethiopia who are training to be runners.

Dr. Ortman was inspired by a 2005 Washington Post article by Emily Wax entitled: Facing Servitude, Ethiopian Girls Run for a Better Life. The piece highlighted the grim realties faced by young girls in Ethiopia, including having one of the lowest rates of female enrollment in primary schools. Young girls in Ethiopia also face one of the highest rates of childbirth injuries in the world. According to the United Nations Population Fund 1 in 27 mothers in Ethiopia face the risk of dying during labor. In comparison, as The Huffington Post notes in the introduction of World Editor Hanna Ingber Win’s Mothers of Ethiopia series, “In the U.S., a woman has a 1 in 4,800 chance of dying from complications due to pregnancy or childbirth in her lifetime.” Perhaps Wax’s most powerful line comes from a 13-year-old girl named Tesdale Mesele who says: “I also run because I want to give priority to my schooling. If I’m a good runner, the school will want me to stay and not be home washing laundry and preparing injera.”

“After reading that article,” Ortman says, “I was faced with two choices: to go “oh well” and go about my life, or to get involved.”

Getting involved she did; she called a couple of friends and expressed her interest in starting a program to help Ethiopian girls stay in school. “Originally” Ortman says, “I wanted to do this as a project, and as people were coming [up to me] and saying they wanted to help, I started calling a lot of international woman organizations.” But the overall lack of interest by these organizations, whose names she would not mention, left Ortman and her friends with little choice but to start Girls Gotta Run Foundation (GGRF).

Despite the obstacles, there was a light at the end of the tunnel for Ortman. In recent years, running has emerged as a path to success for many girls in Ethiopia. Female athletes, such as double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba and her colleague Meseret Defar, are blazing a trail for a new generation of aspiring female runners. Today, some of the highest paid athletes in Ethiopia are women.

“It takes a lot of personal gumption,” says Ortman. “Some of these girls have predetermined lives. Nothing is expected of them but marriage, a lifetime of labor.”

Ortman argues that proper running shoes are the most important gear an aspiring athlete can own to remain healthy. “In some cases, girls are forced to give up on their dream of becoming professional athletes due to injuries caused by lack of proper attire and shoes,” Ortman says. “That’s the big reason why GGRF focuses on sending them money to buy running shoes.”

Asked why GGRF sends the girls money instead of shoes? Ortman answers: “Our goal is not just to help girls to have running shoes. By sending them money we avoid the huge shipping cost, and we also help the Ethiopian economy by allowing them to buy new sneakers from local merchants.”

GGRF has developed creative partnerships with artists and athletes to raise money. The organization hosts several exhibitions annually featuring donated art work, and athletes participate in local meets to raise money. Sheena Dahlke, an athlete who also doubles as the foundation’s Secretary, says she finds it personally rewarding to take part in running competitions to support the young women in Ethiopia. “I see the girls that GGRF supports as intelligent, driven and strong. The girls are also very inspiring. They inspired me to raise money for them while I trained for the Boston Marathon in 2009,” she said. “It was motivating to imagine them training for their races and I wanted to help them to have the resources and equipment that they needed. For them, running is a way to escape poverty and avoid early pregnancy. In many cases it also gives them a chance to continue their education which gives them hope beyond their running careers.”

Today, GGRF sponsors forty girls participating in three teams: Team Tesfa, The Semien Girl Runners, and Team Naftech.


Members of Team Tesfa (Photo by Sarah Murray).


The Simien Girl Runners training in July 2008. (Photo: GGRF).


Menna, program head for Team Tesfa, Olympic medalists Meseret
Defar, and Meseret Birhanu, member of Team Tesfa. (GGRF).

The largest team, Team Tesfa, was founded by Tesfa Foundation, an organization that funds early childhood education for disadvantaged children in Ethiopia. We spoke with Dana Roskey, one of the Directors of Tesfa during his recent trip to Washington D.C. Roskey was the first individual to team up with GGRF to create and oversee the team’s activities in Ethiopia. “The situations for some are really extreme, it is not only a matter of running – it becomes a survival issue,” Mr. Roskey told Tadias. “Assisting them means offering them an opportunity to be leaders of their own life.”

And what is his organization’s relationship with GGRF?

“GGRF covers some of the nutrition, coaching and transportation costs,” he said. “And they are our major gear providers.” But Mr. Roskey is quick to note that running alone cannot be the solution. “Girls are more vulnerable to exploitations and misfortune, and their fate is somewhat limited,” he explained emphasizing his organization’s focus in primary education. “Because ultimately running is not their only destiny, there are other options.”

Garrett Ash, Co-Founder and Director of Running Across Borders (RAB), a non-profit that works to bring economic success to East African youth through running, says GGRF sponsors five of its female runners in Addis Ababa, all of whom come from rural parts of Ethiopia and are selected because they show both talent and passion for long-distance running. “Our first project is focused specifically on Ethiopia and we have established a training facility in the Ayat area of Addis Ababa, which has provided 14 Ethiopian youth (9 male, 5 female) with access to opportunities in athletics, education, and vocational training,” he said. “GGRF provides us with donations that cover food and also transport to training venues like Sulutaa and Sendafa (regions in Ethiopia) for all 5 of the female athletes in our program and these are some of the most significant costs that we face when we add girls to the program, so to have a single foundation that covers these costs for our entire female contingent is a huge asset.”

Ortman agrees with Mr. Roskey that running alone can’t serve as a one-way-ticket to success. “In most cases the girls would be lured to drop out of school and to join [a professional team], and eventually they will get worn out,” says Ortman. “All of the teams have arranged for the girls to go to school and stay in school,” she adds. “If they don’t make it as runners they will have an alternative plan to fall back on.”

Ortman, who has yet to visit Ethiopia, says that the ultimate goal is to empower these children. “We have a pact with the girls that if and when they become successful we expect them to ‘pay up,’ not necessarily to us, but they need to help people in their country – girls who want to follow in their footsteps.”


If you would like to help or join GGRF, you may reach Dr. Patricia Ortman at pat@girlsgottarun.org. Click here for the Foundation’s calendar of events. Check out GGRF’s current art exhibition at Friendship Heights Village Center (4433 South Park Avenue Chevy Chase, Md 20815).

Video: Meet GGRF’s sponsored partners and supporters

Video: Training in the Running Across Borders Camp

A Conversation with Haile Gerima

Above: We spoke with the internationally acclaimed director
Haile Gerima about his latest film Teza. (Gezaw Tesfaye)

Tadias Magazine
By: Martha Z. Tegegn

Last Updated: Friday, April 2, 2010

New York (Tadias) – For filmmaker Haile Gerima the travails of life are much like moving images – “a constant journey of restlessness and complexity, until the final rest.”

Haile’s latest film, the critically acclaimed Teza, focuses on the tumultuous years of the Mengistu era, as told by an idealistic Ethiopian doctor who recounts dreams and nightmares.

We spoke with Haile at his Sankofa bookstore, conveniently located across from Howard University where he has been teaching film since 1975.

But first, here is a sneak preview of Teza:


Haile Gerima (Photo by Gezaw Tesfaye)

Teza’s main character, Anberber, experiences nightmares reflecting back to the chaotic years in Ethiopia following the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie. Do you think this painful memory is also collectively shared by Anberber’s generation in the Diaspora?

HG: Oh, Certainly. In fact, a lot of people would ask me, “Is it biographical?” I say, no it is a collective experience. It’s a stolen story of a whole lot of people. So the generation that this film speaks to is an idealistic generation, who were sent abroad by governments or by personal ambition, to bring the tonic that would transform their society. Therefore, you have a generation that was leaving the country as if they were sent to go and bring the medicine and cross the river and comeback. Yet, the journey is more complex. When you cross the Atlantic and the threshold of the so-called modern society, you enter in to a new orbit and your journey becomes more complicated. For me, and especially my generation of Ethiopians of the 1970’s and late 60’s, this is the dilemma that dramatized even their well-intended political dream into a nightmare. So it is a generational, I would say, biography.

What memories do you have of that time? Are they reflected in your film?

HG: Well I would say, how genuine young Ethiopian men and women were about changing Ethiopia. How much they cared, how much they loved their country was unquestionable, but at the same time you know you can destroy the object of love if it is possessively displaced. In other words, the dogmatic nature of that generation was such that they arrogantly thought they had the formula for transforming Ethiopia. It left them a confused generation.

The film was shot in Ethiopia and Germany but the story was based here in America. It was first written for America. I remember long ago weekend meetings (of Ethiopians) at the international student center near UCLA or at UCLA. We left all the priorities of our personal life to meet on the issue of country. That is the most amazing experience, but at the same time, we were also feeding a very dangerous dogma to each other. A dogma that swallowed the very generation in its prime age. I was in these meetings. Of course, I got out at a certain point because I couldn’t digest my own tendencies of disappearing in this generational political culture. When we shot the film in Germany we shot in the actual place where Ethiopian students were meeting. It doesn’t matter where we were, Ethiopian men and women of my generation in Paris, in Rome, in Cologne or Frankfurt or Seattle, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles, or San Francisco. They were doing the same activity and basically reading almost the same books, and these books were taken as Biblical prophecies to transform Ethiopia. And, in the end, we lost so many powerful Ethiopian young men. Brilliant young men and women were lost in this confusion, in this chaotic period. So I know vividly these people that I dedicate the film to. I remember their eyes and how genuine they were. These are not bad people. They were not selfish. They just disappeared in the chaos.

Do you think the current generation is lost in the chaos of individualistic attitude?

HG: Well, you know I think it is a very different generation. Completely different generation. And I don’t know the historical circumstances. I don’t know what would become of them. But it is a generation that is so disillusioned it has no internal strength. Most Ethiopians are not strong inside, that is why they need external jackets and hair-dos, lipsticks, earrings, cars and TV to say “I am somebody.”

Some people would say well it is that political confusion that created this alienated generation, but I always say every generation has a responsibility to be compassionate to be collective-minded and fair and just. You see it in America – young people marching for poor people or against racism etc..so young Ethiopians at this point, they might have personal experiences to use as explanations, but in my view if I have to say it, I find them very confused and very external-oriented, materialistic-oriented. And to me I am not against hair change or lipstick or earrings, but I think inner strength is more important to say “I believe this and I am somebody inside.”

On the other hand you can see a lot of Ethiopians are very successfully involved in the economic foundation of America — they have restaurants. We never thought about restaurants, we never thought about businesses. We all thought we were sent to bring medicine from abroad and cure our people. There was so much trachoma in my village. When you come from those circumstances you don’t have time for personal ambitions. Instead you start thinking “There must be something I could do before I die” or “what is the purpose of living?”

What is purpose of living? Let me put it this way…what is life in the eyes of a cinematographer?

HG: Life is a cinema, constant journey of restlessness complexity, until the final rest. Life for me is constant struggle to have your say in this world to have your story be presented as a valid story.

What is the main message that you want the audience to take away from this film?

HG:The purpose of Teza is really like childhood morning dew. When I was growing up, I would sense the morning from the water caressing my legs while walking through the grass – the morning dew (English for Teza). This type of childhood experience is being lost, and so I am trying to preserve my childhood and I am trying to preserve my generation. And I am trying to remember the mistakes we made especially when we became brutal toward each other – shooting each other, killing each other. I don’t like killing, I never liked killing I don’t know how my generation made its cultural trademark to kill each other because of political differences. These are the reasons I try to work for myself first. People have to take it and see what it does for them, but for me, I am processing the whole confusion that I was part of.

Is Teza historical fiction or is it based on a true story? What in particular inspired you to make the film?

HG: Let me tell you, every time I go to Ethiopia I find mothers asking me to return their sons from the war. A war between two ‘families’ – Eritrea and Ethiopia. A woman who has ‘clogged’ her eyes crying for the past two or three years will lament “bring back my son to me. Can you give me my son? I don’t want your money, I want you to give me my son.” How does one deliver this woman’s request? You are only a filmmaker, you are not an army. How would you fulfill her request? This is the challenge that I face every time I go to Ethiopia. I am faced by the reality of peasants, working people, servants in homes – they all confront me. And so for me the film is like vomiting toxic. In doing so you exorcise your own.

I don’t have the power to make people see my movie, I have no other agenda. If they see it I am grateful. To me, the primary task of this movie is to vomit it, now the inspiration is really my helplessness. Teza’s main character, Amberber, felt completely helpless in one scene when soldiers come to take a son, and the mother was saying give me back my son, he is not armed, he is just confused scholar who got back to his country to his mother, to his umbilical cord in search of his childhood. He is always walking in the landscape because that is where he grew up but the reality kept coming in front of him like a stage play. So, my inspiration is my inability to do something about what the Ethiopian people are going through, then and now. This is what my helplessness is. Other people have a more dramatic source of inspiration. My inspiration is me being helpless, powerless, not having enough resources.

Teza said to have taken 14 years to make, why did it take so long? And what were the challenges in executing it?

HG: Many Ethiopians in my view do not understand the power of culture. When Westerners make film they know it is about their collective culture. We, on the other hand, don’t see how significant it is to preserve our people’s culture, from day one, as it is invoked by descendents. As it resonates through the younger generation. We don’t invest on culture. For instance, Ethiopians in America, if they put twenty dollars a month aside for the transformation of Ethiopian art, for the preservation of Ethiopian culture and tradition, Ethiopia would also have a population that is mentally restructured and confident and capable of making its own history. To create a critically brilliant society you have to have a dramatic cultural transaction.

Can you say a bit more about the leading actors in the film? How you found them and cast them?

HG: None of the characters had acted before. Most of them came to me raw, but they had amazing potential and gift that I was able to say ‘Oh! This person will give me what I want.’ Some of the actors in the village, like the woman who plays Amberber’s mother, has never acted. She doesn’t even know what acting is, but she knocked people out because she was so genuine, truthful, and most of all she understood and felt the story. She lived in the era and I was able to work with her to get what I wanted. So, for me there is what you call ‘gift,’ and in filmmaking half of it is luck. You know, you try and sometimes you mis-cast. I am proud of the cast in Teza, and I didn’t care if they didn’t know acting because I was very confident of making sure that I don’t paralyze them by mystifying acting. I know how to demystify acting, that is part of my education my orientation. I practiced a lot even during Sankofa, Bush Mama, I made movies with non-actors and actors too. The non-actors have done amazing work, so for me when auditioning people I am looking untangle a range of talent, and get the best out of what I want rather than cast corrupted actors who will not be genuine.


Actresses Araba Evelyn Johnston-Arthur, Veronika Avraham, director Haile Gerima
and actors Abeye Tedla and Aaron Arefe attend the ‘Teza’ photocall at the Piazzale
del Casino during the 65th Venice Film Festival on September 2, 2008 in Venice.
(September 2, 2008 – Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Europe)

What is your favorite film? Why?

HG: The problem with this question is that it is flawed. Favorite film doesn’t exist but what happens is, films inspire me. One of them is ‘The Hour of the Furnaces‘ from Argentina, but the most powerful film that resonates with my childhood experience is a Japanese film called The Island and another Swedish film called My Life as a Dog, and an Italian film called The Bicycle Thief. So it is a range of films – kind of like puzzle work. There are a lot of films that animated my life and resonated with me.

You talk about the influence your parents had on you growing up and how it inspired you to become a storyteller, can you talk about that?

HG: You know, when I was growing up we sat around the fire and my grandmother would always tell a story. And to me that is the foundation of film – storytelling. My father was a playwright and he wrote plays and I participated in different capacities in my father’s plays. And my mother was always full of stories and most nights we had no television, no film to go to. Our TV and TV dinner was fireside chats. Hearing stories from the elders played a major role in my development, as well as kept alive my continued quest to connect to their lifestyle, their aesthetics. I didn’t know it was important to do so then, but now I go out of my way to preserve it. To me, Ethiopia has a lot to offer to an artist. It is a country that has the audacity to invent without imitation. The storytelling is the kind of orientation that I am very blessed and grateful about.

What advice do you have for young aspiring Ethiopian filmmakers? Or anyone that wants to prosper in the artistic world of cinematography?

HG: One is to give your heart fully — to jump and get into it all the way. Not to apologize, not to be inhibited by going to school or not going to school. Or by ‘knowing’ film or not. If you have the urge to tell a story just jump with everything within you. But once you jump in, it is not enough to jump in, now you have to kick if you don’t want to drown, and so the hard work is the process of learning more by yourself through your work.

Every film that I make is my university. I learn so much from my mistakes and I consider my films the most imperfect films because I am always learning to do better from film to film. The kind of filmmakers that young people should aspire to be is to consistently learn from their own films. Watch movies, study paintings and color. Color as simple as it sounds is complex. Understand culture that is fundamental. Film in the end is built in this powerful development of your sensory organs to light, to shadows. This doesn’t come just by wanting to be a filmmaker. You have to go out of your way. Young people should know that one doesn’t become a filmmaker individually but, rather from a collective view. Don’t forget not only to learn what to do but also learn what not to do as well.

Many of your films are financed by independent sources outside the U.S or the community….what makes it easy for you to find funding outside but challenging in the U.S?

HG: I got tired of asking people who don’t value my story to fund my films. In Europe, I found individuals who said ‘Let me join this guy.’ Yes, it takes me years to convince people. that is why it took fourteen years to find the money I needed to start filming in 2004. The first shooting took place in Ethiopia for eight weeks. Then it took me two more years to find the German part – six day shoot. In the end it is luck that I found intellectuals who were predisposed to my right to tell my story and that they want to be part of the storytelling. Mostly because I prefer low budget, I have more freedom to control my film. Even by American standards, I am the freest independent filmmaker who owns his own films. And if I enter into a relationship I never relinquish the power of the filmmaker where other people come to decide for me. I would rather have less money and more freedom.

Where do you find the time and energy to do all this?

HG: From the story, the story keeps me charged.

Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience?

HG: Thank you to Tadias. I know how you guys insist to exist. And I know how difficult it is for magazines to exist. I hope you guys continue to sustain, to struggle to be innovative, to find an alternative way of making sure that you don’t disintegrate and close and collapse. I am impressed that you are at least here in the cyber world – you exist. I am very impressed with that.

Thank you so much Prof. Gerima and we wish you continued success!

HG: Thank you!


Related:
Lacking Shelter at Home and Abroad (NYT Movie Review)
For Filmmaker, Ethiopia’s Struggle Is His Own (The New York Times)
Teza, Portrait of an Ethiopian Exile (The Village Voice)

First Ethiopian to Climb Mount Everest?

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Wednesday, August 12, 2009

New York (Tadias) – Sirak Seyoum, an Electrical Engineer living in Nevada, has bold plans for 2010. After hiking over 27 peaks in the U.S., some more than twice, he has set his heart on becoming the first Ethiopian to climb Mount Everest. His website firstethiopianoneverest.org states “No peak is too high or too rugged for an Ethiopian man who discovered a passion for hiking.” Seyoum is taking 12 weeks off work and is currently raising funds to cover expenses for the Mount Everest Expedition, scheduled from March 23rd, 2010 to June 5th 2010. We caught up with him and asked a few questions.


Sirak Seyoum (Courtesy Photo)

Tell us a bit more about yourself. Where you grew up? Who are the main influences in your life?

