The new generation that wants to lead
By Befekir Kebede
Thursday, 04 October 2012 22:39
A 27-year-old Ethiopian woman who lived in the city of Montreal in the Canadian province of Quebec tragically died in 2011. Her friends remember her as a person of great passion and vision who wanted and worked hard to create a dynamic Ethiopian community association with her fellow Ethiopians in Montreal. Following the untimely death of the civic-minded Selam Fentaye, her friends got together and took her lead to make the dream that she had for her community a reality. The result was Ye Selam Association of Quebec which came into being in March 2011. Members of the association prefer to call it the Selam Mahber – mehaber is the Amharic name for association – so that its Ethiopian-ness is recognised instantly.
Nathalie Hitimana is one of the founding members of the Selam Mehaber and she says the mission of the mehaber is “to create a stronger unity amongst Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia by fostering friendship, networking and promoting the [Ethiopian] culture.”
Remembering how she and her friends decided to create the mehaber after the death of Selam, Nathalie says: “A group of us, who knew Selam well, got together at a friend’s house as we felt there was no place to be at that very moment, but with each other.
“We were reminded at that very moment, the importance of strong community and friendship, and on that day, we discussed that we needed to get together at least once a month.
“Our first mission then was to gather the first Saturday of every month in order to strengthen our friendship and build a stronger community,” she says.
This could be a story of the Ethiopian diaspora from anywhere in the world. Some Ethiopian communities are better organized than others, but it can be said that all in the diaspora face similar challenges. But challenges often lead to creative thinking and eventually enable people to open their eyes to opportunities that are around them. The Selam Mahber is a good example of young members of the diaspora realising the opportunities that they have and taking advantage of them.
Nowadays, millions of Ethiopians, and the number is growing by the day, live outside of Ethiopia – away from family members, their culture and Ethiopian ways of life. But growing even faster is the population of people born abroad to parents of Ethiopian origin. And those who started the Ethiopian diaspora are being outnumbered by second generation Ethiopians.
The Selam Mehaber is mainly an initiative of this new generation of Ethiopians that don’t necessarily wait to be led. It is the generation that wants to lead by putting itself in the driver’s seat.
Ethiopians in the dispora have had encounters with many of life’s fortunate and unfortunate events including weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, graduations, serious sicknesses, accidents, death of loved ones and the like. It is the Ethiopian way that none of these events are handled, dealt with, overcome and managed without close friends and community members. The notion of mahber itself stems from this very fact as one of the core values of the Ethiopian society.
The diaspora was started by people who have chosen or been forced to leave Ethiopia for one reason or another. From settling in a new country, adopting a new culture, language and way of life to establishing various places of worship and cultural centres and events, those who started the diaspora have done a mighty job. They have succeeded in some of their endeavours and failed in others. Yet many now believe that progress has stalled in Ethiopian communities around the word and particularly those among the younger generation have been very adversely affected by the failures of the older generation.
But the children of the older generation, or the second generation Ethiopians in the diaspora, are now old enough to continue the work that was started by their elders or even start from scratch if necessary.
For Nathalie of the Selam Mehaber, building a strong community is important on the grounds that one can celebrate, share and learn the cultures, traditions and stories of Ethiopia through the concerted efforts of active members of the community.
But Nathalie also believes that it is even more important to start thinking about and prepare for the children of the second generation of Ethiopians in the diaspora.
“Our communities are important in the development of our children, so that our children can grow proud in knowing and celebrating their Ethiopian culture,” she says.
A strong community is also important “because it helps to establish a support system, so that it is easier to support each other throughout all of life’s events.”
“Having a strong community is also important because it can create economic opportunities and can serve as a platform where we can learn from and network with members of other communities,” Nathalie says.
The reaction to the establishment of the Selam Mahber has been very positive and the founding members believe that they are responding to the strong demand for such a mahber in Montreal.
Attended by about 100 members of the community, the mahber’s first public event was held in July this year.
The event, the Selam Fundraising Showcase, attracted diverse members of the Ethiopian dispora in Montreal and featured such diverse cultural and artistic performances as singing, dancing, play-writing and staging drama.
One of the ideas behind the event was to showcase the many talents that members of the Selam Mahber have and they staged the show as dancers, choreographers, writers, actors, poets and singers. The funds raised from the show were donated to three non-profit organizations in Ethiopia. They have documented the showcase event and posted the video below on YouTube for the world to see.
They are now working on becoming an organization fully recognized by the Quebec Government and they hope to be an influential organization in the Montreal Ethiopian community.
“Our ultimate goal is to bring people together regardless of religion, age, ethnicity or sex,” Nathalie says.
“We also hope to continue to develop and maintain [our] links with Ethiopia.”