Nigat, the dawn of a new life

Ethiopia, a country with great pride and love for life to be protected and protected.

18 Nov 2020

The Friends of Sidamo is an association founded in 1983. Volunteers, mostly boys, spend all their free time and energy helping the poor of Ethiopia.
In 2015, in Addis Ababa, the Association gave life to a project that fascinated us from the very beginning: "Nigat for Young Mothers on the Streets".

Nigat, in Amharic, means dawn. The main objective of this project is in fact to build new lives and opportunities for single mothers who live or risk living on the street in Addis Ababa with their children.

A work of welcome, accompaniment and rehabilitation guided by all possible love. A work that, today, needs the support of all of us:

Francesca and Fabio, two volunteers of the association, tell us about it in detail.

Not everyone is aware of the socio-economic situation of Ethiopia. Would you like to tell us something more about what is happening in the country?

Ethiopia is one of the largest and most populous countries in Africa, over one hundred million and many young people, second only to Nigeria. It has a thousand-year history of peoples with their own languages, traditions, religious spirit who over the centuries have fought for cultural and political hegemony but have also lived in peace, uniting they have raised new generations, created art and civilization.

Ethiopia is the only African nation ever colonized, which defeated fascist Italy with popular resistance which tried to occupy it - with extreme violence and racism, as history has now sanctioned - from 1936 to 1941. In the mid-1970s he was able to regenerate himself with a revolution that knocked down an emperor by divine will, Haile Selassie, hoping to finally give "the land to the peasants", to those who work. He was capable of another revolution in the late 1980s to oust the regime that had not kept its promises. And yet another revolution, this one just a few years ago in 2016, when millions of young people from the countryside asked for more participation, less repression, more rights. If not accomplished democracy, an ideal of democracy.

For a few years the premier has been Abi Amhed, Doctor Aby for the Ethiopians, who won the Nobel Peace Prize for his desire to make Ethiopia a country with less repression, more popular participation.

Has this attempt to move from an idea of a regime to an idea of democracy been successful? Only in part, because the biggest problem in Ethiopia today are those that feed the "ethnic" divisions, of language and culture and of territory; and they do it in principle with weapons that we know well even here in Europe: hatred propagated via social media, disinformation (fake news, simplifying) as a manipulative tool.

Lying and fear as a strategic art. Here, when old grudges, divisions of languages and religion are rekindled, the step towards ethnic cleansing becomes short: in two years thousands of Ethiopians have died of ethnic violence; and millions live in this condition of precariousness and fear.

An Italian newspaper made a brilliant headline on Ethiopia today and on the premier: Abiy Amhed, a restless nobel.

Here, these things must be said because otherwise we are content to talk about Africa, Ethiopia in this case, telling a reality made certain of real situations - the precariousness of life in the countryside and in the cities, food and health insecurity, equality of gender still conquer - but wanting to simplify it, focusing only on the economic question, the poverty of structures and means. In this way one does not give credit to a people with great pride and love for life.

There is always the risk, on these issues, of "voluntarcentrism", a gentler approach than Eurocentrism, but which has the same vices, the same blinders; and then everything becomes stereotypical, even the photographs of men and women and children in their moments of suffering, which deserve respect, silence and work.

What have been the consequences of the pandemic for girls arriving from the streets of Addis Ababa?

At the beginning of the pandemic, volunteers and social workers decided to carry out a preventive quarantine with the girls and their children, carrying out all the activities of the project but letting the girls and workers live inside the compound. On the one hand this forced them to deal with a different daily life - relationships between them are not always simple, especially during a forced coexistence - but on the other hand it allowed them to understand the importance of prevention and rules. of distance and hygiene.

Unfortunately, Covid-19 also reached the project compound: some volunteers, social workers and girls were affected, fortunately with mild symptoms.

How was your Association born and why did you choose to operate in Ethiopia?

As Friends of Sidamo we have been working in Ethiopia for many years, almost forty now: always in strong relationship with the Catholic Church, with autonomous or collaborative projects on women and children, school and training, orphanages, disabilities ... These are small projects, which we are looking for always to follow with our volunteers and with the local staff.

The recipe (never written, perhaps because we believe we have written it in the DNA of our group) is that of serving people and working together, in small steps; starting from the famous "needs", which are not words useful to the project but concrete needs. And we try to do it with humility; just thinking of it as an acquired virtue does not suit the truly humble, and in fact it is also a search. A simple but very concrete example is studying the language - whether Amharic with its alphabet of two hundred and sixty signs or gold - because it is not a utilitarian effort but expressing the true desire to be with people. And people understand that.