As a toddler I grew up in Gondar, When my parents came to the states for school, I moved with my aunt in Addis and was enrolled in St. Joseph kindergarten class briefly before moving back to Gondar. I remember visiting my grandparents every weekend. They resided a few blocks away from the castles and the church Abajale where my grandfather was the head “Aleka.” As a teenager I grew up in Addis before coming to the United States. My main influences growing up as a kid were my parents who taught me always to strive for a goal no matter how hard. My aunts and uncles also played an important role in my teenage to adulthood transformation and I always looked up to them during my teenage years. Growing up as a kid I have always idolized Abebe Bikela, considered as the greatest marathon racer in the history of marathon, and Pele, the Brazilian soccer legend. I also have great admiration and pride for all our Olympic heroes, like Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele.

You blogged a bit about the role of education in your life? Can you tell us more about your outdoor endeavors and academic/work?

Academic work always took precedence above any activities like sports, music or any outdoor activity. Without my parents knowledge, I took up playing the Kirar (traditional Ethiopian harp). As a kid, I picked it up easily from a neighborhood musician who would play the Kirar near our home where I grew up in Addis and had the pleasure of performing at Yared Music hall along with my late cousin Leul Fikre who also played the Kirar. In college, I was active in all outdoor related endeavors events including soccer. My university didn’t fund soccer as the selected inter-mural sports. My South African friend, Godfred Webster and I organized the Michigan Technological University (MTU) soccer team, soliciting American soccer players to join the team. We were good enough to travel around Michigan at our own expense and earn the respect to play Division-A universities located in Duluth, Wisconsin and surrounding cities.

What was your reaction after climbing your first peak?

My first reaction was, “GEEZ, What have I been doing all these years?” What I was feeling I just can’t put in words. It felt nothing like any sport I have ever participated in. It was different because it seemed so easy at first but yet so difficult once I started. Team work and helping others is also one of the rewards of climbing, I remember a fellow hiker telling me to take deep breaths as we ascended to higher elevation. During one of my first hikes, I decided to wear a jacket weighing 22-pounds. A rookie with a weight jacket was pushing it for most of them, but everyone encouraged me. To my surprise the 22lb jacket was becoming heavier and heavier as we gained altitude and the effort it took to wear it was beyond my expectation. I was literally leaving a trail of sweat as I went to the top and never knew a human could sweat this much. The thought of removing the weight jacket was never an option. I wore it all the way to the top. After getting to the top I felt exhilarated more complete than ever and at peace. I knew right away that I have developed a burning desire to do it more and more. Throughout the years, I was lucky enough to participate in various sports and challenges other than soccer. On my second day of ever putting on ski boots, I was skiing down the steepest slopes instead of the bunny hills. Windsurfing was one of the hardest things to learn. On the very first day when I didn’t wipe out I went across Lake Lansing in Michigan without turning back. I participated in lots of other sports like cliff diving, tennis, racquetball, biking, volleyball and swimming. I knew after climbing my first peak, I have found my passion. A passion similar to life itself, life doesn’t stop if the going gets hard, we simply rise up and keep moving.

Tell us about what prompted you to seek climbing Everest. Who will be accompanying you on your March 23-June 5th expedition?

The main player who prompted me to climb Everest is my friend Abate Sebsibe, a PhD student currently so busy, he spends all his free time buried in the library. I wish him success. He has been very positive and supportive throughout this mission, he would always say, “Of all the people I think of, that can make it to Mt. Everest, I know YOU will make it to the top.” I will be one of the nine or ten people with Peak Freaks Expedition Team. Once the mission was born, I started researching expedition companies on the internet and various sources. Peak Freaks Expedition Company had a crew that valued quality rather than quantity. They have flawless record of safety and are the only expedition company that sign on less than ten clients. More information of the expedition can be found on Peakfreaks.com. In 2008, the first Saudi who summited Mt. Everest teamed up with Peak Freaks and successfully made it all the way to the top.

What’s your daily routine?

I have been following the training schedule set up by my Mountaineer Expedition expert. I will post it on my website on the blog section. Though I would love to train full time, I still have a career to follow during the day. My professional work takes up my days Monday through Friday. After 5pm I shoot for a 45-60 minutes of running, and about 30 minutes of weight training. On days that I don’t run I substitute with swimming. In the next few months I will include cycling as an alternative to running and swimming. On the weekends I hike between 6-7 hours with a weight pack of 25-30 lbs or more. My goal is to ascend to 2,000 meters with a pack weighing between 22-30 kg in 2-3 hours period. I will strive to make improvements beyond the required goal so that I will be able to climb Mt. Everest.

You’ve completed hiking 27 peaks (some more than twice), and you plan to complete 2 more before Everest Mission, what thoughts are running through your head at the moment?

Well, it’s hard to believe that I am actually doing it. I will be hiking throughout the year until it’s time to go. I am looking forward to climbing Mt Rainier located in Washington, in late September. Mt Shasta has been a favorite by the locals as well. I will feel more confident after climbing Mt. Rainier. I feel I will be well prepared by staying on track on my training and focusing on my goals. As the saying goes, “Practice makes perfect.” Practice will be my top priority until the day comes for me to do this mission.

How can the Diaspora Ethiopian community assist with your fundraising?

Since I started talking about my plans I have gotten lot of encouragement from people I know and from people that came across my website. I have been interviewed by Admas radio and VOC, when I told a friend I was nervous, she said, “A certain someone is climbing Everest and he’s nervous from an interview?!” I have received unparalleled support from various Ethiopian websites for which I am grateful. I believe this endeavor will benefit other Ethiopians in terms of publicity and attention to circumstances in Ethiopia at present and in the future. Any kinds of support, be it donations or words of support means a lot to me. I would also like to take this opportunity to say that any remaining funds from the mission donated above the required goal will be used to support water.org projects in Ethiopia (http://water.org/Ethiopia ). When I was employed by US-filter Corp. one of my projects was to design a programmable logic controller (PLC) controller for water purification and distribution system to support irrigation usage for farming and potable water usage to a remote village in Venezuela. The controller I implemented was accessible via English and Spanish languages. I remember thinking back then, how a project such as this would be helpful for our country and wishing someday that I might do the same for Ethiopia.

Any plans to climb some peaks in Ethiopia?

Upon my return from Everest, I am planning to summit Ras Dashen located in Simien Mountains, 4,620 meters elevation, the highest peak in Ethiopia. I plan to do this around second week of June 2010. I would love to summit along with my Ethiopian brothers and sisters, provided that they’ve had all the training necessary for such a task.


Sirak Seyoum (Courtesy Photo)


Sirak Seyoum (Courtesy Photo)


Sirak Seyoum (Courtesy Photo)

Do you ever listen to music while hiking?

I do listen to music often while hiking, low volume. Its critical to listen to your surrounding at all times, climbers ahead of you might yell ” ROCK” which means one needs to avoid a possible rock coming down the slopes heading straight at anyone on its path. The same principle in snow areas as well, heads up for “Avalanche”. One cannot ignore the true nature’s music as well. The calmness of the area and the wind at those altitudes is like music by itself if one listens closely.

And your favorite foreign movies with subtitles?

One of my favorites is Black Orpheus. This superb retelling of the Orpheus and Eurydice Greek legend is set against Rio de Janeiro’s madness during Carnival. Orpheus (Breno Mello), a trolley car conductor, is engaged to Mira (Lourdes De Oliveira) but in love with Eurydice (Marpessa Dawn). A vengeful Mira and Eurydice’s ex-lover, costumed as Death, pursue Orpheus and his new paramour through the feverish Carnival night. Black Orpheus earned an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film. Superb Movie about Brazilian culture and history.

Thank you Sirak for doing this interview and best wishes with your training and climbing Mount Everest!

Ethiopian American Named 2009 World Food Prize Laureate (Video)

Above: The 2009 World Food Prize has been given to Dr. Gebisa
Ejeta of Ethiopia, a professor and plant geneticist at Purdue Univ.

(WASHINGTON, D.C., USA) – Dr. Gebisa Ejeta of Ethiopia has been named winner of the $250,000 World Food Prize for his monumental contributions in the production of sorghum, one of the world’s five principal cereal grains, which have dramatically enhanced the food supply of hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was the featured speaker as Dr. Ejeta was announced as the 2009 Laureate at a ceremony at the U.S. State Department on June 11 that also featured Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, World Food Prize President Ambassador Kenneth M. Quinn, and World Food Prize Chairman John Ruan III, among others.

Dr. Ejeta’s personal journey would lead him from a childhood in a one-room thatched hut in rural Ethiopia to the height of scientific acclaim as a distinguished professor, plant breeder, and geneticist at Purdue University. His work with sorghum, which is a staple in the diet of 500 million people living in sub-Saharan Africa, began in Ethiopia in the 1970s. Working in Sudan in the early 1980s, he developed Hageen Dura-1, the first ever commercial hybrid sorghum in Africa. This hybrid variety was tolerant to drought and out-yielded traditional varieties by up to 150 percent.

Dr. Ejeta next turned his attention to battling the scourge of Striga, a deadly parasitic weed which devastates farmers’ crops and severely limits food availability. Working with a colleague at Purdue University, he discovered the biochemical basis of Striga’s relationship with sorghum, and was able to produce many sorghum varieties resistant to both drought and Striga. In 1994, eight tons of Dr. Ejeta’s drought and Striga-resistant sorghum seeds were distributed to Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, Mozambique, Niger, Rwanda, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe. Yield increases were as much as four times the yield of local varieties, even in severe drought areas.

“By ridding Africa of the greatest biological impediment to food production, Dr. Ejeta has put himself in the company of some of the greatest researchers and scientists recognized by this award over the past 23 years,” said Vilsack. “The Obama Administration is inspired by the tireless efforts of Dr. Ejeta has demonstrated in the battle to eliminate food insecurity and is committed to employing a comprehensive approach to tackle the scourge of world hunger.”


Dr. Gebisa Ejeta

Dr. Ejeta’s scientific breakthroughs in breeding drought-tolerant and Striga-resistant sorghum have been combined with his persistent efforts to foster economic development and the empowerment of subsistence farmers through the creation of agricultural enterprises in rural Africa. He has led his colleagues in working with national and local authorities and nongovernmental agencies so that smallholder farmers and rural entrepreneurs can catalyze efforts to improve crop productivity, strengthen nutritional security, increase the value of agricultural products, and boost the profitability of agricultural enterprise – thus fostering profound impacts on lives and livelihoods on broader scale across the African continent.

“Dr. Ejeta’s accomplishments in improving sorghum illustrate what can be achieved when cutting-edge technology and international cooperation in agriculture are used to uplift and empower the world’s most vulnerable people,” added Dr. Norman E. Borlaug, founder of the World Food Prize. “His life is as an inspiration for young scientists around the world.”

The 2009 World Food Prize will be formally presented to Dr. Ejeta at a ceremony at the Iowa State Capitol on October 15, 2009. The ceremony will be held as part of the World Food Prize’s 2009 Borlaug Dialogue, which focuses on “Food, Agriculture and National Security in a Globalized World.” Further information about the Laureate Award Ceremony and Symposium can be found at www.worldfoodprize.org.

Clinton Speaks at 2009 World Food Prize Announcement Ceremony

Young Gebisa Ejeta as a grad student at Purdue in 1974

Born in 1950, Gebisa Ejeta grew up in a one-room thatched hut with a
mud floor, in a rural village in west-central Ethiopia.

His mother’s deep belief in education and her struggle to provide her son with access to local teachers and schools provided the young Ejeta with the means to rise out of poverty and hardship. His mother made arrangements for him to attend school in a neighboring town. Walking 20 kilometers every Sunday night to attend school during the week and then back home on Friday, he rapidly ascended through eight grades and passed the national exam qualifying him to enter high school.

Ejeta’s high academic standing earned him financial assistance and entrance to the secondary-level Jimma Agricultural and Technical School, which had been established by Oklahoma State University under the U.S. government’s Point Four Program. After graduating with distinction, Ejeta entered Alemaya College (also established by OSU and supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development) in eastern Ethiopia. He received his bachelor’s degree in plant science in 1973.

In 1973, his college mentor introduced Ejeta to a renowned sorghum researcher, Dr. John Axtell of Purdue University, who invited him to assist in collecting sorghum species from around the country. Dr. Axtell was so impressed with Ejeta that he invited him to become his graduate student at Purdue University. This invitation came at a time when Ethiopia was about to enter a long period of political instability which would keep Ejeta from returning to his home country for nearly 25 years.

Ejeta entered Purdue in 1974, earning his Ph.D. in plant breeding and genetics. He later became a faculty member at Purdue, where today he holds a distinguished professorship. Read more at worldfoodprize.org

Yared Tekabe’s Groundbreaking Research in Heart Disease

Dr. Yared Tekabe runs studies in cardiovascular disease detection and prevention at Columbia University. (Photo by Kidane Mariam for Tadias Magazine)

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Tuesday, March 17, 2009.

New York (TADIAS) – Dr. Yared Tekabe enjoys doing most of his reflections while sitting anonymously with his laptop at cafés in Harlem. When he’s not there, Tekabe is busy running studies in cardiovascular disease detection and prevention at his lab in Columbia University’s William Black building in upper Manhattan. Last November, Tekabe’s groundbreaking work on non-invasive atherosclerosis detection and molecular imaging was published in the American Heart Association’s journal, Circulation, along with an editorial citing its clinical implications.

Dr Tekabe’s success has helped his laboratory, headed by Dr Lynne Johnson, to receive another $1.6 million four-year grant from the National Institute of Health to continue his research, and Tekabe hopes that in a few years time his work can help heart disease prevention efforts and early detection of atherosclerosis in humans.

“What is atherosclerosis in layman terms?” I ask him, trying hard to correctly pronounce this tongue twister. He breaks it down to its linguistic roots. “Atherosclerosis comes from the Greek roots athere which means gruel, and skleros which means hardness or hardening,” he explains. Further research in Wiki reveals that atherosclerosis is a condition affecting our arterial blood vessels, which transport blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Atherosclerosis is the chronic condition in which inflammation of the walls of our blood vessels lead to hardening of the arteries.

“Atherosclerosis is the underlying cause of cardiovascular disease (CVD),” Tekabe says. “The result is progressive closing of the blood vessels by fat and plaque deposits, which block and further restrict blood flow. In more serious cases it may also lead to clots in the aorta (main artery coming out of the heart) or carotids (arteries supplying blood to the brain) that may dislodge and travel to other parts of the body such as the brain, causing stroke. If the clot is in the leg, for example, it can lead to gangrene. Deposits of fat and inflammatory cells that build up in the walls of the coronary arteries (supplying blood to the heart muscle) can rupture leading to blood clots. Such clots in an artery that supplies blood to the heart muscle will suddenly close the artery and deprive the heart muscle of oxygen causing a heart attack. In the case of very sudden closure of an artery a clot can cause sudden cardiac death.”

“It’s the Tim Russert story,” Tekabe says, providing a recent example of what undetected levels of plaque formation in our bodies can lead to. EverydayHealth.com, an online consumer health portal, had described the famed former MSNBC ‘Meet the Press’ host’s sudden heart attack as being caused by a plaque rupture in a coronary artery. Russert had previously been diagnosed with heart disease, but his atherosclerosis was asymptomatic. He had not experienced the common signs of chest pain and other heart attack symptoms to warn him or his doctors of his true condition. The undetected inflammation in his vessels and the subsequent rupture of plaque led to his sudden heart attack and untimely death. This is not uncommon, however. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease “is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States, and women account for 51% of the total heart disease deaths.” There is even more grim news: United States data for 2004 has revealed that the first physical symptom of heart disease was heart attack and sudden death for about 65% of men and 47% of women with CVD.

The risk factors for atherosclerosis are well known and Tekabe runs through the list with me: “diabetes, obesity, stress, smoking, high blood pressure, family history of CVD, and diet” he says. “But of all the factors that I have mentioned, I would say diet is the most important one to change,” he adds. Food items such as red meat, butter, whole milk, cheese, ice cream, egg yolk, and those containing trans fat all put us at higher risk for plaque formation. The American Heart Association recommends eating fish such as salmon, herring and trout instead of red meat, as well as eating food that is steamed, boiled or baked instead of fried. It is better to use corn, canola, or olive oil instead of butter, and to eat more fiber (fruit, vegetables, and whole grain). Notwithstanding that March is deemed National Nutrition Month by the American Heart Association, changing our diet is largely emphasized in CVD prevention. We should also be exercising at least 30 minutes each day.

“Early non-invasive detection of the presence of inflammation and plaque could save lives,” Tekabe points out. “But the problem is two-fold: those who suffer from atherosclerosis do not display warning signs until it’s too late, and for doctors, a non-invasive method of detecting atherosclerosis is by and large not a possibility.” Research by Tekabe and others may soon change the way doctors can detect atherosclerosis.

Using molecular imaging techniques that were previously popular in cancer biology research, Tekabe and his colleagues have discovered non-invasive methods of detecting RAGE, a receptor first discovered in 1992 and thought to have causative implications in a host of chronic diseases ranging from diabetes to arthritis. Tekabe, collaborating with Dr Ann Marie Schmidt who has shown that RAGE receptors play a key role in atherosclerotic inflammatory response, notes that these receptors can be detected non-invasively in mice that have been fed a high-fat, high cholesterol diet.

“In the past, although we knew about the RAGE receptor, especially in the study of diabetes, we were not able to detect it without performing an autopsy of the lab mice. Clearly, in the case of humans it would be pointless if we said that we detected atherosclerosis in the patient after the patient had died,” Tekabe explains. “Therefore, it was imperative that our research showed a more non-invasive method, detecting RAGE receptors and locations of inflammation while the subject was still alive. The first step would be to test it on mice, which we have, and then perhaps on larger animals such as pigs, so that this research could be successfully translated to help non-invasively detect atherosclerosis in its early stages in human beings.”

Left Image: Atherosclerotic aorta: The image is from a mouse fed a Western type of fat diet (high-fat, high cholesterol diet) for 34 weeks. It shows complete blockage of the aorta and the branches that supply the brain. The plaque is made up of fat and inflammatory cells.
Right Image: Relatively normal aorta: This is from 6 weeks old mouse fed a normal diet.

Tekabe’s recently published research showing detection of RAGE receptors responsible for arterial inflammation was funded by a grant from the American Society of Nuclear Cardiology as well as from an American Heart Association Heritage Foundation award.

The November Circulation editorial entitled “Feeling the RAGE in the Atherosclerotic Vessel Wall” highlights the significance of Tekabe et al’s findings and the necessity for early detection of atherosclerosis. “This is an exciting development that adds an important marker of atherosclerotic disease that can now be assessed non-invasively,” write Drs. Zahi Fayad and Esad Vucic. “Tekabe et al demonstrate, for the first time, the noninvasive specific detection of RAGE in the vessel wall.” They concur with Tekabe that “noninvasive detection of RAGE in the vessel wall could help define its role in plaque rupture, which has potentially important clinical implications.”

Tekabe came to Boston in 1990 and subsequently completed his Bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology and his Masters and PhD in Biomedical Sciences with a focus on CVD and drug development. His academic choices have inevitably led him to his career as a scientist, but he has personal reasons for choosing this path as well.

“I was born in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. I have 1 brother and 8 sisters, and my parents had no formal education. But my father always encouraged me to seek higher education. While I was completing my studies I witnessed my beloved father suffer from Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) and he underwent triple bypass surgery. He passed away in 2004, and I promised myself that I would step up to the challenge of finding a way to prevent heart disease” Tekabe says in a somber and determined tone. “Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the developed world, and I am motivated by that challenge, but this research is also deeply personal.”

