Dear Friends and Supporters,
Since we started our Viva page not long ago, we are receiving write-ups from our Volunteers, Interns and Visitors, sharing their thoughts, impressions and experiences about our work, the students, the school and the surrounding community. We recently received a practical and action oriented note entitled ìCollecting and Connecting in Addis Ababaî,† from Dr. Luisa Del Giudice, encouraging her contacts to donate to our cause. This is how she started her noteÖÖÖ..
ìDear Friends: †This is the LA-based organization I visited while teaching†at the Univ. of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia last February/March (and interviewed†its founder, Tafesse Woubshet, in my oral history seminar). †This school he†started is everything we talk about so frequently: †a community resource†(parents and children are served here), a wonderful, oasis in the midst of†dire poverty, for learning, physical nourishment, and love. †I was very†moved when I visited and especially when I heard the story of why it was†founded,î†† Why not she tells it all herselfÖÖ..
Collecting and Connecting in Addis Ababa
Luisa Del Giudice, Los Angeles
In February of 2010, I was invited to teach a graduate seminar entitled ìOral History, Oral Tradition:† Praxis and Theoryî at Addis Ababa University (Dept. of Ethiopian Studies) and there enjoyed an intense six weeks of teaching, touring, and learning.† It was my goal to expose students to real-life applications of the fieldwork methodologies they would be studying in class thereby creating opportunities to connect academic work with community development projects.† I further seized the opportunity to add a diasporic and global dimension to our seminar goals by inviting Tafesse Woubshet from the LA-based Fregenet Foundation for an in-class interview.† First-person narrative is a compelling tool to engage an attentive audience.† I wanted us all to learn from Tafesseís own lips the story of his founding of, and continuing involvement with, the Fregenet Foundationóand, who knows, perhaps also to encourage the studentsí direct involvement with this LA-Addis project…
We set up the newly-purchased, state-of-the art pocket digital camera I arranged to have donated to the Department, and as the camera rolled (operated by student, Yewondwosen Awlachew), I interviewed Tafesse while the class listened in.† Then they asked questions of their own.† Of course, Tafesseís personal narrative was extremely moving.† As was the entire idea of transforming his and his wifeís personal grief after the loss of their only child, Fregenet (fruit of heaven in Amharic), into a life project serving a community in need and especially the children of Ethiopia, whom their daughter had so loved.
And what a surprise to learn that Desta Amare, a journalist and student in the class, had known Fregenet personally.††† Desta and I arranged a visit to the school to see for ourselves what this ìoasisî actually looked like.
When we arrived, we were touched again to witness the engaged learning, the cheerful environment, the dedication of staff, the energetic and beautiful children themselves.† I was especially impressed by the multimedia library which had become a broadly-used community resource serving, besides the children in the classroom, their families, as well as younger and older adults in the neighborhood.† And there were computers with internet accessóa true luxury in Ethiopia.
This school was everything we talk about so frequently, issues I had encountered in my own work with interfaith ìBeijing Circlesî and Millennium Development Goals, e.g.,†the ìmultiplier effectî which expands the effects of strategic giving out into a broader arena.†† In brief, this school was becoming a genuine community resource, a grand oasis in the midst of dire povertyófor learning, physical nourishment, hope and love.
So well-run is the school, as a vehicle of positive transformation, that it is very close to making itself a permanent community asset through the purchase of the property. What a bargain $150,000 seems by comparison to U.S. real estate standards!† When this recent appeal came across my desk last week, I immediately began spamming friends, family and colleagues alike.† I had seen the school for myself, knew its founder, and had confidence in his labor of love.† One of my appeals led to a kind offer by my colleague, Jacqueline DjeDje (Chair of the UCLA Ethnomusicology Dept.).† By some auspicious coincidence, she would be traveling to Ethiopia with the UCLA Black Alumni Association in late December, and Jennifer White (Executive Director of Follow The Leader Foundation) and organizer of the trip, with whom she put me in touch, offered to carry any gifts being made to the school, to Addis itself.† I immediately rushed to the Borders bookstore, now closing in Westwood, and purchased at clearance prices many childrenísí books for the library which had left such an impression on me.
Opportunities to help, no less than needs, abound.† There challenge is to recognize an effective, broad-reaching community project when it comes our way, to connect the dots, apply some modest resources, and make real change happen.† I hope you’ll join me in supporting this effort.