When we are asked "Why Ethiopia" we always say that none of us chose Ethiopia, but that somehow it happened to us, as a gift. In the 1980s, a Salesian priest, Fr Elio, was sent on a mission to Ethiopia. Friends simply followed him: some accepting the invitation to spend time down on mission, others supporting the projects by working weekends from Italy. Slowly the group decided to become an association ... and we got this far. It is a story that began with friendship, word of mouth and fidelity and which, as a seed that bears fruit, is handed down in our lives. In one of our rewards there is the pdf of the book that a friend of Don Elio wrote to leave a trace of this small sprout of life: "Travel Companion".

Here, we try to stay like this: travel companions.

Are there any particularly significant stories that have remained in your heart and would you like to tell?

The Nigat project is located in the heart of Addis Ababa, a hectic and unscrupulous city. The gate of the project is blue, with a dawning sun to take up the meaning of its name: Alba. When the gates open, you are immediately struck by a colorful mural: "that one there and the day when it arose" a girl told us, observing it. Here, after a few months, that girl understood: from the night to a new life. This is the dream. It was the dream for each of the girls who walked through that gate. It was for those who didn't make it, for those who were traumatized, for those who gave up, for those who are now a prostitute, for those in psychiatry ... and it was for those who did, for those who cook, for those who make coffee on the street, for those who have returned from their family to say that they are fine, for those who send their child to school every day, for those who share a nanny with a friend.

For those who have lived in the project it is difficult to frame a story, to tell it, to give it without veils. We are giving you, however, a glimpse of extra-ordinary life in May 2019 written by one of our volunteers.

Addis Ababa, May 23.
6.45 am. Let's get into the project. Most of the girls are already out and about finishing settling down for the outing. Girls and children are incredibly beautiful. Every detail has been taken care of. They did each other's hair, put on some make-up, "we are up from 5.30" says Kalchidan. The children are wearing the most beautiful party dress they have.
We board the bus and head south, facing the morning traffic of Addis Ababa.
I look at the girls and their 15, 17, 20 years are more alive than ever on these seats: they sing, laugh, someone mentions a dance that will explode as the hours go by and as the day unfolds. Each one with her baby in her arms, someone almost literally makes him fly into the arms of a caregiver or one of us, asking for a moment of pause from his own baby who, instead, is tight on this bus; on the other hand, it is not suitable for a girl on a trip ... she too forces the child's agitation a little.
I wonder when was the last journey they faced and I answer that it was probably that journey full of fear to the city, to seek escape, to seek hope, to look for a way....

Bereket sleeps in my arms, Afto looks carefully out the window…. So this is how the two brats of the project "turn off"!

Music, dancing, clapping. Even Tirhas with all his "closure" and his difficulty in "staying inside" claps his hands. Music in this country is truly a power. Each has its place in the dance of life. Yeshi gets up, takes her place in the center of the corridor and, with the beat of her friends, begins to move. His movements are something indescribable. Shoulders, neck, pelvis, chest, shoulders, neck, pelvis, chest; the hair is flying light and she is beautiful. The other girls keep time, accompanying her explosion of life.
We arrive in Zway, we go down to take a walk around the lake. There is emotion, the desire to immortalize the moment by taking pictures of all kinds: alone, with the child, only the child, with a friend, pointing to the lake, with the worker, .... Sifen picks up Marcon, sits down and, pointing to the horizon, tells him what he sees; Hiwot rocks the laughing girl looking at the water; a few pound their feet. The enthusiasm also involves the workers who participate with the same joy as our girls.
After this break we head towards the Salesian compound, where Luca opens the volunteers' house to us. “Mi casa es tu casa”: never been so true. We will eat there and use an oratory hall to sleep.
After lunch we get back on the bus; destination: Lake Langano, a lake for swimming half an hour from Zway.
When we arrive we are given a mat for the children. The mothers, indeed, the girls, leave them there and no longer think about anything: regardless of the fresh wind they undress - more or less - and jump into the water. Some even throw themselves dressed and then ask me “and now how do I do? I only have a minidress in my bag and these clothes are all wet! ”.
In the water there are 25 mothers who have become girls, 25 girls on a trip, 25 carefree girls. They laugh together, they bloom again.
Rahmet and Aftom face the waves on the shore with me, then try their hand at playing with buckets.