Tekabe hopes that his research will be applicable to other areas where RAGE receptors have been hypothesized to play a central role. Circulation editors who follow Tekabe’s work have noted that “in addition to its role in atherosclerosis and the development of vascular complications in diabetes, RAGE possesses wider implications in a variety of diseases, such as arthritis, cancer, liver disease, neurodegenerative disease, and sepsis, which underscores the importance of the ability of its noninvasive detection.” Tekabe, as part of Dr Ann Marie Schmidt’s team, has already filed U.S. and international patents and has plans to jump-start a drug development arm of the pharmaceutical industry in Ethiopia. “I’m looking for interested sponsors in Ethiopia who can see the potential of this research and its global implications,” he states.

Now that Forbes has apprised us of the billionaire status of an Ethiopian-born businessman, we hope this news may peak his interest in helping to start scientific research initiatives in Ethiopia.
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The Art of Peace, Tesfaye Tekelu’s Journey & Ethiopia’s First Aikido Dojo

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

Published: Tuesday, March 10, 2009

New York (Tadias) – For the past three years, Tesfaye Tekelu, Co-Founder and Manager of the Awassa Youth Campus (AYC), has been training at Aikido dojos around the world. Last month, he completed leadership training courses and took his Black Belt exam under renowned Aikido instructor Richard Strozzi-Heckler Sensei in Petaluma, California. On February 11th, 2009, Senator Mark Leno awarded Tesfaye with the State of California Senate certificate of recognition in honor of his becoming the first Ethiopian Aikido Black Belt and Sensei of the Awassa Peace Dojo. The certificate highlighted Tesfaye’s “participation in the Aiki Extensions Training Across Borders Middle East Aikido Peace Conferences in Cyprus and in Zurich; developing the Awassa Youth Center and dojo program; and culminating in intensive Shodan-Ho training with senior instructors across America.”


Tesfaye Tekelu (Photo by Tadias/Chicago, November 2008)

Aikido, a non-competitive martial art was developed by its Japanese founder, Morihei Ueshiba in the 1920s. The term “Aiki” can be translated as “harmony” while “do” means “the Way.” Hence, Aikido is the way of harmony, a way of blending your energy with the energy of the universe and your fellow humans. Encompassing the power of breath, form, and awareness, Aikido techniques are used to protect both the attacked and the attacker from harm. Since its official registration in Japan as a martial art form in 1942, Aikido has spread to the West, and modern instructors, such as those affiliated with Chicago-based non-profit Aiki Extensions (www.aiki-extensions.org), use the art to nurture and develop social support and social networks. Aikido ideas have also been applied in areas such as education, psychotherapy, bodywork, mediation, and social conflict resolution.

The Awassa Youth Campus (AYC) was founded in February 2006 through the collaboration of Aiki Extensions non-profit group and the Awassa-based Debub Negat Circus, now known as AYC’s One Love Theater AIDS Education program. Since then, AYC’s program has expanded. It now offers a recording studio with instruments for learning music, a library (free and accessible to the community), an art studio and sports venues including a paved basketball court, a volleyball court, a soccer field, as well as the aikido dojo, recently built by students using bamboo and other local materials. It currently has an enrollment of 75 students, and classes are offered seven days a week.

As the main instructor at the Awassa Peace Dojo at AYC, Tesfaye has toured throughout Ethiopia to give Aikido demonstrations both to the general public and on Ethiopian national television. He has provided Aikido workshops to Addis Ababa Ministry of Education officials, inspiring them to move toward requiring aikido training for secondary school Seniors.

Tesfaye first met his mentor Donald Levine Sensei who was visiting the Awassa Children’s Center with his wife Ruth after receiving an honorary Doctorate from Addis Ababa University in August 2004. After watching a show by the children that incorporated gymnastics, martial arts, and street theater, Levine asked if anyone there knew about Aikido. When requested to demonstrate this art, Levine looked around for a volunteer and pointed to Tesfaye.

As Tesfaye recalls, “He [Levine] asked me to grab his hand and as I did so, at that moment, I felt something different than what I have known before from my practice in martial arts.” Tesfaye immediately asked Levine to teach him Aikido; lessons began every day when Tesfaye served as tour guide for the couple in remote parts of the Southern Region.


Tesfaye’s first tenkan with mentor Donald Levine

“My life journey started 200 km from Awassa, in a place called Amaro in Korate Village before I moved to Awassa,” Tesfaye shares. “I was born in a traditional house called a gojo bet (tukul), where there was no electricity, no telephone, and no running water.” There are several aspects that he loves about Awassa. “The town is surrounded by mountains and by a lake,” he enthuses “and the city is flat and leveled. If you want to see the town you have to hike up to one of the mountains surrounding Awassa. And once you’re up there you see the carpet of forest, and Awassa is nestled in that forest. It is a town where we grow up swimming in the lake, fishing, floating on boats, hiking in the mountains, and playing football. It’s a vacation place. For me it’s like Ethiopian California” he says comparing it to places he has discovered on his most recent training tour to the United States.

Awassa, serves as a capital for 56 southern tribes and Tesfaye admits it’s inspiring for him to see the town people living “in harmony, peace and respect” among such diversity. “It should be a model for our continent Africa,” he reminds us. He conjures up an image of us stepping out of a box or getting over a fence, demolishing the notion that color, politics, borders, religion, and tribe can divide us. “We have to reach out of that box and see each other as people and come together as one Africa. Then we can have a little Awassa in Africa,” he concludes. He believes that Ethiopia’s interfaith history, for example, is a model for the rest of the world. He points to his own family as an example and says “More than three religions are practiced within my family, and we are living together with love and respect.” He uses his life lessons to promote community programs such as the HIV awareness circus group and theatre. He describes AYC as “a place where street children and adolescents come to learn and share their awareness with each other.” AYC has an open-door policy and all community members are welcome to participate as members. Under his guidance the Awassa Peace Dojo is providing youth with an alternative to involvement in gang-related violence.


Tesfaye participates in training across borders program in Cyprus focusing on
reducing social conflict

Recently, Tesfaye embarked on an extensive dojo tour and training program in various U.S. cities in pursuit of a Black Belt in Aikido. “I have trained with one of O Sensei’s students, Saotome Sensei as well as with Levine Sensei, and Kevin Sensei in Chicago,” he says. He has also trained with various instructors in dojos located in Berkeley, Santa Cruz, San Diego, and Seattle. He took his Black Belt exam in Strozzi-Heckler Sensei’s Two Rock Dojo in Petaluma last month and awed his audience. Tesfaye was especially touched by the nature surrounding Two Rock Dojo, which reminded him of his own growing up experiences in Ethiopia.


Tesfaye took his Black Belt exam at Two Rock Dojo in Petaluma, California (Feb. 2009)

His trip to America also involved participating in a theater festival in New York City entitled “Performing the World” with two other AYC staff members. He also worked to raise funds for AYC projects. Among some of his most favorite moments he cites training and assisting Levine Sensei’s University of Chicago students in their Aikido class, as well as taking the Strozzi Institute Leadership course, which he felt was ‘”very powerful, and something everyone should get a chance to study.” Levine had also assisted Tesfaye in furthering his Aikido practice by sending him to training summer camps in Zurich prior to his training in America.

With such an intensive schedule, was there any time to unwind? He assures us he has had plenty of sight-seeing. He lists a plethora of U.S. cities that he has visited during his stay. “I have toured New York, Chicago, Colorado, Boston, Pennsylvania, Washington, DC, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Petaluma, Santa Cruz, and San Diego,” he reports. “I don’t even remember all the names of places that I have seen.” He is excited to share that he also participated in a music video promoting Obama’s presidential campaign. “I had a chance to meet Obama in Pittsburgh,” he says happily. “I had a chance to fly a helicopter in California and went skiing for the first time in Seattle.”

“Now I understand what one means by the term “Western,” he says. He reflects on it and thinks aloud about what he can learn from the West. It makes him also pay closer attention to what he deems are “tremendous opportunities around us” in Awassa. “We have to see what we already have around and believe that every thing we dream is possible. It starts with us and is evident around us,” he urges. “That is what I am interested in: to work with youth and bring that awareness to my country and beyond.”

“Finally I am grateful for the people who understand the challenges we face, and those who help and support me in their action,” he says. He gives special thanks to Levine Sensei and all the instructors that he trained with in the U.S. and Europe. “I feel lucky to meet and know these great people across the country and to train with them, and I am very grateful” he adds. “I would like to thank them for their wonderful help and support.”


Tesfaye with students in Awassa.

“My wish,” he says “is to open more centers in Ethiopia, and within two or three years my mission is to have a Pan-African network.”

Within five years? “An African Youth Campus” he replies. “My vision is to work at the grassroot level across the continent and beyond to bring change and awareness to the next generation.”

Worldwide, change is definitely the word of choice this year.

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About the Author

Tseday Alehegn is the Editor-in-Chief of Tadias Magazine. She is a graduate of Stanford University (both B.A. & M.A.). In addition to her responsibilities at Tadias, Tseday is also a Doctoral student at Columbia University.

Ethiopian CNN Hero Meets Supporters in New York (Video)

Tadias TV
Above photo by Jeffrey Phipps for Tadias Magazine

Updated: Saturday, January 3, 2009

New York (Tadias) – Here is an updated video of Yohannes Gebregeorgis, one of the Top Ten CNN Heroes of 2008, at Cafe Addis in Harlem, NYC. The event took place on Saturday, December 13, 2008.

Interview with a CNN Hero

By Tadias Staff
Above photo by Jeffrey Phipps for Tadias Magazine

Published: Tuesday, December 9, 2008

New York (Tadias) – We recently spoke with Yohannes Gebregeorgis, one of the Top Ten CNN Heroes of 2008. He was recognized for his remarkable efforts to bring free public libraries and literacy programs to thousands of children in Ethiopia, including the country’s first Donkey Mobile Library. Mr. Gebregeorgis, 59, was born in Ethiopia and came to the United States as a political refugee in 1981. He eventually put himself through college, earning a graduate degree in library science and worked as a librarian in San Francisco for nearly two decades before embarking on his current project.

Here is our interview with Yohannes Gebregeorgis:


Yohannes Gebregeorgis

Tadias: Yohannes, congratulations for being selected as one of CNN’s Top 10 Heroes of 2008!

Yohannes Gebregeorgis: Thank you. I appreciate Tadias Magazine for consistently covering Ethiopia Reads and making it possible for a lot of Ethiopians and other people to know our work. It’s very helpful when media like Tadias give coverage to such works. Thank you again.

Tadias: CNN’s Anderson Cooper said: “Our Top 10 CNN Heroes are proof that you don’t need superpowers — or millions of dollar, — to change the world and even save lives.” Please tell us about your organization, Ethiopia Reads, and your efforts that led to this recognition.

YG: It’s very true that one doesn’t have to be a superpower or a millionaire to change the world. Even though Ethiopia is not a super power, we know that there are millionaires in Ethiopia. However, they are not using their wealth to make an effective change or to save lives. I think the recognition that Ethiopia Reads has received is primarily for the recognition of the importance of literacy to the development of a country’s future; for it’s power to change individuals and society. What we’ve accomplished in the last six years is a drop in the ocean compared to the need. It’s a good beginning that needs to be kept alive and going until we cover all regions of Ethiopia. We’ve established two free public libraries for children and youth; one in Addis and one in Awassa. We’ve established one donkey mobile library and adding three more by January 2009. We’ve established 16 school libraries and adding another 18 in the next 6 months to one year. We’ve published 8 children’s books and distributed over 30,000 books freely to children with another 75,000 to be distributed freely in the next six months to a year.


Children reading in Awassa, Ethiopia.

We have over 100,000 children that make a visit to all our libraries; We’ve instituted an annual Ethiopian Children’s Book Week, a children’s book award – the Golden Kuraz Award, we’ve provided basic library and literacy training to about 120 teachers and assistant librarians, we’ve taken thousands of children on a march to parliament, and in our annual Book-A-Thon, we’ve made it into the local news media many times advocating reading and literacy. We’ve been widely featured in international media. We’ve created a solid foundation from where we can launch massive campaigns to cover all of Ethiopia given that we have the resources.

Tadias: Among your projects that has received the most press attention is Ethiopia’s first Donkey Mobile Library. What inspired you to come up with this creative concept?

YG: The Donkey Mobile Library was conceived because of the need to reach out to children in rural communities.. The idea of portable and mobile libraries existed in other countries. For example, there is a boat library in Colombia, south America, a camel library in Northern Kenya, a bicycle library and other forms of book delivery methods. The donkey mobile library is similar to a book mobile, a bus that carries books to different communities in developed countries. I’ve seen a donkey pulled satellite station in Zimbabwe several years ago and that has given me the idea of the donkey mobile library. I designed the whole donkey mobile cart with the shelves and storage areas. A very experienced Ethiopian metal engineer built the units from sketches and guidance I gave him. An artist made the necessary logos and designs on the cart and it turned out to be the best.


Donkey pulls mobile library.


Yohannes with the donkey mobile library.

Tadias: Can you share with us an anecdote describing some of the experiences children had when they first visited one of your libraries? How did it change his or her life?

YG: When we first opened our first library in Addis Ababa and the Donkey Mobile Library in Awassa, we noticed several children who were holding books upside down. This children had never held a book before. One of these children, who was nine years old at the time is now a Star Reader, one of many children who are chosen annually for their reading skills and for reading out loud to other children. We select 12 Star Readers from thousands of children who come to our library annually. Robel has visited the library everyday since he first came six years ago. He’s participated in every program that we offer at the library such as English lessons, theater, art and crafts and the sanitation program. Robel is also doing very well in his school as his grades have improved significantly.There are others like Robel who are part of the library family as we’ve known them for as long as the library’s existence.

Tadias: Eighteen years ago, you gave Mammo Qilo (the popular Ethiopian children’s story) its American debut. You are the author of “Silly Mammo”, which was the first bilingual Amharic-English children’s book. Why Mammo Qilo?

YG: I’m so glad that Kilu Mammo has become famous in America! When I first thought about producing a book for Ethiopian children, Kilu Mammo was the only story that came to mind which appealed to me. Many Ethiopians remember the story from their childhood as I did. It’s a very simple but nice story. Children like silly stories to begin with and Mamo Kilu amuses not only children but also adults.

Tadias: We understand that you hold a graduate degree in library science and you served as Children’s Librarian at the San Francisco Children’s Library. How big, would you say, is the pool of trained librarians in Ethiopia that can assist with new library projects?

YG: There aren’t many Ethiopians who have a library training. There is no institution that has a training program as the Addis Ababa University folded its library science program some five or so years ago.I don’t think Ethiopian education authorities think of libraries as something very essential. Besides, there are no library policies in the educational policy of the country that I know of, therefore it makes it hard to have training programs where no one would hire the people that are trained. We have difficulty finding trained librarians. We’ve been hiring librarians ever since we started our program in Ethiopia. We’provide basic library training program for the school libraries that we establish.

Tadias: What are your long term plans to expand your program across the country? And what kind of help do you need?

YG: Our plan is to expand our projects and programs to all regions of Ethiopia by expanding to at least one region every two years. We now have projects in place that can easily be duplicated. In order to accomplish this ambitious goals we need, first and foremost financial support, then other material support such as books, computers, etc., and then any other kind of support such as volunteers.

Tadias: How can your U.S.-based fans help to further your organizational goals?

YG: There are so many ways that our fans in the US can help. For example, we’re about to embark on a membership drive that is geared towards Ethiopians. We’ve seen how enthusiastic Ethiopians have become when they discovered the work we do in Ethiopia. We see a very positive attitude and desire to help by a large number of Ethiopians. We’d like Ethiopians to support our work by becoming members and donating ten, twenty or whatever amount of money they could. Every book week has a theme around which we can raealy afford on a monthly instalment. We’d like to get a few thousand Ethiopians signing up for this monthly donation. Those who can afford can sponsor a library in memory of someone they love, sponsor a Donkey Mobile Library, sponsor publishing of a book, etc. There are so many ways our fans could be involved. People can find more information on our web site ethiopiareads.org.

Tadias: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Since 2003, Ethiopia Reads has organized an annual Ethiopian Children’s Book Week, an annual celebration of books, reading and libraries. During our first book week, we took more than a thousand children on a march to the Ethiopian Parliament with a petition asking the government to provide libraries and boks for children. We’ve special programs everyday of the week such as Read-A-thon, Book-A-Thon, Bread and Books Day, International Children’s Book Day, Book Launch, Golden Kuraz Award, the Star Reader Award, Art Day and many other activities take place during the one week. Every book week has a special theme as a focus. Readers are Leaders, Libraries for Rural Development, Bread and Books for Children, Those who read Bloom, Ethiopia Stretches her Hands, are the book week themes of the last six years. Special posters that reflect these themes are made and distributed. The next book week is the Sixth Ethiopian Children’s Book Week to be held April 1-7, as it always is, with a theme “Ethiopia Reads” (Ethiopia Tanebalech). What we want to share with Tadias readers is to celebrate book week with us by reading to children, by making books available to your family, support Ethiopia Reads and other organizations that work in Ethiopia.

Tadias: Thank you so much for your time, Yohannes, and good luck with your work.

YG: Thank you Tadias for your interest in the work of Ethiopia Reads and for supporting us by writing about our work.


Yohannes will speak in Harlem (New York)
Saturday, December 13 at 2:00 PM at Cafe Addis (435 West 125 Street, NY, 10027). Phone: 212-663-0553 (Mekonen or Negus).

Yohannes in Maplewood, New Jersey
Yohannes will appear at the Maplewood Public Library in Maplewood, NJ on Thursday, December 11 at 7 pm

Yohannes in Silver Spring, Maryland
Wednesday December 17 – 7:00pm Abol Restaurant, 8628 Colesville Road (across the street from the AFI Silver Theater) Silver Spring, MD 20910 (RSVP: Matt Andrea 202-232-9085, Maureen Evans 301-386-5610).



How to Buy Real Estate in Ethiopia: Interview with CEO of GojoSuites

Single family villa in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Photo courtesy of GojoSuites)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Wednesday, October 8, 2008

New York (TADIAS) – We recently spoke with Valerie Steele, CEO of GojoSuites – a brokerage firm that sells property in Ethiopia – about the current real estate market in that country.

Prior to her current position, Steele served as the Director of International Development for the Organization of Rehabilitation and Development in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.

Here is our interview with Valerie Steele:


Valerie Steele: CEO of GojoSuites

TADIAS: Please tell us about GojoSuites.

Steele: GojoSuites is a subsidiary of African First Real Estate Finance LLC (AFREF) and was developed to serve the Ethiopian diaspora who want to buy homes in their homeland. AFREF is currently developing additional companies that will serve diaspora from other African countries. GojoSuites has an exclusive contract with Ayat Share Company, Ethiopia’s real estate pioneer.

TADIAS: We understand that you recently relocated to Washington D.C. from Bahir Dar to become the CEO for GojoSuites. What attracted you to get involved in the real estate business in Ethiopia?

Steele: The Ethiopian real estate market, as the diaspora knows, is booming and it’s an exciting opportunity for Ethiopians around the world. When I lived in Ethiopia, I saw firsthand the development of new homes and neighborhoods with amenities only previously available in western countries. I know that the diaspora has a desire to be reconnected and I see the lack of connection between the developers and the home seekers and feel I could make a difference in bridging the gap.

TADIAS: You’ve mentioned that you have an “exclusive contract with Ayat share Company” in Ethiopia. Why only Ayat?

Steele: We chose to partner with Ayat because they are so well established and have gone through the learning curve to figure out what works and what doesn’t. With 12 years of experience and the fact that they have built and delivered more than 4,000 houses, they are truly the experts.

