In February 2016, PMC visited Awra Amba. In this Ethiopian village, there are no gender roles, and every child goes to school, and their neighbors are no longer trying to kill them.
Photos by Stephanie Tholand
Zumra lives and guides his community with a principle of oneness, both with their fellow humans and with all of nature. Being a guardian of the earth and trees is evident in the maintenance of the village, and in the green hat Zumra has worn for years, reminiscent of the trees and reforestation efforts that he has long contributed to.
Zumra wanted to create a community based on ideals of equality, work ethic, and respect. Horrified by the long hours of work his mother had to put in, long after his father had put his feet up for the day, he began questioning, early in his teenage years, the drastic imbalance of gender roles in Ethiopian society.
He says, “I wanted to live in a place where women and men live as equals and where all of our children can go to school. I didn’t want religion and tradition to dictate every aspect of our lives. So I decided to create a place where everyone is respected equally, and works collectively, so we can stand a chance of coming out of poverty.”
Founded in 1972, the villagers of Awra Amba were scorned, hated, attacked, and forced to move. Their social norms and non-violent treatment of women were in stark contrast to their neighbors. They settled in the Amhara region of Ethiopia and decided to stop accepting food from an aid agency. They felt that if they were truly faced with death, they would be more resourceful. That’s when they started weaving and they have never stopped.
Sales of their woven goods have served them well, providing stable jobs and income for many, and allowing them to provide aid to the neighbors that once tried to kill them.
Awra Amba’s dedication to shared values has led to the village’s development of places like their school, an elderly home, and library.
They track the age, employment, and education of each member of the village. All children attend school, and their dedication to education is evidenced by a remarkable rate of college, polytechnic, and university students and graduates. Ethiopia’s national literacy and education enrollment rates pale in comparison. Family sizes are also substantially smaller in Awra Amba, generally with just two or three children each, compared to Ethiopia’s current fertility rate of 4.6 births per woman.
It’s not only PMC that has been inspired by the story of Awra Amba. They now get approximately 7,000 visitors each year and have dedicated guides for introducing visitors to the village. They have worked and corresponded with several development agencies, and are open to new projects that will bring added prosperity and job opportunities to the village – but Awra Amba has maintained admirable self-sufficiency in the face of challenges for decades.
It’s an amazing place filled with tangible and intangible value. PMC is grateful for the opportunity to visit and the very real reminder that people have the power to determine what is “normal” and acceptable practice. This group of people have decided on a shared set of values that binds them as equals and builds a more just and harmonious community.
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