Back home we wait for the meat to cook on the bonfire, the children have dinner and a boy from Zway whom Paolo taught to use the console starts to put on some music.

We observe Hiwot and Tirhas who drove us mad this month with their constant quarrels; their relationship underwent an unexpected change after they reconciled. Tirhas, who is about ten years older than Hiwot, stands by her, helps her with the child when she plays, when she eats, .. They seem like two friends for a long time. Yet, they carry with them the effort of learning to know each other, welcome each other, meet each other, ... But, here, they blossom. We look at them with immense joy.
While waiting, some dance, some chat, some children already sleep on a mattress in the living room. Some girls look for familiar faces on the volunteer home photo board. “She came once. What's your name?" “Francesca” “Ah, so in this photo there is a Francesca and our Francesca”.
And so pass the minutes that separate us from a dinner that is really a gift.
After dinner Kalchidan leaves the house and demands attention. Today Ananias, Alem's daughter, is one year old. The first year is the most important birthday. One year is the victory of life. A year must be celebrated. Alem brought the balloons (which he has been keeping for months) and the party bread. The DJ plays the happy birthday song. Let's celebrate Ananias and her year of life, truly wishing her years of life.
Abba Dino visits us with the Salesian aspirants, about fifteen young people, and the rest of the community. They bring candy for everyone and the kids have prepared a little drama. They are nice, the girls laugh. Alem and Meron respond with an equally small drama and a poem written about the Nigat workers to thank them for being there. It had been a week that every lunch break they had been talking to one of the planned classes ...
The boys greet us and we enjoy the evening and the music a little more. They dance. Let's dance. We clap our hands and laugh. We're just girls for a few minutes. Only girls live in the happiness of this day.

That's it. Barriers and roles are reduced a bit, everything becomes more flexible. And, at the same time, we take care of our girls, our little mothers "Will you give me a diaper?", "Have you already given the baby milk?", "Has the baby eaten?", "Please, Fra, keep it with you who no longer want to eat with me. Give it a go.". And it is in this flexibility and care that we see the meaning of our being there.

The night passes quickly, with some crying and with the first children starting to play around 5.00. Friday sees us cross the gate of the WID, where other women find themselves daily to work, to put together the bits of life that are needed to start over.
For me, returning to WID is always a joy, seeing some well-known faces, giving me the time to observe that place that has given so much to my life and, certainly, to my choice to be on their side. Let's take a tour, the girls are curious to understand the stories of the other girls and mothers they see. They sit under the roof of the Tokuma, where the women work. I take a picture. Girls, women; each is a mother; each has a future waiting for it. And, above them, the sign that every person who spends time in there takes home; a proverb: kes be kes enculal be egherua teedallec. Step by step the egg will walk with its legs. It never made so much sense. About eighty women's hearts are beating and asking to learn to walk on their own legs.
We play, we tell each other about the respective projects, the routes, the paths, the girls of Nigat stage two small dramas that, again this week, they have prepared for the trip. They laugh. Joy is palpable in the air.
Lunch and go, we get back on the bus. Happy but certainly more tired, only occasionally someone mentions a clap of hands, a song, a short dance. The bus arrives in front of the Nigat gate; "We are at home" says someone; "When do we leave?" someone else asks.
You cross the gate towards the street, loaded with bags, clothes to wash, .. the usual worries return to peep into the hearts, ... but we are also full of emotions, of that joy of being together well, carefree, light, ... . And each returns home.

Yours is a solidarity crowdfunding campaign but you have still given a lot of importance to rewards. Can you tell us about it?

Eppela's experience began as an idea between friends during a video call: "How can we respond to the needs of the projects down below if we cannot carry on our activities?".

The platform gave us the opportunity to put creativity into play and throw ourselves into a new adventure. A team set out to create something usable, accessible, almost instant, and reaching many: asynchronous online rewards of ... anything! In a short time, there was a rumble among friends: "Do you know someone who ...", "But who juggles would you give us some tutorials?", "My mom is a beautician", ...

There were many people involved, even outside our Movement and this made us very happy: good wins, once again.

We also see it with our campaign: the sudden responses we have make us very happy because, being a small association, this allows us to talk about the people down to many more people than we usually manage to reach.

We are confident that this is a potentially life-filled seed for those who let themselves flourish.

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