I spent a month with Ayat to understand the way they operate and to build the relationship with them so that we can effectively represent them in the US.

TADIAS: Why should people purchase a home in Ethiopia?

Steele: That’s a very personal decision. For some people, it is about providing a beautiful home for family members who live in Ethiopia. For others, it’s about making sure there is a place for them to return to live when they retire. And others recognize what an incredible investment it is since the Ethiopian real estate market has been hot for several years and is expected to continue to be in the foreseeable future.


Photo: Villa – single family house – in Ethiopia (courtesy of GojoSuites)


Single family villa in Ethiopia (photo courtesy of GojoSuites).

TADIAS: Who is legally eligible to buy property in Ethiopia from overseas?

Steele: Anyone who meets one of the following criteria:
1. Has Ethiopian citizenship and lives abroad
2. Foreign nationals of Ethiopian origin
3. Has Ethiopian parents

TADIAS: How affordable is a new home or apartment? What is the average price in your market?

Steele: Ayat is working hard to make housing affordable for those who have been unable to buy in the past. They are offering mortgage financing (50% financing for villas and 40% or 67% financing for apartments). And they are offering a unique plan where the buyer can lock in a price today and delay delivery of the home for up to five years. This gives the buyer more time to save money so that they can finance less of the cost of the house and save interest.

Ayat apartments start at $42,951 for a two bedroom 62m2 home. Villas (single family houses) start at $144,941 for a two bedroom, 72m2 home. These prices include the 15% VAT and land lease. Also, Ayat is offering 5% discount off the base price (not including VAT) of a new apartment home in Ayat Mender until October 31. The prices for all Ayat homes will increase November 9 so, for people who are ready to buy, now is a good time.


Apartment building illustration (Apartments are currently under construction).

Some people tell us the prices are high but those are individuals who have not been to Ethiopia for many years and do not realize how prices have changed since they were last there. In fact, the customers who buy Ayat homes are quite satisfied with the prices and, to our knowledge, Ayat homes are actually priced below market rates.

TADIAS: Are there are any U.S. taxes, fees or penalties that potential customers would need to pay Uncle Sam for owning land in Ethiopia? Also are there any hidden fees from the Ethiopian government that we need to know about?

Steele: We are not aware of any taxes, fees or penalties that would be owed to the US government for owning property in Ethiopia but we always advise people to check with their tax person or accountant on matters such as these.

As far as fees from the Ethiopian government, there is value added tax (VAT) which is 15%. VAT is included in the published price of all Ayat homes. There is also the title deed transferring fee of 6%, which is not included in the published price.

TADIAS How does financing work for U.S. residents?

Steele: Prospective buyers have several options. They can pay cash as a lump sum or on an installment basis as their home is built. The final payment is made at the time the home is turned over to the buyer.

Or, as I mentioned above, they can select from Ayat’s financing options. Ayat lets the customer choose the length of the mortgage for up to 30 years. We are not aware of anyone else offering a financing option this long.

5% will lock in the price of any villa or apartment for up to 90 days after the expiration of that price. 10% is needed to get a contract on a specific property.

TADIAS One of the biggest complaints we hear from Diaspora homeowners and investors is that new houses are never completed within the time frame that clients are promised. Is that a problem that people should expect?

Steele: Ayat and other builders experienced delays in the past due to limited availability of raw materials, such as cement, steel and other imported construction items, lack of access to construction financing and outdated construction techniques. GojoSuites and Ayat are aware of this issue and are creating solutions to overcome it. For example, GojoSuites is partnering with Ayat to identify new approaches to construction that can speed up the process. And Ayat is researching the potential for building their own cement factory so they will be less reliant on external vendors. Initiatives such as these are giving Ayat the confidence to guarantee us there will be no delays.

TADIAS: What advice would you give to someone who is considering acquiring a primary or second home in Ethiopia?

Steele: We are not in a position to give advice to prospective buyers but we can reiterate what we know from those who have chosen to buy a home. It’s a wonderful way to connect with your homeland and help or be near to the people you love. Having lived in Ethiopia, I have a deep appreciation for the closeness of families and the beauty of many local traditions, so I understand why people who grew up in Ethiopia want to reconnect. And it’s a great investment opportunity.

TADIAS: What is the most challenging issue you face as a Real Estate Professional for property in Ethiopia?

Steele: Helping customers overcome the negative stigma that was associated with home real estate development in the past. Real problems occurred and, though Ethiopia has not reached the level of speed and predictability that exists with home construction in the US, it’s come a long ways and we expect that improvements will continue over time.

TADIAS: Tell us one of your client success stories or an interesting moment in your profession.

Steele: A woman who recently visited our office has been helping out an older woman and a young orphaned girl who live in Addis Ababa, both of whom have no families. Her dream is to buy a home for them where they can live together and become a family for each other. Another couple has children that are nearly grown and they want to buy a home in Addis so their sons can visit and become more connected with their Ethiopian heritage. These are examples of the fun part of my job of making people’s dreams come true.

TADIAS: How do you expect the housing market in Ethiopia will be affected by the global meltdown in real estate?

Steele: So far so good! The Ethiopian real estate market continues to grow at an astounding rate, despite all of the unprecedented and shocking situation in home real estate in the US. In fact, we wonder if it will make buying a home in Ethiopia even more attractive because people feel safer investing there than they do in the US right now.

TADIAS: How do you advertise and how can potential buyers learn about your company and the services you offer?

Steele: We are advertising in Ethiopian media in major US cities where Ethiopians live. In October, we are having free seminars every Sunday afternoon in our DC headquarters to provide detailed information about the opportunities available. In 2009, we will go on tour to the major US cities where Ethiopians live.

For more information, call us at 202-234-gojo [4656] or visit our website at: www.gojosuites.com.

TADIAS: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Steele There are many Ethiopians from the diaspora moving back to Ethiopia for several reasons. These include medical doctors, IT experts, engineers and entrepreneurs. They don’t want to deal with the hassle of buying houses from Addis Ababa brokers (“delalas”) so they come to us for a hassle free experience.

We are very excited about the opportunity to meet you and get to know you so that we can help make your dream of owning a home in Ethiopia come true!


Publisher’s note: GojoSuites advertises on Tadias Magazine.

Conversations with an Ethiopian-American Obama Organizing Fellow

By Tadias Staff

Published: Tuesday, September 16, 2008

New York (Tadias) – We recently spoke with Washington, D.C. resident Kedist Geremaw, a health care administrator and one of the 3,600 individuals who were selected and trained as an Obama Organizing Fellow this summer.

According to the Obama-Biden campaign website, the Fellows are “trained on the basics of organizing & campaign fundamentals and then placed in a community to carry out grassroots activities.” Their purpose? To encourage “a new generation of leadership that believes, like Senator Obama, that real change comes from the ground up.” Individuals who pass the highly selective process end up working a minimum of 30 hours per week alongside other grassroots leaders and the Obama campaign staff.

Kedist Geremaw (whose daughter Naomi Senbet, a 2004 Kids-Week Jeopardy contestant, also featured on Tadias along with Naomi’s father Professor Lemma W. Senbet) says she was sold on the idea of becoming a Fellow after reading Obama’s memoir, Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance.

Geremaw hopes Obama will become the next President of the United States. She recounts her initial introduction to the man. “Some time ago, someone suggested a book called Dreams From my Father, and after I was done reading, I went out and purchased Obama’s second book: The Audacity of Hope. I was hooked!! When he declared his intention to run for the presidency, I jumped on the bandwagon and joined the D.C. for Obama group,” she says. She took a road trip to Denver to hear Senator Obama’s historic acceptance speech on August 28th at Invesco Field.

“It was a historical and unbelievable experience,” she recounts with excitement. “There wasn’t a dry eye in the stadium; there was hugging, high fiving, flag waving, cheering. There were people of all backgrounds, colors, ages. It was unlike the other campaign.” “In Denver,” she concludes, “people were unified under one cause and a future President.”


Kedist Geremaw at Senator Obama’s historic acceptance speech on August 28
at the Invesco Field at Mile High in Denver, CO.

Geremaw had worked for Ethiopian Television prior to immigrating to the United States. “As a Washington, DC resident I have been troubled by the lack of representation in both Houses – the Congress and the US Senate. This started my journey to greater political involvement. I have been part of a community of grassroots organizers for many years” she says.

“‘No man is an island entire of himself’,” she adds quoting John Donne, “so I come to this campaign with the spirit of enthusiasm of a grassroots organizer hoping to make a contribution to my community, my country and my world.” As a health care worker, Geremew sees health disparities every day. “And as an informed citizen,” she says, ” I see an unnecessary war which has alienated our country from the rest of the world.”

Asked about the possibility of Ethiopian Americans swinging the vote in states like Virginia, where the election is expected to be close, Geremaw’s answer is an emphatic ‘yes.’

“If we go back and look at what happened in 2000 the gap between the two candidates was so minimal, with the high number of Ethiopians living in Virginia, the swing vote is a reality within our reach. The answer is yes, yes, and yes,” she says confidently.

Does she have time to collaborate with the swelling Ethiopians for Obama movement?

“I am very much familiar with the effort of Ethiopians for Obama,” she replies. “I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for choosing me as person of the week for my involvement in the campaign. They are working tirelessly doing voter registration by going to where our Ethiopian community congregates including churches and restaurants.”

She also mentions the annual pilgrimage to the Ethiopian soccer tournament which took place in early July.

“There was a lot of work done at the Ethiopian soccer tournament early this summer. These young energetic Ethiopian Americans are working hard, day in and day out” she adds.

And about the recent McCain-Palin surge in the polls?

“You know what? I am the most optimistic person. I have this belief in what is at hand. It is like a wave and nothing will stop it. But the reality is between now and November things can happen which may change the course. Our obligation is to stay focused in our work and commitment,” she says.

Geremew then quotes Eleanor Roosevelt: “‘The future belongs to those who believe in beauty of their dreams’. To make the dream a reality we as citizens need to register and VOTE.” “It is our civic duty,” she emphasizes, ” that is the only way to bring profound change.”

Geremaw, who tells us that she has incorporated the American culture of volunteerism into her lifestyle, believes that getting involved is the only way to make a difference. “A lot of my close friends complain at times about the little time I spend with them. Every time I am away from my professional duties my time is spent on volunteerism. I love it and it is rewarding. Your horizon, your network, your knowledge is enhanced by these experiences,” she concludes.

“When the founding fathers wrote the masterpiece that is our constitution, they did not foresee the great influx of new citizens, like you and I, that have arrived from every corner of the globe, and that now make up the beautiful fabric of this nation. As we assimilate and enjoy its many benefits we must also assume our share of the responsibilities of civic duty and volunteerism.”

There is much for Geremew to accomplish as an Obama Organizing Fellow, and the creativity, dedication, and optimism that she and her colleagues are displaying is inspiring, commendable, and contagious.

Obama Team Hires Selam Mulugeta

Selam Mulugeta (Courtesy photo)

Tadias Magazine
By Tadias Staff

Published: Wednesday, July 30, 2008

New York (TADIAS) – The presidential campaign of Senator Barack Obama has hired Selam Mulugeta, an Ethiopian American, who formerly served as a Congressional Staffer and Special Assistant to Rep. Mike Honda (D-Calif.), founder and Chair of the Congressional Ethiopia and Ethiopian American Caucus.

“I will be a Field Organizer in the Northern Virginia region,” Selam told Tadias Magazine. She formally joined the Obama campaign earlier this month.

“This means that I would be doing community organizing at the grassroots level to increase the number of registered voters, and most importantly, to increase voter turn-out in November.”

Members of the Democratic support group Ethiopians for Obama (E4O), which is active in Virgina, often say that the November election may be decided by a few thousand votes, and the robust Ethiopian American presence there may end up being a deciding factor.

Selam Mulugeta agrees. “In states like Virginia, Ethiopians are in a unique position to swing the vote,” Mulugeta said. “If all of us who are eligible to vote do so, then we could potentially win the state.”

Selam added: “The responsibility is tremendous, but doable. We can accomplish this by investing more time in the campaign and fully extending the reach of our influence. I am a member of the steering committee for E40. I have always supported the organization, even from its days as a loose discussion group formed in someone’s living room. I am so proud of the work that has already been done, and even while I was on the Hill I was quite adamant about engaging its leaders. My role in E4O will be to empower Ethiopians to realize that they can support the Obama campaign by volunteering.”

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Selam Mulugeta with Capitol Hill Backdrop

Asked about the high level of excitement within the African immigrant community particularly about the prospect of electing the first African American President, Mulugeta says the candidate’s background is attractive to Africans in general.

“African immigrants can identify with Barack Obama because he himself is a second generation African American. More than that, he identifies with his own African heritage in a way that we all can be proud of”, she said. “He was able to achieve a level of success that our parents or first generations dream of for their children.”

She pointed out that Obama, because of his African background, will be in a strong position to advocate for better governance in the African continent.

“We also believe that his shared appreciation for Africa makes him the ideal President” she said. “He will not be afraid to engage and confront the challenges of achieving political stability and economic independence throughout the African continent, while preserving the dignity of its people. It is all the more reason that Diaspora Africans in this country should remain visibly involved in the campaign.”

The gregarious and young former Congressional staffer landed her gig on Capitol Hill fresh out of college and says she was attracted to the job by her former boss’s dedication to advocate on behalf of his Ethiopian American constituents in San Jose, California.

ellison-campaign_university-of-mn-2006_inside.jpg
Selam Mulugeta Campaigning on behalf of Congressman Michael M.
Honda for Keith Ellison for Congress. September 2006.

“I interned for Congressman Honda during the summer after college graduation. I had the opportunity to work on building the Caucus because of the open-mindedness and dedication of the Congressman to the Ethiopians in his District. There was a clear need to create a voice for Ethiopian Americans in the legislative process, and I was hired to exercise that potential. The Congressman wanted to create an institution that could maximize that potential, so there was a clear need for someone to develop this institution on a full time basis”, she said.

“The Caucus is an organization of Member of Congress who all believe that the Ethiopian American agenda is a priority, or that Ethiopia is a strategic ally in Africa. Members of this Caucus usually have a strong relationship with the Ethiopian community in their districts, or believe that Ethiopia can play a leading role in achieving peace and economic stability on the continent.”

Asked to name what she considers as the significant achievement of the Caucus, Selam said: “The most significant achievements are passing language in Appropriations Bills on Ethiopia, and organizing a huge effort to recognize the Ethiopian Millennium. On Appropriation, Congressman Honda was able to pass language to encourage the Administration to fund development programs in Ethiopia that are led by Ethiopian Americans.”

“Mr. Honda advocates for the support of Ethiopian American NGOs because he believes that they should play a role in guiding US development policy toward Ethiopia,” she noted.

“On the Millennium, the Caucus was able to seize the moment by organizing a festival on the Hill and passing legislation that would draw attention to the development concerns of Ethiopia”, Selam said. “The Caucus hosted a festival with live cultural performances, art exhibit, and food from the best Ethiopian restaurants in Washington DC.”

The event, attended by Tadias Magazine, had generated a crowd of over 500 people among whom were Members of Congress, USAID and State Department staff, NGO directors, grassroots leaders, and diplomats. “It was a joyous occasion that drew a lot of attention, so the Caucus was able to promote its development priorities most effectively,” Selam said. “Rep. Honda introduced a Resolution honoring the Millennium that passed a few months later. This was significant because it was truly the work of several Ethiopian American organizations – the Caucus made a concerted effort to seek the input of community leaders across the country, and it was the first project that proved how strong the community can be when leaders cooperate with one another.”

And her personal role in this achievement?

“I was the lead staff on the Appropriations related to Ethiopia in my office,” she said. “I also proposed and implemented the planning for the Millennium event on the Hill. And with the guidance and mentoring of Ted Dagne (CRS, Africa Policy Director), I helped to draft the Resolution. I thought that it would be much more meaningful to have the endorsement of several community organizations before seeking co-sponsorship.”

Equipped with Capitol Hill experience and youthful zeal, Selam Mulugeta has embarked onto her next challenge. “Most Ethiopians are registered to vote, but their responsibility to electing the new President does not end there,” she said. “They will have to join the movement by registering their family members, their children, their friends at church or mosque. Our strength is in volunteering.”

Selam has joined the ranks of thousands of like-minded and optimistic young professionals who have answered Senator Barack Obama’s call for change.

Related:
Ethiopian Americans May Swing the Vote in Virginia (TADIAS)
African Immigrants Among Obama’s Enthusiastic Backers (The Washington Post)

Interview: The New Boss at Red Cross

Bekele Geleta, Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross (Photo courtesy of the Canadian Red Cross)

Tadias Magazine
By Liben Eabisa

Published: Thursday, May 29, 2008

New York (Tadias) – It was announced in Geneva last week that Ethiopian-born Bekele Geleta, 64, has been appointed as the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.

Mr. Geleta is currently the general manager of international operations for the Canadian Red Cross. He spent five years in prison in Ethiopia, and later served as a Cabinet Minister and the Ethiopian Ambassador to Japan.

According to The Ottawa Citizen: “Geleta came to Canada as a refugee in 1992, settling in Ottawa with his wife, Tsehay Mulugeta, and four young sons. He soon started building a new career in humanitarian work, serving with Care Canada, the Red Cross and other organizations,” which eventually led to last week’s announcement of his new prestigious post.

Below is my interview with Bekele Geleta.

(But first here is a recent CNN Video on the voice of the Red Cross)

Video: Bekele Geleta – Life of Service

Tadias Magazine’s interview with Bekele Geleta
Published: Thursday, May 29, 2008

Tadias: Mr. Geleta, congratulations from all of us at Tadias on your new position. How does it feel to be named the Secretary General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies?

Mr. Geleta: Well, good, firstly. There’s a bit of anxiety around taking over a huge challenge with great responsibilities. We’re seeing more disasters with increasing frequency and intensity; conflicts around the world are creating worsening vulnerability. There’s desperation, famine, insecurity, urban violence – the world of humanitarian work is becoming more and more challenging and therefore I’m coming into the Secretary General position at a very critical time. I feel very determined to make a difference in the lives of the vulnerable going forward.

Tadias: How do you imagine your typical work day would be like in Geneva?

Mr. Geleta: Well, it will be very interesting. I’ll start very early in the morning, attend and lead meetings, take time to reflect, conceptualize and give guidance. I like to walk around and talk to staff in their offices, motivate them, and I’ll respond to requests and issues raised by national Red Cross and Red Crescent societies from around the world.

The days for the Red Cross chief executive are extremely busy. There is no down time. I know this from my days as head of the Africa Department in the late 90s and early 2000. My days were extremely busy so, I can imagine that for the Secretary General it will be full and busy days.

Tadias: In all of your years building a career in humanitarian work, what do you consider your finest achievement?

Mr. Geleta: Every effort in the humanitarian world is an achievement. Every life saved is an achievement. Every livelihood contributed to or improved is an achievement. It’s really difficult to say, this is better than that. In the Red Cross – even when I was in prison – I considered every contribution to be a good contribution.

Probably the most sustainable contribution is what I was able to do in building the capacity of Red Cross and Red Crescent societies in Africa and South East Asia. That’s extremely important because when disasters happen the early hours are the hours in which the most lives are saved; the period before international support arrives. So, the more capacity that’s been built-up internally and the more sustainable it becomes, the more effective it will be in saving lives in those early hours after a disaster and reducing vulnerability. Capacity is extremely important. Capacity of indigenous organizations and capacity built-in to the community factor largely in the humanitarian world and I’ve done quite a bit in this area in the countries I have worked in.

