• Who is Alemtsehay Wedajo?

    @Bilen(ብሌን)   1+ አመታት በፊት
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    I invite you to  enjoy the read below about one of the amazing Ethiopian women's Alemtsehay Wedajo!  

    “I have been an actress and a poet all my life. When I came to the United States, I worked in many different jobs to support my family, but I never stopped doing What I love. Art is an addiction for me. I can't live without it. If I were given a second chance to live in this world, I would choose the same profession and be the same Alemtsehay

    My teachers recognized my interest and talent for the arts when I was young. When I was 13, my Amharic teacher read a poem I had written aloud to the class, making me an example for others. The same year, my music teacher, Melaku Ashagre, who recruited students for theatre tours he organized, gave me my first chance to act on stage at the Hager Fiker Theatre, and joined an amateur club that was based there. My interest in the theatre was controversial in my family. When my father returned from Greece, he made it very clear that he wanted me to be first in my class and to become a doctor or a lawyer, he threatened to break my leg or even kill me if he saw me on stage. But my grandmother allowed me to act, provided promised to finish School and not to appear on posters or flyers. It wasn't easy to hide my acting from my father, since I acted publicly. I always had understudies just in case he showed up.

    After I finished high school at 18, I was one of 12 selected to join the new two-year training program headed by the phenomenal Laureate Tsegaye Gebrennedhin at the National Theatre. Asnakech Worku served as my professional idol, while the training and later experience I received on stage from working with the giants of the Ethiopian stage and with top playwrights and directors helped refine my own talent. After the training, I became a senior actress employed by the National Theatre and continued to act and write for the next 17 years. I acted in Ethiopian plays, as well as classical plays, and was thrilled to be able to play some wonderful roles like Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Ophelia in Hamlet, and Maria in The General Inspector by Nikolai Vasilievich Gogol. My father finally came to see me play Ophelia in Hamlet after I'd been acting for 14 years and decided he was proud of my profession after all.

    In high school, I had become involved in the student movement opposing the imperial regime. In the 11th grade, I had entered a writing competition open to all high School students in the city and represented my School, Medhane Alem School. The Other competitors introduced themselves as students from schools named after members of the royal family, in such a way as to honor the ruling elite, when it was my turn, I said,the One and only one who sees all human beings as equal no matter where they Come from, what background they have, or where they were born. He has all the power, but he is not arrogant with His power and He does not abuse it. The school is named after the Almighty, Medhane Alem (Savior of the World)." My teachers were shocked, but the audience roared with applause; the poem I read also criticized the imperial regime. I won the competition. I was elected Vice President of my high School's student association and had the chance to network with other high School and university student leaders, beginning my lifelong involvement in activism for democracy and women's rights. I was briefly jailed by the imperial government but was quickly rescued by a neighbour of my grandmother. My father and I both agreed on the issue of opposing the regime.

    When the emperor was overthrown by the new Derg military regime, I was appointed to The Ethiopian Women coordinating committee(later the Revolutionary Ethiopian Women’s Association) as a representative of the national theater; its mandate was to organize women and raise their consciousness about their rights and freedoms in the new socialist  state. At the time I was secretly a Sympathizer With the opposition group, the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Party(EPRP). Around that time, the artists at the National Theater held a demonstration to press their demands for pension benefits and the right to form a union. When some EPRP members began to pass out leaflets opposing the military regime, the police opened fire and  11 artists Were arrested and jailed. Although  I wasn't there because my grandmother had died that day. I was afraid to return to work because Colleagues suspected my affiliation with the opposition. I fled my home and hid with relatives for six months, returning to ask for a pardon along with the 11 who were jailed. We resumed our work.

    After that I worked for the Socialist programs of the government, especially on behalf of women and children. I became involved with Amba, the Ziway Children's Village for Orphans of War victims,founding and running an arts program for the children. where I Volunteered every other Weekend until 1991. I also founded and headed the Children's Theatre department, based on a model I'd visited in East Germany, and ran it for seven years under the Ministry of Culture. I co-founded the Ethiopian Actors' Association, Serving as chair for 14 years. We lobbied successfully to improve actors' pay.  Another high point was a week-long anti-AIDS festival in Addis Ababa in the mid-1980s at a time when talking about Sex and Sexually transmitted diseases was taboo, many prominent artists performed, We distributed Condoms to the audience inside match boxes with the motto “Play it safe" and had some fun with blowing them up like balloons inside the stadium to overcome the embarrassment people had about condoms at the time.

    I continued to act and write, both plays and poems, I did public relations for the National Theater, as well as heading the program and production area. Although the military government severely  censored artists work, we used every possible means to promote artistic  creativity in the country. Right after my first full length play Demachin (Our Blood) (co-written by my first husband Tadesse Worku, Sibhat Tessema, and me), I wrote a play called The Door that was somewhat critical of the government. After five shows at the Ras Theatre, the Minister of Culture called me, demanding that I make changes. When I refused, the play was banned.

    When the military regime was overthrown by the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) in 1991, I left with my two children (Tewled Tadesse and Aynalem Dejene) for America, since I was closely associated with the deposed regime, my husband Dejene Geremew followed six months later. I worked many different kinds of jobs to make ends meet, but my heart was still with the arts. In 2OOO, I founded and became managing director of the Tayitu Cultural Center in Washington DC, which has hosted Ethiopian cultural events for the last 13 years with very little outside funding. We've produced more than 35 plays and held more than 150 poetry nights. We travel to 17 different states and Europe each year, performing for diaspora communities there; we also organize Workshops to train young professionals. Poetry has always been a powerful influence in Ethiopian Culture and spiritual life. Our programs help keep our Culture alive for all of us in the diaspora and connect us to our homeland and our hopes for its future. Recently, we opened the first Ethiopian Amharic library in Washington DC. One of my greatest dreams is to see a statue of Empress Taitu erected in Addis Ababa, the city she was the impetus for founding.

    Although Ethiopia is a land of many women rulers and queens, it's never been easy to be a Woman in Ethiopia or among Ethiopians. Women have to Work twice as hard for their jobs, for their pay, for promotions, and for respect for their ideas. It's impossible to talk in the Company of men about women's rights or the unfair treatment women receive at work, at home, and in Society in general, men don't Want to listen. But for me, none of the obstacles I ever faced was as strong as my vision or the love I have for my profession. People call me the “Iron Lady”- I like that name, because I consider myself unbreakable, never tiring of the work that I love.

    For young women and girls, my thoughts are simple: Have faith, dream high, be strong and never quit”


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