Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Ethiopia: Youth, the Hamlins and Commitment to Action

By: Samuel M. Gebru
Friday, June 11, 2010

One of the things I like about community and youth organizing is that I get the opportunity to really connect with people individually and hear what concerns and suggestions they have to improve our communities. Being born in Sudan, raised in the United States and of Ethiopian origin, I belong to many different communities.

When I established the Ethiopian American Youth Initiative, I envisioned bringing dynamic, open-minded and highly motivated youth, students and professionals together. The Ethiopian Diaspora community is highly intoxicated by very superficial things that, at the end of the day, don’t really matter. Whether at home or abroad, we Ethiopians have shown ourselves to be a community that is easily divided, and sometimes it appears—whether real or not—that we are more divided than united.

In December 2004, after watching the Oprah Winfrey Show’s program on obstetric fistula in Ethiopia, I became inspired by the strong commitment to community service displayed by Drs. Reginald and Catherine Hamlin, co-founders of the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Reginald passed away in 1993 but Catherine, now in her 80s, still lives in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia with the same commitment that drove her to Ethiopia with her late husband in 1959. The Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital has now evolved into a network of 6 hospitals in Ethiopia in Addis Ababa, Mekelle, Bahar Dar, Harrar, Metu and Yirgalem. They are collectively known as the Hamlin Fistula Hospitals in Ethiopia. In 2009, the hospitals celebrated Catherine Hamlin’s 50th year in Ethiopia.

To think that a foreigner commit over 50 years of dedicated service and hard work to Ethiopia is nothing less than amazing. Learning about the tragedy of obstetric fistula and the energy of the Hamlins not only inspired me but it embarrassed me. As a 13-year-old in December 2004, I began to question why Ethiopians in the Diaspora were not showing the same level of commitment non-Ethiopians demonstrated to Ethiopia. I also began to question why our community is more concerned about ethnic pride, who occupies the Menelik Palace and infesting every aspect of our lives with politics than whether 81 million Ethiopians have access to clean water and if the 6 million Ethiopian orphans will find new kind and loving people to call parents. Out of this embarrassment came inspiration and my commitment to act.

I founded the Ethiopian Team after convening a meeting of 13 Ethiopian youth in the Boston area on April 2, 2005. Once I shared the tragedies of obstetric fistula and the story of the Hamlins, the others were equally inspired to join the efforts. We became the first Ethiopian youth effort in Boston. An entire community was educated and inspired due to our work. The Ethiopian Team, in less than a year, raised enough funds to sponsor 11 women for fistula-repair surgery at the Addis Ababa Fistula Hospital. Our youngest member was in 6th grade, our oldest was in 12th grade and I was in 8th grade.

The Ethiopian American Youth Initiative is the Ethiopian Team’s successor. EAYI was formed in 2006 and aimed to bring open-minded youth and student leaders together to really get things done. The Initiative is hosting its first annual conference in 14 days in Washington, D.C. The 2010 EAYI Conference will be about brainstorming proactive and realistic solutions to the everyday problems in Ethiopia. It will also be about finding solutions to the problems in our local communities within the Diaspora. This gathering will be of student and youth leaders that further our collective and individual commitment to act.

I call upon Ethiopians and non-Ethiopians to embrace the spirit of community service of the Hamlins in the same manner it inspired me to respond to the call for action 81 million Ethiopians have silently put.

Now, I am 18-years-old and am still embarrassed, inspired and committed to act.

Samuel M. Gebru is the President of the Ethiopian American Youth Initiative.

You may read more of Samuel's articles on his personal blog.

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