Tadias: We have learned through press reports that you spent five years in prison in Ethiopia, and later served as a cabinet minister and as the Ethiopian ambassador to Japan. How have your experiences in Ethiopia helped you in your career serving as a humanitarian?

Mr. Geleta: I have known vulnerability first hand. I come from a poor family. I worked myself out of it.

I have lived in a prison where for the first two years, at five o’clock, nearly every day, buses arrived, names were called, they were taken away and those people never came back. No one would see them again or know what became of them or whose turn would be next. It was very difficult life in prison and a terrible kind of vulnerability to live through.

I have also been a refugee, in Canada, which also brings its own kind of vulnerability. Not in that you don’t have food or a place to stay. Not that your children won’t be able to attend school. It’s a vulnerability based in the feeling that you are a burden on a society that you have not contributed to. It’s a different kind of vulnerability.

But that actually makes one feel very strongly about supporting the vulnerable. I identify with the vulnerable and feel very strongly in my heart that I must work to support them.

On the good side of life I have been a deputy minister and ambassador to Japan. These positions exposed me to management skills, to the workings of diplomacy and enabled me to gain a certain comfort when dealing with heads of state and people at all different levels of government. And it enables a person to feel comfortable in any situation – from the lowest point in prison to the imperial palace – I feel able to contribute at any level.

It prepares a person to be useful at all levels and has prepared me well to quickly assess situations, I can easily enter into dialogues with people at the highest levels and I can also work with volunteers and staff to most efficiently respond to a disaster or other situations.

bekele-geleta1_inside.jpg
Above: Mr. Bekele Geleta, General Manager, Canadian Red Cross
International Operations hands over a symbolic key to Mr. Siasat Baeha,
Head of Village of Hilihati, Lahewa, Indonesia.
Photo Courtesy of Canadian Red Cross.

Tadias: We understand that you came to Canada as a refugee in 1992, settling in Ottawa with your wife and four young sons. What are your reflections regarding your Canadian home?

Mr. Geleta: I often tell my Canadian colleagues, I’m a Canadian by choice, not by accident and there’s a big difference in that. If you are a Canadian by birth, you’ll probably only start to really feel it when you are outside the country for the first time. But if you are a Canadian by choice, you come here and you realize how important it is to your life. And then you realize that this country, the Canadian people have done a lot of good. They take you in, they help you to establish a home, ensure that your children can attend school, it’s tremendous. So, I feel really great about choosing Canada as my adopted home.

There is some difficulty when people like me come, having been educated at one of the best universities in the world and having worked in your home country at a certain level but you come out of your country and become a refugee. They can’t fit you in at a senior level in your new country because you don’t know the system. They can’t graft you somewhere in the middle because there are those who have been working their butts off to achieve those positions and so it’s very difficult for organization to graft a refugee into what they might consider a suitable level. But we can’t be taken as beginners either. We’re not beginners. So essentially we become misfits. It’s not anyone’s fault, it’s simply what we are. That’s the reality

Therefore it’s up to us. At whatever level of experience, whatever level of education, we must find a way to access the new country’s systems. That’s what I did and I’m not alone.

There are a great many refugees who have attained certain levels of education or experience and come to new countries and I hear them complaining and I say, complaining is not enough. One has to do the work, one has to make a major effort to find a way to access the system and it does not depend on the new country. It depends on you.

And once you realize it’s up to you and you make the effort you will come to see that great opportunities are available.

So, my message to other refugees is, find a way. Canada is a great country and we are lucky to live here.

Tadias: What’s your vision for the Red cross for the following years under your direction?

Mr. Geleta: Well, this interview comes a bit early to fully answer that question, just at the very beginning of this assignment, before I take over the position.

The one thing I can say is that the Red Cross has an excellent strategy called Strategy 2010 which was formulated in 2000, revised four years ago in Seoul and articulated the direction of the Federation going forward. This strategy will hopefully go a long way toward making the Red Cross, the largest humanitarian movement, the most efficient and most reliable civil society organization in the world.

One should always remember is that the Red Cross has a special relationship not only with the community but also with governments around the world. This makes the Red Cross unique because there is no other civil society that has established a permanent presence in every country and community. Only governments or faith-based organizations have permanent presences in every country. The only civil society entity that has come to that level is the Red Cross. It’s known everywhere by everybody and it’s challenge, my challenge, is to make it the world’s most efficient humanitarian organization; an organization that everyone feels comfortable with, an organization that people feel they can turn to and know they can rely on.

So that’s what I’ll be working on and from the lessons of Strategy 2010, I will look forward to 2020.

Tadias: There has been recent press reports that famine is once again imminent in Ethiopia. According to BBC: “Six million children in Ethiopia are at risk of acute malnutrition following the failure of rains, the UN children’s agency, UNICEF, has warned. More than 60,000 children in two Ethiopian regions require immediate specialist feeding just to survive.” Does this concern the Red Cross? and if so what are your plans to act to prevent this disaster?

Mr. Geleta: The Federation has already issued a preliminary appeal for 2 million Swiss Francs but that is preliminary. Assessments are being done and following the assessments, there will be further appeals for funding to support the Ethiopian Red Cross Society in the work they will be doing to help the vulnerable, the children.

Ethiopia has a strong Red Cross Society. I worked very hard to make it a sustainable organization and it is a strong society with many volunteers and good leadership. So the Federation has good and reliable partners in the Ethiopian Red Cross Society and we will be doing a full assessment around the issue of food security and as necessary increasing the level of expertise sent into the country to support the national society.

Tadias: Is there anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Mr. Geleta: The message I have for Ethiopians in the Diaspora: please do less politics; more development. And participate and contribute to the humanitarian endeavours which will help lessen the vulnerability of Ethiopians. You can always take the Red Cross as your partner. You can support your people in Ethiopia – including the children – by supporting the work of the Red Cross. The Ethiopian Red Cross or, if you like, the Canadian Red Cross, because you can be certain that there you have a partner in lessening the vulnerability of people.

Tadias: Mr. Geleta, once again our warm thanks for taking our questions and best wishes in your endeavors.

—-

Bernos Tees blend hip and culture

By Tadias Staff
Published: March 28, 2008

New York (Tadias) – It all started with a boring job that left graphic designer Nolawi Petros itching to do something artistic.

Designing test booklets for No Child Left Behind at his day job did little to satisfy Petros’ appetite for artistic creation.

“The truth is, I was at a job where I didn’t have a lot of creative things to do,” Nolawi says.

So he decided it was time to launch Bernos, an online t-shirt vending company that now doubles as a sort of virtual Ethiopian community center through an active blog.

He had been kicking around the idea of starting a t-shirt designing and making venture for some time.

“If it works, it works; if doesn’t, it doesn’t,” Petros said at the time, but he thought it was at least worth a try.

It did work.

In May 2005, launched Bernos with three designs: Addis Ababa Classic, a red shirt with the words “Addis Ababa” written in a font resembling Coca-Cola’s, an Abebe Bekila shirt, and a shirt featuring Desta Keremela, the staple candy brand found in pretty much every souk in Ethiopia.

bernos_inside1.jpg
Above: Bernos shirt with the words “Addis Ababa” written in a font resembling
Coca-Cola’s. (Photo: Bernos.org).

bernos_inside2_new.jpg
Above: A shirt featuring Desta Keremela, the staple candy brand found in pretty
much every neighborhood shop in Ethiopia. (Photo: Bernos.org).

The business is named after the heavy wool cloak that became a status symbol after being introduced to Ethiopia by the Arabs.

“Wearing the Bernos in Ethiopia was a lot like wearing a sheriff’s badge in the American West,” Bernos says on its website.

“Today, anyone can capture and celebrate some of Ethiopia’s history and the status of the Bernos by wearing one of our unique t-shirts.”

And if the fact that they’ve sold out of many of their designs is any indication, the Bernos t-shirt is a status symbol that more than a few people have bought into.

Petros says that for the 13 designs that the website has now, he’s probably designed another 30 that he’s decided to toss out or hold on to for later.

While Petros handles much of the design work, he has business partners handle the other elements of running a business: Dawit Kahsai handles finances, Meron Samuel is the head of marketing and sales, and Beshou Gedamu is Bernos’ t-shirt model and photographer.

So far, the venture has been built on volunteer labor—the partners view their time as their primary investment in the business, Petros says.

The Bernos site gets about 500 hits a day, mostly Abeshas on the East Coast, Petros says, but although the Bernos team are Ethiopians (Dawit Kahsai is Eritrean), they don’t see their venture as an “Abesha” or even an “African” brand.

Most orders do come from major U.S. cities with big Abesha populations: Oakland, Seattle, Washington, DC, and New York City, some order have popped up from more far flung locations—everywhere from Fargo, North Dakota to Mississipi.

Even though they’ve cornered the internet-savvy Abesha market that likes hip T-shirts, Petros says a little number-crunching reveals that market is still pretty small.

“Let’s say there are 500,000 Ethiopians in the U.S.—out of those, 20 percent use the internet, (and of those, some) are into fashion or T-shirts. So, when you think about it, we don’t have a big market,” says Petros.

About 30 percent of the T-shirts go to non-Ethiopians, and Petros says they’re trying to expand that number. That trend has been reflected in the shift in designs from the “Addis Ababa Classic” that launched the site to more recent designs named “Roots,” and “d’Afrique,” which have more pan-African appeal.

dafrique4inside.jpg
Above: “d’Afrique”, a more recent Bernos design. (Photo: Bernos.org).

roots4inside.jpg
Above: Another recent design named “Roots,” which has a more pan-African
appeal. (Photo: Bernos.org).

But Petros says he wants to branch out of that niche too.

“These t-shirts have mass appeal for all black people but also for white people,” Petros said.

With t-shirts that garner a broader following, Bernos hopes their line will eventually be carried by a national clothing chain like Urban Outfitters.

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Learn More about Bernos Tees at Bernos.org

Brooklyn to Addis: Chat with Henok Assefa

Photo taken in 2004 when Henok left the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. To the left and right of him, the president and vice president of the chamber at the time respectively.

Tadias Maagazine
By Liben Eabisa

New York (TADIAS) – We recently received a press release from Addis Ababa by Precise Consult International (PCI), a business consulting group managed by Henok Assefa, a former Director of iBrooklyn, the flagship home site of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce.

PCI organized (with financial support from The World Bank, USAID, and The Embassy of the Netherlands) the first annual Ethiopian Diaspora business conference, which took place in Addis Ababa on September 19, 2007 at the UNECA conference center.

In the press release sent to Tadias Magazine, the group announced that it has partnered with Access Capital Services, a local Ethiopian investment firm (founded by a former member of the New York Wall Street Ethiopian community), to offer attractive equity investment opportunities to the Ethiopian Diaspora.

We reached Henok Assefa, Managing Partner at PCI, at his office in Addis Ababa

(Photo: Henok Assefa)

Tadias: Henok, where in New York did you grow up and when did you move to Ethiopia?

Henok: How’s it going in Harlem, Tadias? How is the best city in North America treating you all these days?

You know I was always meant to be a New Yorker. Even in Addis, I grew up around Arada Giorigis (piazza) or more specifically Dejach Wube Sefer (Wube Bereha) which is like the New York of Ethiopia.

In New York, I spent most of my years in the Bronx and Manhattan. I did both my first and second degrees at Fordham University in the Bronx. I also spent a considerable amount of time working in Brooklyn. I have a special attachment to New York as it has given me so much and helped to create the person I am today. Everyone who knows me expects me to visit the city at least twice a year. I never seem to be able to stay away for too long. New York is in my blood.

By the way, I want to take this opportunity to say hello to all my friends and family in New York….and of course, big up to Brooklyn and the Boogie Down Bronx!

Tadias: We understand that you were quite an athlete while growing up in New York. Or are you still an athlete?

Henok: I did well enough in Athletics. In addition to teaching me so much about discipline and team work, Athletics scholarship actually got me through college and graduate schools. I ran Division I track and field and cross country for Fordham University where I finished off my career as captain of both teams. I no longer compete. However, I have hardly been out of shape for more than a month since 1992. Luckily, Addis Ababa now has some really high class gyms and I manage to stay in shape. It is a way of life for me.

Tadias: Your company organized the the first annual Ethiopian Diaspora business conference. How did that go?

Henok: It was phenomenal! The conference exceeded our expectations in many ways. We packed up the UN Conference Center and there took place a genuine and very sophisticated discussion. Ethiopians from virtually everywhere in the World were in the audience and they wanted to hear about doing business in Ethiopia from those that are already doing it on the ground. They were certainly not disappointed.

Our panelists, all of whom had enjoyed high levels of success in corporate America and Canada were there sharing their business experience in a land much less developed but offered many opportunities nevertheless. Between Ermyas Amelga, Tadiwos Belete, Yoseph Kibur, and Mohammed Umer, these guys were responsible for the direct creation of almost 2000 jobs. In addition, as outspoken leaders in their respective industries, the dynamism the four are bringing into the Ethiopian economy is incalculable. It was clear that the audience left seriously inspired and we felt that it was truly history in the making.

But we didn’t simply leave the audience inspired. We wanted to start planting some business ideas in them. In the afternoon, we had interesting presentations from the Ethiopian Investment Commission, the Privatization Agency, and USAID’s Agribusiness development program.

We have since committed ourselves to keeping the Ethiopian Diaspora well informed of business opportunities in Ethiopia that offer reasonably high returns while helping the country to grow.

Tadias: We hear that you have partnered with Access Capital to do even bigger things. Tell us about Access Capital and your new project with them.

Henok: As a development and business consultancy, we at PCI have great faith in the potential that exists within the global Diaspora community (we call it Greater Ethiopia) to help change Ethiopia for the better.

There are 1-2 million of us overseas and pretty much all of us are die hard well wishers for our country. After doing months of studies, we have concluded that there are about four very effective ways for the Diaspora to contribute economically to the country while making money at the same time. These are through remittances, direct investments, importing Ethiopian products, and by making equity investments in local companies. We are partnering with Access Capital precisely because it offers the latter mechanism.

Set up by a former member of the New York Wall Street Diaspora, Access Capital Services is a local finance advisory and investment firm which helps companies raise capital to take advantage of investment opportunities in different sectors of the Ethiopian economy. In essence, it is helping to build well capitalized and globally competitive Ethiopian businesses based on well crafted business plans. What is unique and pioneering about Access Capital is that the companies it advises raise their capital by selling shares to the public. Outside of the banking and insurance industries, this does not happen very much in Ethiopia.

Most businesses here are weak and under capitalized because they lack precisely the mechanism Access Capital offers to raise equity. On the other hand, there is something close to 50 billion birr in the vaults of local banks. The public is keeping all this money in the banks, earning only 4% return in an environment with up to 20% inflation.

They are doing this because there are few safe opportunities in which they can invest to earn positive returns. Access capital is now helping to offer alternatives to simply keeping money in the bank.

Our partnership with Access Capital is simply designed to extend these equity investment opportunities to the Ethiopian Diaspora. We feel that much higher rates of return are possible by investing in Ethiopia’s emerging market than in stocks, bonds, and savings accounts in the West that yield very low single digit returns. The few share companies in Ethiopia today, the banks, regularly bring in return on investment (ROI) of 50 to 60% annually. But the best part is the knowledge that your money is now creating jobs and helping to build your country. This is why we’ve set up the website www.DiasporaInvest.com to keep everyone overseas informed of such opportunities.

Tadias: What exactly is the “emerging” equity market in Ethiopia? Give us specific examples.

Henok: It is actually a little known fact that Ethiopia had one of the earliest stock markets in Africa during the time of the Emperor. At the time, well capitalized share companies were built in the agriculture and other sectors and performed very well. Unfortunately, that era ended with the advent of communism in the 1970s.

Starting in the mid 90s, we started to see share companies being built in the banking and insurance industries even though there existed no stock market. Companies like Awash Bank and Dashen Bank have been turning in attractive returns for their shareholders ever since.

With the advent of Access Capital, you are now starting to see non-bank share companies. It appears also that this is slowly becoming a trend. A recent presentation by Access Capital on the launch of Access Real Estate Share Company (under formation) attracted over 1000 prospective investors.

There are other examples as well. For example, I just read in the paper today that Ato Abinet Gebremeskel, a close confidant of Sheik Al Amoudi, bought a big chunk of shares in East Africa Bottling, the company that produces Coca Cola in Ethiopia.

Tadias: We recently attended the meeting of the Abyssinian Baptist Church delegation to Ethiopia here in Harlem. Tadias actually did a story on it. At the meeting, they were talking about sending another delegation to Ethiopia soon. And interestingly, this time around, the group will be made up of business people looking for investment opportunities. We also had a discussion with a gentleman, an executive at BET, who told us that he was already in process to buy a house in the Old Airport area and starting a flower farm business with Ethiopian partners. So the question is: Are you targeting only and specifically the Ethiopian Diaspora? Or are you looking at the bigger pie?

Henok: Yes, I have followed the story on Tadias.com and also read about the members of the Abyssinian Baptist Church here in Addis. Unfortunately, I didn’t get the chance to meet with them. The African Union identifies African Americans as part of the greater African Diaspora. I think this is very appropriate. However, we are looking at things from an even bigger perspective.

You know what Ethiopia needs to develop economically is a dynamic productive sector that is well capitalized both financially as well as technologically. As a company, we have aligned our business objectives and services to help create and support such a productive sector.

In essence, we are also banking on the fact that Ethiopia will increasingly move in this direction thus creating more business opportunities for us. Therefore, even if our present immediate focus is specifically on the Ethiopian Diaspora, the services we are developing will serve anyone interested in doing business in or with Ethiopia. We are not only looking to attract and service our brothers and sisters in Harlem but also anyone looking to add value to the Ethiopian economy.

Tadias: What are the safeguards in place in terms of rules and regulations to assure safe investment and minimum red tape?

Henok: The Commercial Code of Ethiopia, produced during the time of the emperor, is a surprisingly well crafted piece of work that is still applicable today. It provides for the rules and regulations to oversee share companies. In addition, it is truly important that companies offering shares to the public have in place transparent and effective corporate governance structures.

Tadias: What is the minimum required to invest in these share companies?

Henok: It depends on the company that is offering shares. For example, the current offer by Access Capital is Access Real Estate Share Company. The minimum required investment is 25 shares or 25,000 birr payable in four installments over one year.

But it is also important to mention that there is maximum amount of shares one can buy which is 2000 shares. The idea is to make it hard for an individual or a group of people to control these share companies.

Tadias: How much money does the Ethiopian Diaspora send to family and friends in Ethiopia?

Henok: I have seen many different figures for this. However, the National Bank of Ethiopia figures suggest that the Diaspora annually sends in about USD $1 billion home. Of course, if you count in the money being transferred into the country unofficially, that is through people carrying cash and other informal means, the amount can be as high as USD $2 billion.

Tadias: Is it true that the Diaspora’s earning is much bigger than Ethiopia’s annual GDP?

Henok: Ethiopia’s GDP in 2006 was reported to be USD $13 billion. If you figure the low estimate that the 1-2 million Ethiopians overseas earn USD $10,000 a year per person, you are looking at an income of anywhere between USD $10 and $20 billion for the Diaspora as a whole. So in all likelihood, the Diaspora is probably earning even more than the home country is with its 80 million people.

Tadias: Do you know how much of that comes from the Ethiopian-American community?

Henok: We know that the Ethiopian-American community sends home significant amount of money. However, we don’t have that breakdown readily available. We hope to be making in-depth studies in the near future on the topic.

Tadias: Great chatting with you, Henok. Good luck.

Henok: Thank you! And keep up the good work at Tadias.
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Interview with an Ethiopian American Obama volunteer

By Liben Eabisa

New York – We contacted a volunteer for Senator Barack Obama’s Presidential campaign and sent our questions via email. Here is our interview with Adey Fisseha, law student here in New York and Harlem resident.

Tadias: Adey, thank you for agreeing to do this interview. We understand that you attend law school here in New York. Please tell us a bit more about yourself.

Adey: Before going to law school, I worked in DC in a number of policy positions but had never participated in politics until the 2004 Presidential elections. I was so disillusioned by the results of the 2000 election that I volunteered to go to Florida and “get out the vote” in the week immediately before the election. It was another disappointing result.

Tadias: How did you get involved in the Obama campaign?

Adey: Like many, I first heard Senator Obama speak when he gave the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic National Convention. I was impressed by Senator Obama’s oratory skill and was moved by his message – that we have to redraw the political map by appealing to the many issues on which a large cross section of the population agree. I decided to get involved because his candidacy is drastically reshaping how Americans view and practice politics. His vision moves us away from politics rooted on false divisions based on race, gender, ethnicity, and region towards one based on shared goals.


Adey Fisseha

In his first book, “Dreams of My Father,” Senator Obama recounts his experiences organizing among the low-income residents of Chicago’s South side. It is the skills developed working among disenfranchised people – of seeing complicated issues from multiple vantage points, bringing people who were on opposite sides of the spectrum together that I think are critical for the next President. The next President will have the monumental task of re-establishing civil and Constitutional Rights dismantled during this administration. Who better for the task than Senator Obama who taught Constitutional law and practiced as a Civil Rights lawyer.

Tadias: What is your role as a campaign volunteer?

Adey: This is a grassroots campaign. Volunteers can create their own events or participate in events that have been organized by other volunteers. For instances, on Thursday a classmate and I created a post on the Obama website that we planned to stand outside of the Union Square subway and hold up signs and hand out materials. At least 10 other Obama supporters signed up through the website and joined us. On Friday, I joined a group of people who had decided to do a visibility event outside of the 145th street subway station.

Tadias: We also understand that you have been active trying to reach Ethiopian Americans. How are you doing that?

Adey: There is a massive outreach scheduled for this weekend in Harlem. As a part of that effort we have asked Ethiopians’ who support Obama to pass out literature at the two churches based in Harlem.

Tadias: A significant number of older Ethiopian Americans, at least those that we have talked to, say that they will vote for Hillary because Obama will not win the general election. How do you answer that?

Adey: In the general election, the Democratic candidate will not only need the support of the democratic base but will also need to attract the independent vote. In Iowa and New Hampshire, Senator Obama picked up a significant portion of the independent vote. Further, he has also shown the ability to appeal to republicans. These indicate that he would make a strong contender in a general election.

Tadias: There was a high profile Harlem endorsement recently that was widely covered by the media. Reverend Calvin Butts, head of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, who led a 150 member delegation to Ethiopia this fall, has endorsed Senator Hillary Clinton. How serious a blow is that to your efforts?

Adey: I believe that Senator Obama has strong support among the residents of Harlem.

Tadias: The media is split on the question of whether Harlem is for Hillary or Obama. But a recent article by the New American Media had a headline that declared “Obama Has Harlem Locked.” Is Harlem really Obama country?

Adey: I believe that Senator Obama has strong support among the residents of Harlem.

Tadias: How can people get involved?

Adey: There are a number of ways that people can help. One: Vote. New York’s primary is on Tuesday, February 5th. Polling stations are open from 6 a.m. – 9 p.m. You must be a registered Democrat to vote in the Democratic primary in New York. Every vote counts — the New York primary is not winner-takes-all. Delegates are awarded proportionally so it is critical that everyone go out and vote. If you are registered, you can vote now at the Board of Elections’ Borough Offices. The Manhattan office is located 200 Varick St., 10 Fl. Borough Offices are open this weekend and on Monday 9:00 a.m. -5:00 p.m. and on Election Day until 9 p.m.

Two: Recruit. Talk to at least five additional people about why you support Senator Obama. Call and remind those people to vote on Tuesday.

Three: Contribute. 22 states are voting on Tuesday and buying ads, airtime, posters etc costs a tremendous amount of money. The race for the Democratic nominee is unlikely to be a decided on Tuesday as the race continues the campaign will require funds to continue to get its message out to voters. The purchase of T-shirts, sweatshirts and other items from the Obama Campaign website is also another way to donate to the campaign. To contribute go to the Obama website. To purchase T-shirts etc go to the Obama online store.

Four: Volunteer. Even if you only have an hour there are plenty of volunteer opportunities. The website lists volunteer opportunities throughout the country. New York residents can find volunteer opportunities at http://newyork.barackobama.com. Residents of other states should go to the main website www.barackobama.com and click on state.

Tadias: Thank you, Adey. Good luck!

A chat with director Wondwossen Dikran

By Liben Eabisa

New York – We recently had an email chat with Wondwossen D. Dikran, director of the independent film Journey to Lasta, which has been picked up by Vanguard Cinema, and is now available in most major outlets, including Amazon.com, Blockbuster.com, and Netflix.com.

In 2004, during a cover interview with Tadias Magazine, while discussing the pros and cons of being an indie filmmaker, Wondwossen had described his personal experience by providing a hefty list of pros.

“The freedom of artistic expression, the ability to take risks on new ideas that would otherwise be deemed ‘un-sellable,’ the pleasure of working with other equally passionate people,” he told Tseday Alehegn, Editor-in-Chief of Tadias Magazine.

“Magic happens when the group has a common goal and understands that it could not get any worse but rather better.”

Fast forward three years later, and the distribution deal for Journey to Lasta just got sweeter.

Tadias: Wondwossen, thank you for taking your time to speak with us. It’s good to hear from you again.

Wondwossen: It’s good to be back with Tadias. I miss getting my hard copies :-)

Tadias: Tell us about the deal with Vanguard Cinema.

Wondwossen: We were approached by Vanguard about half a year ago after an executive saw a screener copy of the film and got in touch with us to get the film a distribution deal in the US and international video / DVD and TV market. I was very excited and pleased with the proposal since they have a great reputation in the industry for distributing independent and foreign films that include titles by cinema giants such as Andre Wajda, Jacques Rivette and Michealangelo Antonioni to name a few. Their library is very unique, and the interest and passion they showed about the film gave us enough incentive to get the deal done. We are also very proud that an Ethiopian film has received a major distribution deal from a powerhouse such as Vanguard, and that the film will find an international audience that it would not have been able to reach otherwise.

Tadias: Just so you know, we just requested a rental from Netflix :-)

Wondwossen: Thank you. Make sure to rate, and write a review on it , and add me to your friend’s list. Me and Writer / Director Yemane Demisse send each other recommendations, so we would love it if you join the madness. I am also curious to see what the Tadias rental queue looks like:)

Tadias: How do you think your partnership with Vanguard Cinema will impact the future of the budding Ethiopian and Ethiopian-Diaspora film industry?

Wondwossen: I think it will bring us one-step closer to having our stories being able to reach audiences of all kinds, despite the geographical and other cultural barriers. I don’t think distribution will be an issue for our artists and our industry, if we made films and told stories that really matter. The market has been saturated with so much “fast-tracked” products for a quick buck. That attitude needs to change, and change very quickly.

Tadias: How do you define success as a filmmaker?

Wondwossen: These days, just waking up and being able to do what you love to do is a success, and i have been blessed as far as that is concerned. Obviously, having our work out there so that it can be seen is a pivotal part of the process in our profession, but i am also looking forward to working on the next thing, and the next, and the next.

Tadas: What are you working on these days?

Wondwossen: I have been working as a producer for a few Network shows on Television and getting experience in that world, which is a different beast all together. I have also been writing my next film, and seeing it come alive has been very exciting. I do not like to be comfortable, and always try pushing myself and my own creative limits. What you will be seeing from us in the next few years will be a series of assaults on the senses, and i mean that in the best sense of the term. And I will share that when the time is right.

Tadias: Anything else you would like to share with our readers?

Wondwossen: I would like to thank everyone who has supported “Journey To Lasta” for getting us here. For those who have not seen it yet, the film will be out Nov. 20th.

If you have any interest in film-making, writing, or would like to send your questions and comments, feel free to e-mail me @ wdikran@yahoo.com. I always make time to connect with audience from all over the world.

BTW, What Director Yemane Demisse has been cooking up in the kitchen is going to blow everybody’s minds away. I was very lucky to see many scenes from his upcoming film, and it looks fantastic. Look out for it.

Tadias: Great chatting with you, as always. Good luck.

Marcus launches cookware line

By Tadias Staff Writer

New York – Ethiopian-born celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson is introducing an exclusive line of professionally styled cookware, manufactured by Regal Ware Worldwide.

The new stainless steel cookware line named Marcus, which will be available at major retailers this fall, is aimed at the home chef who wants to prepare food like a professional.

“After cooking for so many years I wanted to make a switch in my cookware. There are far better stoves with higher heat appearing in home kitchens and I wanted to create a product to match,” says Samuelsson.

“MARCUS Cookware embodies my vision for every home chef to have the best products for their culinary experiences. More and more, real working pots and pans are being displayed in kitchens. Home chefs should be proud of their tools – that’s why I created such a sleek and contemporary line of cookware.”

Marcus Cookware is manufactured and distributed by Regal Ware Worldwide, the leading manufacturer of high quality stainless steel cookware in the United States. “We are pleased to partner with a chef of Marcus Samuelsson’s caliber in bringing this product to the retail market,” said Jeff Reigle, President and CEO of the Wisconsin based company. “MARCUS cookware reflects our tradition of offering the world’s finest cookware to promote the health and wellness of families today.”

rsz_cookware.jpg
Photo courtesy of Regal Ware Worldwide

According to a press release by Regal Ware Worldwide, a portion of all proceeds from the sale Marcus cookware will be donated to charities close to Marcus Samuelsson, which help to improve children’s lives.

The Marcus Cookware line consists of two Covered Stock Pots (8 quart and 5.4 quart); three Covered Sauce Pans (3.5 quart, 2 quart and 1 quart); two Covered Sauté Pans with Helper Handle (11.75 inch and 10 inch); three Fry Pans (11.5 inch, 10 inch, 8 inch); and a Pasta Set. Every item can be used on gas, electric, ceramic glass and induction stoves.

Born in Ethiopia, Marcus was adopted at age 3 and raised in Sweden. By the time he was 6, Marcus was spending countless hours in his grandmother’s kitchen, watching and learning from her. At 14, Marcus enrolled in cooking school, going on to apprentice in France, Austria and Switzerland. At the young age of 23, he became Executive Chef of Aquavit restaurant in New York City. Today, Marcus Samuelsson is recognized as one of the premier chefs throughout the world. From the James Beard Foundation to the culinary Institute of America, Marcus has received more accolades than most chefs receive in a lifetime.

rsz_21rsz_1marcus.jpg
Photo courtesy of Regal Ware Worldwide

Learn more about Marcus cookware at: marcuscookware.com

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The Universal Peace of Food: Conversations with Marcus Samuelsson

Above: Marcus Samuelsson at his home in Harlem, New York.
(Photo Credit: Tesfaye Tessema for Tadias Magazine).

Tadias Magazine
By Tseday Alehegn

New York (Tadias) – It’s a slightly drizzly evening in Manhattan and I’m walking with a loping gait to Aquavit restaurant, anxious that I am tardy, simultaneously juggling my umbrella, checking whether I brought my voice recorder, notes, interview questions and pen. My hurried steps are sharply interrupted by the calm and warm colored entrance of Marcus Samuelsson’s Scandinavian restaurant. As I wait by the door, slow down my pace, and go through the questions in my mind, I see his familiar figure, the midnight blue of the Aquavit uniform, a blackberry in hand and a welcoming smile. “Let me show you on a quick tour,” he says after we greet, knowing that it’s my first time here. “First – the kitchen.”

The spacious kitchen is divided by two main isles behind each of which stand a row of chefs, working like clockwork. Each plate out in front stands ready to be modeled as the most soigné art that food could be transformed into. We make an exit towards the café and settle down to talk about his most recent project – an adventure-filled trip throughout the African continent and the journey that led to his new book: The Soul of a New Cuisine. As I pull out my notepad and prepare my notes, Marcus steals a few moments to scroll through the emails on his blackberry. In just a few hours, after we wrap up our interview, he will be packing for another trip back to Ethiopia to see his birth father and his eight half-brothers and sisters, with whom he was first reunited in April of 2005. “I have to leave on a personal trip to Ethiopia, but I wanted to have this conversation now rather than later,” he says, then he turns off his phone, restores it in his pocket and lets me know that he is ready for our duologue.

marcus1.jpg marcus2.jpg

Africa on My Mind

The first time that Tadias Magazine had interviewed Marcus was in March 2003. Marcus had mentioned back then that he intended to work on an African cookbook. He had concluded the interview by saying that he wanted to write not just about Swedish or American food, but also about African cuisine. “People lump all of Africa, as if it’s one homogenous country,” I recalled him saying, and I remember the eagerness and determination in his voice to make this project a reality. Fast forward three years later and Marcus has traveled extensively with his photographer and friend, Gideon Kifle. Together they go from South Africa to Morocco; from the famous spice island of Zanzibar to the fish markets of Senegal.

“I have gone several times, but I began my travels to Africa in ’99.” Marcus says. “For as long as I can remember, I’ve had Africa on my mind,” he writes in the introduction of his new book, and he pieces together culinary treasures with his intimate, personal journey to the village where he was born as Kassahun Tsegie. His journey to reconstruct his family heritage is as much a journey of peace as is his quest for peace embodied in the sharing of food across cultural terrains. “My favorite term is ubuntu,” he says – a popular South African concept which translates as “I am what I am because of who we all are.” Being a chef is about remembering and practicing ubuntu. It is about food for the body and soul that peacefully unites us as beings, allowing for conversations and the sharing of happiness, knowledge, soul and love.

“I’m a Swede, I’m also an Ethiopian, and a New Yorker,” he says.

liben_marcus.jpg
ABOVE: Marcus Samuelsson and
Liben Eabisa walking in Harlem,
New York.

He can’t help but embrace and reify diversity in his identity and in his work. Marcus’ personal story of his adoption by Swedish parents, his passion for cooking and his eventual move to New York as one of the top chefs in the world is as colorful as his fusion of recipes renowned for their flavor, originality, and multicultural emphasis. Weaving together the diverse fabrics that constitute his life’s journey, Marcus reflects on his youth growing up in Sweden. “The difference between an immigrant and an adopted kid, is that when you are an immigrant you are more clear on your identity; you are Ethiopian. When you are adopted you are stripped a little bit of one identity, and when you grow up you sort of go back to that identity.” “And again, I can only speak for me, I can’t speak for someone else,” he adds.

“For me coming to America, and New York in particular, and being around Ethiopians, going to all the concerts – to weddings, to restaurants, I found a whole lot of community.” He compares his upper middle class Swedish upbringing with that of his childhood friend Mesfin’s, who lived in close proximity to Stockholm’s ‘Little Ethiopia’ neighborhood. “What my friend Mesfin had was a community that I wasn’t familiar with. He was exposed to Ethiopian music, language, identity and customs,” Marcus recounts. “Once I was in New York however, by going to Meskerem and Sheba [restaurants] and making friends like Yeworkwoha [owner of Ghenet Restaurant] who introduced me to work behind Ethiopian food, I got immersed in Ethiopian culture.”

My Medium is Food

His eyes light up and he lifts his head and chest higher as he admits that his exposure to a broader Ethiopian and African community as well as the overall spirit of internationalism in New York got him ruminating over how to tie it all together. “And it was only then that I started thinking, What can I do? What’s my medium? Well… my medium is food. So I went back there [Ethiopia] and gave a couple classes at the Sheraton for Ethiopian kids. For me it’s not a one-off , I want to be in the country with Ethiopian children, and show young people, show young men how to cook.”

From there Marcus vowed to see as much of Africa as he could, and to capture the myriad of dishes and ways of sharing and eating food that he discovered in his travels. While Marcus worked with Gideon on article assignments about Ethiopia for American news outlets, he also started thinking of other ways of giving Ethiopians tools to be proud of.

“There are so many stories coming out of Sweden in comparison to my Ethiopian side,” Marcus points out. “Cars, IKEA, there are so many brands coming out of that little country, and in the case of Ethiopia although there are many rich stories, the music, the art, the food..you don’t get as much exposure to it. So I wanted to do a project that viewed Africa and its cultures,” he concludes. “You know a lot of people think of Africa as war, famine, all this stuff , and for me..it’s like..every part of the world has that.”

Marcus has other reasons for wanting to write about the cuisine of the African continent and its diaspora. “Africa also has a huge deposit of oral history. A mother tells her daughter about music and food and so on. And this tradition of oral history is important, but the written history is also important,” Marcus asserts. “You know just going to Barnes and Noble you can find 500 books on Tuscany, a tiny region, and for a huge region like Africa you have three books.” Marcus is determined to show where the influences in Africa came from and where African influence spread to. “So in East Africa and Ethiopia, for example, you can see the Indian influences in their food, and when you go down to southern Africa you recognize Indonesian and Malay food. No part of the globe is untouched by Africa and vice versa.

Soul of a New Cuisine

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Motivated to show and encourage African-to-African connections, Marcus reflects on opportunities to learn from each other. “In general, South Africans don’t go up to Morocco and you don’t see Ethiopians going down to Angola. But it’s important to develop these connections, and it’s easy to do so through food. If I’m an Ethiopian family, let’s do a Senegalese dish tomorrow. Or if I’m Senegalese let me make a Malay dish tomorrow. Pan-European and Pan-Asian cuisine is a common occurrence now. You know if I am a Swedish family, Monday I have Italian, on Tuesday I’ll really like this French recipe and then on Wednesday I cook Swedish again. Well Ethiopians… we cook our food. And that’s great and it’s very nice,” he says. “But what if we just try a different path?”

“The food itself, the recipes may be ancient,” Marcus says of African cooking, “but I want this book to be a fusion of African cultures and food…sort of looking into the window of other countries within Africa. And ‘Africa’ doesn’t mean you have to live in Africa to experience it. It’s more about revealing this diversity, the richness, and being open-minded.” The combinations are endless and the experiences will be new, hence the title, The Soul of a New Cuisine. Along with the recipes Marcus has prepared a music album entitled Afrikaya, a compilation which features world music diva Gigi, and the new Ethiopian hip-hop fusion Bole to Harlem. “So it’s food, music, and people. I want something that other Africans will be proud of. The ‘new cuisine’ is that I make all these recipes palatable for Americans and the Western world.” Pan-African fusion is something you can’t find here on a regular basis.

“For example, I take an Ethiopian Shiro and I pair it with a fish dish from Morocco while borrowing cooking techniques from South Africa. So there is a fusion within the continent. And that’s what the ‘new’ is about.” As another example, Marcus suggests the term ‘Pan-Asian.’ “When I use this term with you, ‘Pan-Asian,’ you understand what that is. You can envision the fusion involved, which today is also considered fine dining.” “Fine dining,” Marcus reminds me, “came from a very elitist society.” It conjures up the image of French restaurants, a certain culture only for the upper class. “Today the fl avor of the food is considered fine dining. Now you go to Paris or London and they are catching on to fusion. So in the same way, you understand the term Pan-African as it relates to music, but how about Pan-African food?” Marcus gets us thinking about Pan-African ways of making and eating food.

The communal aspect of African cooking and ways of eating are very much a central core in Marcus’ writings. “In Senegal I stayed with my dishwasher’s family,” he shares. “They had grandmothers and other family members all living together. That was a way for me to get close.” It may have been more comfortable to travel throughout Senegal as a tourist, staying in hotel rooms and visiting local eateries, but Marcus knew from the start he would miss the fervor of communal cooking if he chose such a path. “You know I can’t wing it. I can’t do it from hotels either. I wanted to be there form the start, when they made breakfast and when they made lunch..to see the cooking together. I have to see it to really know it.” He took this attitude with him wherever he traveled to, and he noticed that although the recipes may be starkly different, the eating patterns throughout Africa had one thing in common – they were very communal. “Kids are welcome and grandparents are welcome in the preparation of food,” he notes. “In Africa, how we start a meal and how we feed each other…it’s very communal and it brings extended families together.”

From farming, to harvesting, to cooking, and to selling food in the marketplace, food transactions are a communal business. “I’ll tell you about the fish market in Senegal, which has such a beautiful, organic way of working,” Marcus enthuses. “The men go out to fish, drop off their catch to the women who run the fish market.” He describes in colorful detail the women selling fish. “They have several skirts on..and they lift up one skirt and they have Euros, and then Dollars, CFA Franc [Senegalese money]..and it’s like NASDAQ.” He makes the whirring sound of money being counted and continues, “And the kids help package the fish while the people come to buy it, and there is a certain rhythm to it. That to me is colorful and loud.” And it’s the larger experience of food and food making that you don’t see when you purchase packaged meals at a supermarket.

Every Place is Great for Me

Between the moments of discovering new foods, tastes, and cooking techniques Marcus perambulates around the open markets. He mentions Marakesh and Merkato, the latter, considered one of Africa’s largest open-air markets, being his favorite. “I enjoy places like Merkato. Wherever people see danger, I enjoy it. I travel deeper and deeper and see the mix of Jewish, Muslim, and Orthodox traditions. I just love it,” Marcus says. “What makes travel interesting is the people, their history, where they came from and where they are going to.” He points out that food, like any other aspect of culture, has its own history, and learning about food without the history wouldn’t make for a full experience. “Because of their history of trading with Arabians and Indians, the food of the people of Zanzibar is so flavorful,” he says. And he implants pieces of history among his recipes so that it becomes an exploration of a continent’s way of food and not just the raw ingredients. “I want to bring you onto that journey. And I have to do it thoroughly,” he says. “I have been privileged to go and be in South Africa, Sweden, New York, to Ethiopia. Most people haven’t had that opportunity.”

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I ask him which place he enjoyed the most, but Marcus is quick to answer “Every place is great for me.” “In order to do this [work] you have to be really curious,” he adds. “And there are stories everywhere..people are eager to tell you.” Marcus enjoys traveling. “Bahia is different from the rest of Brasil, and Addis Ababa has a different story than Soweto. You know when I’m in Ethiopia. It’s great. I feel at home. But when I go to a new place like Soweto, a place I’ve never been, and then Desmond Tutu writes the forward to my book, it takes on a whole other meaning for me. So I enjoy all of it…the entire experience.”

The Universal Peace of Food

The end result is a new cookbook, lots of travel stories, adventures, and something for UNICEF’s programs for children around the world. Marcus is donating part of the proceeds of The Soul of the New Cuisine to UNICEF programs. “There are so many great organizations in the world, but I picked two to work with: UNICEF and CCAP – one works with children internationally and the other works with public high school students.” As a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, Marcus had to come up with a program and he chose this cookbook as one of them. “I have been down to Ethiopia and seen the NGOs working. I don’t want to micromanage the process, but if I believe in your work then I’ll let you do your work the way you believe is best.” It’s all part of the process of using food as a medium of peace.

When you think of the first presence of food in your life, it’s easy to picture the image of a mother giving life-sustaining milk to her newborn child. One of the first acts of bonding and love is expressed through food. Mozart once said, “Neither a lofty degree of intelligence nor imagination nor both together go to the making of genius. Love, love, love, that is the soul of genius.” This is apparent in Marcus’ work.

“One thing that’s really cool about food is that everyone thinks their recipe is the best. But it’s great that they don’t fight about it. It’s not like money, and it’s not religion where someone is trying to convert you. Do you know what I mean? It’s peace,” Marcus asseverates with a smile and an earnest look in his eyes. As beings we are on a universal search for comfort and peace and Marcus shares how food is fundamental in that quest. “It’s a very peaceful way of taking pride in something. With food, people take a tremendous amount of dignity and say “I want to show you what I can do” without fighting,” he says “And I love that.”

The Soul of a New Cuisine is the new food, the new fine dining, and food itself is the universal peace.

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Above: Black Cook Wanted, painting by Samuelsson
Photos by Tesfaye Tessema for Tadias Magazine.
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About the Author:
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Tseday Alehegn is the Editor-in-Chief of Tadias Magazine. Tseday is a graduate of Stanford University (both B.A. & M.A.). In addition to her responsibilities at Tadias, she is also a Doctoral student at Columbia University.

Henok Tesfaye’s Success Story

Source: The Washington Post

Henok Tesfaye | From Valet to Used-Car Dealer

The way Henok Tesfaye’s mother smiles as she serves up some spicy doro wat in her U Street restaurant wasn’t part of the business plan that got Tesfaye a $35,000 microloan. But it’s certainly part of the result.

The story of how Tesfaye, who immigrated from Ethiopia at 16, was able to give his mother her own restaurant begins in the mid-1990s. Taking college courses and valet-parking cars in downtown Washington, he dreamed of bigger things. “While I was working, my mind always wanted to open my own business,” he says.

At 24, he had enough savings to rent a parking lot near 12th and U streets NW for $800 a month. But back then, in 1998, it was such a rough block that few people wanted to park there. So he turned half the space into a used-car lot, buying vehicles from nearby auto auctions and putting up for sale three or four at time. He made just enough to pay the bills.

In 2000, a potential buyer — a fellow Ethiopian, like most of Tesfaye’s customers — said he planned to finance his purchase with a loan from the Ethiopian Community Development Council’s Enterprise Development Group. When Tesfaye called to check, he learned of the group’s microfinance program and was told he could probably qualify for a loan.

Months later, he applied. EDG staffers pulled his credit history and reviewed his business plan. He told them that he wanted to expand and needed financing to enable him to bid on contracts to operate parking garages and open a second used-car lot.

“I tried maybe a couple of banks. They said, ‘No, you don’t have good business history.’ I was not in business for enough years,” Tesfaye said.

But EDG gave him a chance. Putting up a used Toyota Land Cruiser, Nissan Maxima and a Jeep for collateral, Tesfaye got a $35,000 loan at an interest rate of about 11 percent in 2003. He used it to buy more used cars — Hondas, Toyotas and Fords, he says, priced between $3,000 and $4,000 — and open a second small dealership in Bladensburg. He paid off the loan early.

The car businesses did well and Tesfaye’s cash flow increased. Relatives who immigrated to Washington joined his company. When a younger brother graduated from college, he helped oversee the business.

Today, Tesfaye’s company manages the 1,000-car parking lot at the old Washington Convention Center, as well as valet parking for several Washington area restaurants and clubs, including Fogo de Chao and Republic Gardens. His 50 employees are mostly immigrants, mainly from Ethiopia and Mauritania.

At 32, Tesfaye spends most of his time being a boss. But just in case he’s needed at one of the locations, he still keeps a red valet jacket in his car.

“I came to this country with no money, and I’m okay. I have a good life, you know,” he said.

Which brings the story back to his mother, Tiwaltengus Shenegelgn. Two years ago, Tesfaye and a brother made enough money to try a different kind of investment — they bought their mother a place at 9th and U streets NW. She turned it into a stylish Ethiopian restaurant called Etete, her Amharic nickname. The chicken dish called doro wat is a specialty of the house. The proprietor’s broad smile is a bonus.

“I am very happy to have my restaurant,” Shenegelgn says, clasping her hands before her chest.

To learn more about Henok visit: U-Street Parking

Read The Washington Post’s review of Etete restaurant, Henok’s gift to his mother.

Related Links and Tadias Stories:

Ethies in U.S. send billions back to Ethiopia
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Maitre Afewerk Tekle’s Odyssey

Maitre Afewerk Tekle speaking at Stanford University's annual Pioneers Forum organized by the Stanford Ethiopian Student Union on March 7, 2004. (Photo: Tadias Archive)

Publisher’s Note: It was the first time since the mid-1960’s that Maitre Afewerk Tekle had traveled to the United States to talk about his award-winning artwork. As the featured speaker for the annual Pioneers Forum organized by the Stanford Ethiopian Student Union, Maitre Afewerk shared his personal journey with diverse audience from Stanford and the larger Bay Area Ethiopian-American community on March 7, 2004. Here is our story from Tadias archive.

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Cover: June-July 2004

By Tseday Alehegn

Speaking about his life-long dedication to the fine arts, Maitre Afewerk Tekle instills in his audience the importance of using art to inspire people, to uplift nations and to create an optimistic view of life.

“What we do today must reflect today’s life for tomorrow’s generation and pave the way for the future generation,” he asserts with passion and reflection. He teaches us that “art is in every fabric of life.”

Few moments are as electric as when the Most Honorable Maitre Artist World Laureate Afewerk Tekle walks through a crowded auditorium at Stanford University to give an insider’s view of his accomplishments and life adventures. Elegantly clad in the sheer white of the Ethiopian national costume, Maitre Afewerk lets his artistic mind captivate the audience as he takes his red-bordered netela to demonstrate the various ways one can wear it for different public venues, including as a graduation gown. He receives an enthusiastic thunder of applause as he concludes his brief introduction.

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Afewerk Tekle at Stanford University on March 7,
2004. (Photo: Tadias Archive)

Afewerk Tekle was born in the town of Ankober in Ethiopia on October 22, 1932. Having grown up in an Ethiopia battling fascist Italian forces, Afewerk was acutely aware of the destruction of war and the need to rebuild his native home. Intent on acquiring skills that would allow him to contribute to Ethiopia’s restoration, the young Afewerk settled on pursuing his studies in mining engineering.

His family and friends, however, had already recognized his inner talent in the arts. Around town he was know for his drawings on walls using stones, and for possessing a curious and ever reflective mind. Despite his natural gravitation to the art world, at the age of 15 Afewerk was chosen to be sent abroad to England to commence his engineering studies.

Maitre Afewerk recalls being summoned by Emperor Haile Selassie to receive last-minute advice prior to his departure.

“To this day I cannot forget his words,” the Maitre says pensively. “The Emperor began by counseling us to study, study, and study.” he told the audience.

“He told us: you must work hard, and when you come back do not tell us what tall buildings you saw in Europe, or what wide streets they have, but make sure you return equipped with the skills and the mindset to rebuild Ethiopia.”

Maitre Afewerk later confides that this sermon rang in his head each time he was tempted to seek the easy life, free from the responsibility of rebuilding his nation and uplifting his people.

As one of the earliest batch of African students admitted to exclusive boarding schools in England, Afewerk faced culture shock and the occasional strife caused by English bullies. Yet he remained steadfast in pursuing his studies. He especially excelled in courses such as mathematics, chemistry and history, but it was not long before his teachers discovered his inner talent for the arts.

With the encouragement of his mentor and his teachers, Afewerk decided to focus on refining his gift and enrolled at the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. Upon completion of his studies he was accepted as the first African student at the prestigious Faculty of Fine Arts at Slade (University of London). At Slade, Afewerk focused on painting, sculpture and architecture.

Upon returning to Ethiopia, Maitre Afewerk traveled to every province, staying at each location for a period of up to three months, immersing himself in the study of his surroundings and absorbing Ethiopia’s historical and cultural diversity. He reflected on and pushed himself to become an Ethiopian artist with world recognition.

“I had to study Ethiopian culture,” the Maitre states, “because an important ingredient of a world artist is to have in your artwork the flavor of where you were born.”

He passionately adds, “My art will belong to the world but with African flavor.”

Above all, Maitre Afewerk worked diligently in the hopes of using his artwork as a social medium with which to highlight the history, struggles and beauty of his native home. Although he was educated abroad, he fought against what he called “the futile imitation of other artists’ works, Western or otherwise.’’

With the message of rebuilding Ethiopia still ringing in his ears, Maitre Afewerk quickly decided to relinquish the ministerial post assigned to him upon completion of his university studies, and opted instead to devote his full attention to painting and exhibiting his artwork both at home and abroad.

At age 22, Afewerk Tekle held his first significant one-man exhibition at the Municipality Hall in Addis Ababa in 1954. He followed up his success by conducting an extensive study tour of art in Italy, France, Spain, Portugal and Greece, paying particular attention to collections of Ethiopian illustrated manuscripts as well as acquiring skills in stained-glass artwork.

Returning home he was commissioned to create religious art for St. George’s Cathedral. He also worked on some of the first sculptures depicting Ethiopian national heroes. His designs and inspirations were soon printed on stamps and national costumes. Most notably, he conceptualized and designed the elaborate stainedglass window artwork in Africa Hall at the headquarters of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

With the income and savings he acquired by selling his artwork Afewerk designed his own 22-room house, studio and gallery, which he nicknamed ‘Villa Alpha’.

By 1964 Maitre Afewerk had held his second successful exhibition, thereafter followed by his first exhibition abroad in Russia, the U.S.A. and Senegal. Touring African nations at a time when Africa was under the yoke of colonialism, Afewerk Tekle used his paintbrush to fight for the dignity and honor of African people.

Focusing on the struggles ensnaring black people, he shared his quest for liberation and equality, naming his artwork with titles such as Backbones of the African Continent, Africa’s Heritage, and African Unity.

“Your brush can be quite stronger than the machine gun,” he says facing his audience. “I wanted to show how you can write Africa through your artwork, what it means to have liberty, to have your fellow humans completely equal.”

The theme of African independence and the interrelationship of African cultures are indelibly etched in Maitre Afewerk’s paintings.

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Afewerk Tekle at Stanford University on March 7,
2004. (Photo: Tadias Archive)

Many art critics have tried, time and time again, to label and categorize his work as having either European or African influence, and sometimes even both. However, he tells us that “you should be free and liberated in your thoughts and style. Your art should speak to you in your hidden language.”

Maitre Afewerk notes that 10% of his work is considered religious art while at least 50% echoes Ethiopian influence. But there is room for him to explore and develop his own style that speaks to his inner muse.

Today, Maitre Afewerk’s art is known and celebrated throughout the world, and indeed he has achieved his dream of becoming an Ethiopian artist with world recognition. He has uplifted Ethiopia, and at the same time his art has been infused into the daily life of his community and fellow citizens.

Walking or driving around Addis, it is difficult to miss his current art projects depicting today’s heroes such as world champion runner Haile Gebresellasie. At the bottom corner of the painting there is an Amharic phrase that says it all: Yitchalal! (It’s Possible!).

At the end of his presentation Maitre Afewerk opens a window into his private world as he shares the fact that he always spends time in the private chapel in his home prior to commencing work on a piece of art, and again after it has been completed. To him it is a place of inspiration.

“At the end of the day, my message is quite simple,” he says. “I am not a pessimist, I want people to look at my art and find hope. I want people to feel good about Ethiopia, about Africa, to feel the delicate rays of the sun. And most of all, I want them to think: Yitchalal!


Learn more about Afewerk Tekle at maitreafewerktekle.com

Ethiodoll CEO & Founder Salome Yilma on Forbes

Above: Forbes highlight EthiDolls through an interview with
Co-Founder & CEO Salome Yilma. Video posted by Dire Tube.

Tadias Magazine
Created by Two Ethiopian Women: EthiDolls to Spread
a New Vision of Africa

By Margaret Heneghan

Updated: Monday, August 16, 2010

New York (Tadias) – As young girls in Ethiopia, Yeworkwoha Ephrem and Salome Yilma were part of the first generation to help their native land bridge into the modern world. Today, they are New York City entrepreneurs working to preserve African culture for future generations.

Through their start-up company EthiDolls™, Ms. Ephrem and Ms. Yilma are developing African signature dolls and accessories that teach history and tradition, as well as celebrate cultural diversity.

“As a child, I believed that the world had infinite possibilities because all around me women had equal responsibility for life. School, play, my mother’s work, my father’s work — all were life,” says Ms. Yilma, EthiDolls’ chief executive officer. “This notion has always grounded me and allowed me to thrive – personally and professionally – uninhibited by the many prejudices we all experience as we go through life.”

“I have my parents to thank for this precious gift; their emphasis on integrity, education and aspiration has always been my touchstone,” she says. “We at EthiDolls believe that these are the same gifts all parents wish to bestow on their children. And we hope to awaken this same spirit of leadership in today’s young African-American girls and their multicultural playmates by offering a new vision of the African experience. We believe that connection to the rich historic cultural heritage of Africa will be a good source for young people to extract a sense of pride and self empowerment.”

Video: Ethiodoll CEO & Founder Salome Yilma on Forbes

Established in 2003, EthiDolls launched its first product line in December 2006 with the “Makeda: Queen of Sheba” doll, storybook and CD narration. The line is based on the ancient legend of Makeda, “The Queen of Sheba,” the first female ruler of Ethiopia, the land known as the “cradle of civilization” because people throughout the world today can trace their roots to it.

The dolls are collector quality and hand-crafted for EthiDolls by Madame Alexander® maker of the popular collectible doll line and no detail or expense was spared to capture the Queen’s majestic image. The doll stands 16 inches tall and has 18 points of articulation from head to toe, including hair and lashes made of top-of-the-line kanekalon fiber and gold hoops and bangles for her wrists. The fabric used for the costume is rich in detail, hand woven in Ethiopia, and is an authentic representation of the traditional Ethiopian dress still worn today.

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The accompanying items are of equal quality. The storybook is beautifully illustrated by a young Ethiopian artist, and the CD provides a compelling narration of Queen Makeda’s rise to the throne and her relationship with King Solomon.

EthiDolls launches the Queen Makeda merchandise as African culture emerges into popular consciousness and as “edutainment”— learning through a medium that educates and entertains — is on the rise. According to the Toy Institute of America, dolls rank as the toy industry’s second-largest product category in dollar volume with sales of $2.7 billion in 2005. The superior quality and authenticity of the product line also will appeal to the doll collector community, which vies with stamps and miniatures as the No.1 hobby group in the world.

“Our true aim is to enrich the lives of young girls of African heritage especially in this fast-paced and media savvy age we live in,” says Ms. Ephrem, EthiDolls’ executive vice president. “And we’re also pleased to contribute to the growing and important movement of African-American families researching heritage and re-connecting to cultural traditions. We’re eager to serve this market with upscale, quality merchandise that meets their high expectations.”

EthiDolls will launch several more dolls based on African royal figures in 2007. Currently, the company is utilizing the rapidly growing direct-to-consumer marketing and distribution channels to sell Queen Makeda merchandise. Future plans include distribution in targeted specialty shops and other locations that provide unique family experiences.

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For more information about how to purchase Queen Makeda products, visit www.ethidolls.com.

Sheba Tej: America’s Favorite Ethiopian Honey Wine

Above: Sheba Tej Tasting Session at Tsiona Gallery in Harlem, New York

By Tseday Alehegn

In the hamlet of Washingtonville, New York, lies the scenic campus
of Brotherhood Winery, a national historic landmark and America’s oldest
winery, established in 1837. According to the Washingtonville Village
Historian, Edward J. McLaughlin III, the original owner John Jacques “had
planted a vineyard in the rear yard of his lumber business store, shipping
the harvest of grapes to the Isles of Manhattan for 15 cents a pound.”
When the price of grapes fell, Jacques experimented with pressing the fruit
into juice and started producing wine. Subsisting on the sale of sacramental
wine during the prohibition years, Brotherhood Winery continued its
winemaking legacy.

Today Brotherhood Winery is a popular site for tourists, producing a wide assortment of award-wining wines, including Chardonnay, Johannisberg Riesling, Seyval Blanc, Chelois, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir. Under the supervision of Cesar Baeza, an internationally-renowned Chilean winemaster and new owner of Brotherhood Winery, a new dessert wine called Sheba Tej made from pure organic honey is now part of the premium wine list. Although the honey wine may be newly introduced to the Hudson Valley, Ethiopians have known it for centuries as “Tej”.

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Brotherhood Winery, a national historic landmark and America’s oldest winery, established in 1837

Tej, or honey wine, is one of the world’s earliest fermented drinks, mentioned in ancient texts and scriptures, and consumed before the time of Christ. Traditionally, in Ethiopia, Tej was prepared primarily by women. In his book A Social History of Ethiopia, Historian Richard Pankhurst writes, “None except nobility and the highest chiefs and warriors were privileged to drink Tej.”

The honey wine’s popularity, all the same, surpassed the environs of the royal courts to be enjoyed by all sectors of ancient and modern Ethiopian society. Tej became a favorite during feasts and celebrations, notably weddings. The unique wine recipe contains no sulfites nor grapes, just pure honey. Legend even has it that Tej was one of the many gifts carried by Makeda, the Queen of Sheba, to Jerusalem’s King Solomon.

Honey wine was also known as mead and enjoyed in other parts of the ancient world. According to S. W. Andrews’ accounts of mead and meadmaking, in classical Greek mythology, the ‘Nectar of the Gods’ was a honey concoction known as Melitites; and the term “honeymoon” refers to the old tradition of newly weds drinking wine and feasting on honey cakes for one lunar month after their marriage, in the hopes that their actions would make their union more fertile.

America’s oldest winery began producing one of the world’s oldest wines after an African American entrepreneur, Ernest McCaleb, met and initiated a joint collaboration with Brotherhood Winery. McCaleb is founder and CEO of Sheba, Inc., a company focusing on the production and distribution of organic Ethiopian honey wine. Prior to founding Sheba, Inc., McCaleb had spent significant time conducting and financing highly successful import/export businesses in Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, Senegal, Cameroon, Gabon and Sierra Leone. His corporate offices were located on Wall Street in New York City and Western Avenue in Lagos, Nigeria, and his import/export financing company generated over $250 million in sales of cement, rice, sugar,and other commodities to governments and major businesses in West Africa.

A chance meeting with an Ethiopian in Paris gave rise to his eventual introduction to Ethiopian honey wine. Having a great passion for Africa, its diversity, traditions, and history, McCaleb continued on his entrepreneurial quest and established Sheba in 2003 with the sole purpose of producing authentic honey wine according to ancient Ethiopian traditions. To that end, he arranged for three generations of Ethiopian women — a mother, her daughter and granddaughter — to travel from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to New York’s Brotherhood Winery to demonstrate how Tej is prepared. Winemaster Baeza studied how this first batch of Sheba Tej was made. The careful end product was a naturally fermented, organic drink with a pleasing golden yellow hue — an ancient, spicy, semi-dry, full-bodied wine. The aroma of honey and wild flower permeated the air, and the Tej was joyously tasted by Baeza and the employees of Brotherhood Winery in conjunction with a hearty meal of Injera and Wot prepared by the three Ethiopian women.

Since then, Sheba Tej, produced at Brotherhood Winery has won awards at international honey wine festivals, and is distributed in many stores across the U.S. and the Caribbean. “Since I’ve begun doing this,” McCaleb says, “I’ve learned more about this rich history, and as I give tasting sessions I have become even more inspired. This is beyond the commercial success. It’s about pride and heritage, which those women taught us when they came to Brotherhood Winery.”

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Above: Ernest McCaleb, Founder & CEO of Sheba, Inc.

The nutritional benefits and health promoting agents in honey itself are to be marveled. Honey, when stored properly, can remain edible for centuries, having almost no expiration date. According to a recent study conducted by Gross Market Research for the National Honey Board, four out of five households in America use honey in various capacities — as a sweetener, source of carbohydrate, anti-oxidant, skin cleanser, and even as an antiseptic to heal burns and wounds. Pure honey contains several important vitamins, including Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Folate, Vitamin B-6, and Vitamin C. Numerous essential minerals, such as Calcium, Iron, Zinc, Potassium, Phosphorus, Magnesium, Selenium, Copper, and Manganese, are also contained in honey. Honey continues to be used to alleviate symptoms of allergies, anemia and several chronic diseases, including asthma and high blood pressure.

Sheba Tej — prepared from pure, organic honey and preserved without the use of sulfites — retains the nutritional qualities of honey while at the same time making for an excellent wine with meals, or alone as an aperitif.

By producing and introducing Sheba Tej to the world, McCaleb and Brotherhood Winery are not only sharing in Ethiopia’s rich heritage but also fusing together the oldest tradition of winemaking in America with the ancient culture of preparing honey wine in Ethiopia. Their efforts have strengthened American and Ethiopian ties and, in the process, brought the famous ‘Nectar of the Gods’ to your dining table.

So uncork a bottle of Sheba Tej, pour generously into your cups, raise them, and proclaim the traditional Ethiopian toast, “Le tenachin!” To our health!

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About the Author:
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Tseday Alehegn is the Editor-in-Chief of Tadias Magazine. Tseday is a graduate of Stanford University (both B.A. & M.A.). In addition to her responsibilities at Tadias, she is also a Doctoral student at Columbia University.
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If you would like to be considered as a potential distributor of Sheba Tej in your state, or would like to carry Sheba Tej in your restaurant, call 646.920.3211.

Profiling Addis Gessesse: The Man Behind Bob Marley’s Birthday Celebration in Addis Ababa

Above: Addis Gessesse, the person behind the 2005 concert in
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Photo by Ayda Grima for Tadias Magazine.

Tadias Magazine
Outside With the Insider
By Mik Aweke
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Posted: Apr 6, 2007

New York (Tadias) – Hanna Gessesse points to a photograph in one of her father’s albums. The photograph was taken two years ago in Addis Ababa and shows the main stage of the Africa Unite concert, which was the brainchild of her father, Addis. On the giant backdrop behind the stage hangs a larger-than life mural of a legendary reggae singer.

“That’s Bob Marley,” says Hanna. At three years old, Hanna is like most children her age. She complains when a certain reporter steals her father for an interview in their backyard. “I want to go with you, Daddy,” she cries. “Daddy, pleeeeease!”

But in being able to recognize Bob Marley’s likeness, even when drawn rather crudely as it was on the backdrop, she is definitely unlike most other toddlers her age. But perhaps it’s not so surprising to those who know her father, Addis Gessesse – music manager of Rita Marley and most of the Marley family and man behind the landmark Africa Unite concert. The concert, and the other month-long series of events, saw half-a-million people crowd the streets of Addis Ababa to watch the Marley Family, the I-Threes, Baaba Maal, and Angelique Kidjo perform in celebration of Bob Marley’s 60th Birthday.

One of the biggest and most star-studded African concerts the continent has ever seen started out, six years ago, as little more than a vague dream in the mind of Addis Gessesse.

Addis Gessesse took a long and winding road through the music business, a road that included as much struggle as good fortune. A road that begins with his life as a struggling immigrant student from Ethiopia and shepherd of his younger brothers in Chicago, then to life as an established entity in Jamaica and New York, working with acts like Ziggy Marley and Earth, Wind, and Fire, and then full-circle back to the extravagant concert in Addis Ababa two years ago.

That same long and winding road eventually leads down a quiet, tree-lined street in the residential neighborhoods of Jersey City, New Jersey – to a big, musty, old-fashioned Victorian house. There is ivy growing up the windows in the front and a small, weedy yard in the back. Addis is short, stocky and has a moustache. He wears clothes typical of an unassuming father from the suburbs, though with a somewhat boyish flair: crisp Nike running shoes, khaki shorts, and an open flannel shirt exposing a thin gold chain underneath.

Over three decades ago, Addis left behind his family and his three brothers to attend college in the United States. Not long after he graduated with a degree in management, his brothers, who happened to be musicians, followed him and began life anew in Chicago.

“Their arrival here totally changed my whole life,” says Addis. His voice is soft, calm. “Because I loved my brothers and I was doing everything to make them successful in this country. While doing that, I got immersed in their music.”

With a degree in management still fresh in his pocket, Addis made the decision that changed the course of his professional and personal life: to devote himself to his brothers and their music. “My brothers really have a lot to do with it,” he says.

The group that his brothers formed was called Dallol. Addis managed the group, which along with his brothers included a few of their friends from Addis Ababa University, and though they started out playing traditional Ethiopian music, soon after moving to Chicago and coming into contact with different styles, they made the transition towards reggae. With the support of a professor at Northwestern University, a fellow Ethiopian named Abraham Demoz, who acted as a surrogate father to the young men, Addis and his brothers were able to secure a rehearsal space on the campus and cultivate their sound.

In 1982, while steadily carving out a name for themselves in Chicago, Dallol got the break that they had been waiting for, an invitation from Rita Marley to play in Jamaica. Acting as their manager, Addis brought the group to Kingston where they played at the first Bob Marley birthday celebration after the reggae superstar’s death in 1981. It was in Jamaica that his working relationship with Rita and the Marley family began.

“At the time Rita gave us everything that we needed, including financial support and she was very excited for us as Ethiopians to come and perform in Jamaica. At the time she was still grieving the death of her husband and she felt we became a sort of support for her.”

Still, as significant as his contribution was to Rita’s life at the time, Addis cannot compare it with the influence Rita has had on his. “I owe a lot to that woman. She was very instrumental in helping me make music as a career. Very few people do that for you.”

Addis spent a year in Jamaica in the early eighties, which he remembers with much fondness. He lived down the street from what many consider the Mecca of reggae music, Bob Marley’s Tuff Gong headquarters at 56 Hope Road. This was back in the days when the Wailers were still making music and Ziggy had yet to finish high school. Addis would go on, in the following years, to organize with Rita the world tour for Bob Marley’s posthumous Legend album. The tour included the Wailers and the I-Three’s and helped spur sales of the album, which to this day remains one of the bestselling albums of all time.

From 1988 to 1991, Dallol was the official band for Ziggy Marley. The group, Addis makes it a point to remind me, has the distinction of being the first band of Ethiopian musicians to reach platinum record sales with Conscious Party (1988), as well as a gold record with Ziggy’s follow- up album, One Bright Day (1989).

After the world tours and a brief stint in Los Angeles, where he worked with Earth, Wind, and Fire, Addis returned with his brothers to Chicago, but his professional drive and his desire to travel had not died with the tours. “As we went along, Dallol wanted to do their own thing and I didn’t want to stay in Chicago,” he says. “So I moved to New York.”

“You know we all go in our own little phases of doing things,” he continued. “And my project became more or less, like, anything higher level, anything big.” What followed was a project called Race Against Racism, a series of largescale concerts, along the lines of Africa Unite, which took place in Europe and drew half a million people to concerts in Paris, Rome and Milan.

For Addis, who remains humble about his success, finding someone influential to believe in you is the key ingredient (along with discipline, he adds) to a successful career in music – though the insight might very well apply to any number of industries. Just as Rita Marley gave him his start in the business all those years ago, Addis is intent on discovering new, young talent. In particular, he wants to bring undiscovered Ethiopian musicians out of the tight orbit of the Ethiopian community into the larger universe of world music.

Besides being a lifelong friend of the Marley family and manager of Ziggy, Rita, and Stephen, Addis is the man behind the careers of some of the biggest names in contemporary Ethiopian music. He discovered Teddy Afro, who is still one of Addis’s clients. “Teddy is my major project right now,” he says, as a U.S. tour and record release are underway.

His New York-based artist management firm, Addis Management, has helped launch the careers of some of the biggest names in Ethiopian pop. His interest in bringing Ethiopian music to a larger arena started with a chance encounter that took place in the backyard of his quiet New Jersey home. Midway through reciting his impressive list of clients, Addis stops: “And then this young lady came into the picture.” The “young lady” he is talking about is Palm recording artist, Gigi.

“Gigi came to me, to this house. Some guys brought her in. I didn’t know who the hell she was and I wasn’t too crazy about anything at the time, because I was doing a lot of things. She sat down out here and she started singing. And I saw talent.”

It would be only a matter of time before he took hold the reins of her career, first advising her to move to New York (she was living in San Francisco at the time) and then introducing her to his network of music industry contacts.

“I said to Gigi, ‘I don’t want to brag about who I know or what I can do for you, but I can put you on the map.’” He eventually introduced the young singer to Chris Blackwell, and Blackwell, the innovator who founded Island Records and guided the careers of artists like Bob Marley & The Wailers, U2, and Melissa Etheridge, signed Gigi to a multi-album deal with his Palm record label. (Through Addis, Blackwell also signed Teddy Afro to a similar deal, which is currently in the works.)

While we talked, he kept his cell phone at arms length. At any moment, he could get the call that would send him to Ethiopia to attend to one of his numerous business ventures. In recent years, Addis has not limited himself to managing artists and arranging concerts overseas. His portfolio is quite diverse, with a list of obligations that range from a reggae club in Chicago, which he opened with his brothers several years ago, to a farm in the Ethiopian countryside, to an ambitious school building project in the villages of Ethiopia through the One Love Africa Foundation.

Part of the appeal of throwing a concert like Africa Unite in his homeland was the positive exposure it would give to Ethiopia. Says Addis, “Nothing positive comes out of that country, and we wanted to change that. And I think with our own little contribution we achieved that. To where people started saying, things can be worked out in Ethiopia, things can work in Ethiopia.

“When you have half a million people in one location for a concert no matter which country you’re in, from the most advanced nation to the worst voodoo society on earth, there’s always going to be an incident. But everybody came, enjoyed the music, and went back home without a slight incident. This to me shows the pride that I have in my culture. You cannot find that anywhere.”

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About the Author:
Mik Awake is a writer based in New York.

Ethiopia’s Feedel Writing System Inspires Mobile Applications for Indian and Chinese Scripts

By Samuel Kinde , Tewodros Kidane, and Girum Kifetew

Ethiopia has the world’s lowest number of text messages sent per day, but recent development of the first Ethiopic text messaging (SMS) has inspired texting in widely used scripts, such as Hindi and Chinese.

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Two challenges conspired to make mobile communication in Ethiopia, particularly, text messaging (SMS) a late-comer in the world scene. The first challenge is that the Ethiopic writing system (also called Feedel, Fidel or Geez), consists of more than 340 characters. Mapping these characters on a 12-keypad was un-attempted. Overcoming this challenge of displaying Ethiopic characters on any existing cell phone whether from Motorola, Nokia, or Siemens requires some tricky solutions – not impossible; but nonetheless difficult. The second challenge has nothing to do with technology but is a direct result of an unfortunate political environment, where fear of technology forced the country’s telecom company to discontinue even English-language SMS, in this country of 75 million people. This gives Ethiopia the distinction of being the only country in the world where mobile text messaging (SMS) is officially banned.

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So, faced with these two challenges, how does one develop a solution that makes Ethiopic SMS a reality right now? The unlikely technical solutions to these two problems are what inspired us – by seeking language commonalities – to extend our work to languages and scripts of more global and market importance.

The solution to the first challenge is to find ways to embed these Ethiopic characters or letters such as fidel6.jpgfidel7.jpginto the mobile phone – any mobile phone carried by the majority of mobile phone users inside and outside Ethiopia. This requires developing a technology in processing fonts in some innovative form and uploading them into the mobile phones through various means such as data cable, Bluetooth technology, or through a mobile phone’s web browser. This solution which makes almost all phones in the market become Ethiopic-aware for text messaging purposes by simply downloading a program called FeedelSMS has – we later found out – an interesting implication. As we tested the program on many mobile phones, it became apparent to us and to our technology partners and advisors that the same technology could be used to make any phone in the world – say Hindi-aware , Arabic-aware, or even Chinese-aware. To prove this point, we had to actually learn (by ourselves) the rudimentary basics of the alphabets of some of these languages – particularly Arabic and Hindi. To our utter amazement, it turns out that Hindi (also called Devanagari) falls under the so-called Abugida - abugida.jpg or syllabic writing system classification just like our own Ethiopic! The linguists define Abugida as a writing system in which consonants are associated with a following vowel as every Ethiopian school kid knows. Lucky for us, almost half-of the world’s scripts like the majority of Indic (Indian) languages, Arabic, Hebrew, etc fall under the Abugida system. To make things more interesting, we learnt that at least some of the Hindi characters are very similar to Ethiopic characters.

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Take the case of the Hindi character ‘क’, for example. If you remove the “hat” on top of this character, you will immediately notice that it is the same as – you have guessed it right – the Ethiopic q.jpg.

It gets interesting. If you see the other derivatives such as कु =qu.jpg कि =qi.jpg का =qa.jpgकॅ =qa.jpg Therefore, in a totally unexpected way, our own writing system, Feedel, inspired us to develop a mobile software called HindiSMS in 2006 that can be downloaded to any mobile phone around the world and turn it into – in an instance – a Hindi-aware cell phone. This is not to say that there was no Hindi SMS prior to our product. What it means is that our product fills in a lucrative niche market for consumers who buy cell phones with no pre-installed Hindi fonts.

The solution to the second challenge (banned SMS in Ethiopia) also opened up opportunities for us to discover the application of our software in the global mobile market. Faced with this man-made barrier where we can not use Ethiopia’s telecom network to send or receive SMS messages, we came up with a solution that involved buying and configuring our own (cheap) servers that let customers employ mobile data access (called GPRS or EDGE) to exchange SMS messages. This marriage of the traditional wireless network with the mobile internet – it turns out – had numerous advantages that fit very well to the vision of universal SMS – sending SMS to and from anywhere in the world in any desired language. The beauty of this approach – we later understood very clearly – was that it breaks any barrier imposed by carriers knowingly as is the case in Ethiopia or unknowingly. Furthermore, this approach of using a combination of mobile internet with wireless network also flattens the price structure of SMS. In other words, Ethiopic SMS message sent between Addis Ababa and Nazret will cost the same amount as a Chinese SMS sent from Beijing to San Francisco. To our product’s credit, the HindiSMS product developed by our group became the first mobile application to demonstrate the successful sending and receiving of live Hindi SMS message from India to users in the US in October, 2006. In the live test-run, a user in Mumbai, India and a subscriber of AirTel became the first person to ever send & receive a Hindi SMS from a mobile phone in India to a user in California.

Looking back at the progress of the technology in the past year and the steady acceptance of Ethiopic SMS among Ethiopians, and across-border Hindi SMS among Indians, it is with a sense of some satisfaction that we note that the living script, Ethiopic, has been the source of inspiration for a vital and – what some think of as a substantial – contribution to mobile technology.

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For more info visit feedelix.com.

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