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For the last 21 years, the Ambassadors’ and Heads of Mission Spouses and Diplomatic Spouses Group (AHMSDSG) has organized an annual fundraising event. This year’s AHMSDSG Diplomatic Bazaar, facilitated by Adika Communications and Events, will be held on 24 Nov. 2012. Dr. Sahar Kabeil, President of the group and spouse of Mohammed Edrees, Ambassador of Egypt to Ethiopia who is also a Medical Doctor of child and school health, sat down with Capital’s Aderajew Asfaw, to discuss the event and the current state of Ethio-Egyptian relations.
Capital: How long have you been here in Ethiopia?
Kabeil: I have been here for a year and three months.
Capital: So, you had attended the previous AHMSDSG Diplomatic Bazaar?
Kabeil: Yes! I was here and I had participated at the previous Bazaar.
Capital: What was the rationale behind giving the Presidency of the group to Egypt?
Kabeil: Well, it was not actually meant to be given to Egypt. We choose somebody or if somebody volunteers, we vote for them. This year I tried my chance and it [the presidency] came to me. However, there is one rule; that either the president or the vice president be African. This year both the President and the Vice president are African-the president is Egyptian while the vice-president is from Madagascar.
Capital: How many Embassies are participating in the upcoming AHMSDSG Diplomatic Bazaar?
Kabeil: This year the number of participating Embassies is fifty six. I’m not quite sure about the year before, but I think it was about the same, fifty five or fifty six. This is a good participation record. Hopefully, this year’s event [the bazaar] will be as good as or better than the previous years. It will be held at the Millennium Hall, and actually, Sheik Mohammed Ali Al Amoudi has been very generous in providing us the space free of charge. The manager of the hall, Tewodros, was also very helpful and he is doing whatever he can to make the Bazaar a success. Capital: At the 2010 bazaar, you reportedly collected about 2 million birr. How big was last year’s take?
Kabeil: Last year we raised slightly more than two million birr. It was about two million one hundred thousand birr.
Capital: What projects did you support with that money?
Kabeil: The beneficiaries were NGOs who are working with children, women and disadvantaged people. We spent all the money supporting such activities; therefore, hopefully we can do even better this year. In our group there is a committee named project matrix that handles project matters and is open to anybody. It is involved in projects mainly concerned with children, women and all the disadvantaged people in Ethiopia. We [members of the AHMSDSG] receive many applications to help out, so we sit down and discuss, then decide which projects to support and how much money to give. And it is going very well.
Capital: Where and from whom do you collect the money?
Kabeil: We are always on the lookout for sponsors. For example, this year, we are sponsored by four major airlines; Ethiopian Airlines, Egypt Air, Lufthansa and Emirates. They have given us [flight] tickets. A restaurant has also provided us with dinner tickets for two days. We sell these directly or auction them to collect money and hand it over to our treasurer. These are some examples I can cite. We finally spend the money collected on projects that have been approved.
Capital: How much money have you planned to raise this year?
Kabeil: We have planned to raise as much money as we can. The sky is the limit for us. We have a good number of Embassies who make contributions. Therefore, I believe that everything will proceed nicely. Of course, the Millennium Hall is a good spot for the bazaar. So, hopefully, with your [the media] coverage, many people will come to have an enjoyable day. If you have attended last year’s event, you will remember how pleasant it was. The various Embassies had brought a lot of different stuff from their countries. So, you would expect to find a lot of diversity in the things sold. We are going to stage a DJ band, include some performances from schools, embassies etc. and also from one of the NGOs we had helped. There will even be a kids-corner this year.
Capital: I believe this bazaar is not only about fundraising. What other value does it have or what other purpose does it serve?
Kabeil: The group is formed by people from all over the world. It is composed of spouses of ambassadors, heads of missions and diplomats. It is a way of being more connected and establishing good relations with the host country, plus it’s a way of finding common ground between diverse people to interact and work together. Especially, when you are in Ethiopia, there is diversity and unity at the same time. There is a big lesson that we have learnt from the society. We always try very much to help the community we are in. This doesn’t only happen here, but also in every part of the world; the difference being that, here, the chance is greater for interacting with diverse communities and Ethiopia has shown us or taught us how to find unity in diversity. And this is what diplomacy is all about. We are trying to send the message that the world is really one huge country. We are all the same; we have to care for each other. Basically, we don’t interfere with politics; we only deal with humanitarian issues- the real essence of human beings. This is what we are trying to do. We are trying to connect with each other to better understand each other and enjoy each other’s company. We have become very good friends even though all of us come from different backgrounds-different cultures. I have befriended some Ethiopians just because I sold them items last year and we still keep in touch. So, it’s our mission to make the world a little bit better.
Capital: There are more than a hundred Embassies, Consulates and missions here in Ethiopia. Why do you think all of them are not participating in such a venture?
Kabeil: Well, one point is the timing. Some people may have just arrived; therefore, they might need some time to settle and to interact with others. Another thing is that some of the missions do not have spouses.
Capital: The group has operated for more than two decades. However, its contribution has been limited to supporting small projects. Why is that?
Kabeil: The reason why we only participate in small projects is that the group is a moving group. Every year, there are new people coming and others leaving. So we cannot be engaged in long-term projects, because we do not know what the next group will want to do. Our target is to focus on small projects involving women, children and disadvantaged people and just to give them the opportunity to grow up and live in a caring environment.
The other reason is that small projects aren’t given the kind of attention that they need. For big projects, it’s much easier for the government to search for and secure funds. These small projects tend to be overlooked due to prioritization issues. Therefore, it’s good that we look into these small projects and help where we can. You would never imagine how this has helped many people.
Capital: As a representative of the Egyptian society, what are the things that the Egyptian Embassy will be displaying at the bazaar?
Kabeil: We are going to have Egyptian handcraft on display, like some of our famous dresses- what you call the jalabia. We are going to cook and display our national food; I think people would love it. Most of the Embassies will be doing the same. But everybody will try to be innovative. For example, the Sudanese Embassy is bringing henna; Italy will showcase its ice cream and coffee; Belgium will display different kinds of chocolate, etc. Everyone will have whatever they are famous for. Therefore, it would be quite nice.
Capital: What is your take on the current Ethio-Egyptian relationship?
Kabeil: During the Nasser and Haileselassie era, things were right. These are historical and real facts. Now, I’m not sure or I can’t say I know for sure. But after our revolution, Inshallah, things are much better. We are now in a new era and I sincerely hope that it would be better. As you might have seen, when the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, God bless his soul, came to Egypt, it was a historical visit. The people on the street were so happy, feeling that this is the right thing to do. We have to come together. These two countries are more or less the same. We are trying our best to correct the misunderstandings we had before and do what we can to strengthen this relationship, not only in regards to the Nile, but in everything. I believe also this is the real thing-this is the logic that must be used. I am happy with all the friends we made-all the acquaintances we met. For example, last year alone ten medical convoys have come here from Egypt. And they would be coming on a regular basis. We have here an endoscopy unit built by Egypt. We are trying to enable people from Ethiopia to enter into business ventures in Egypt and vice versa. We also have a monthly cultural saloon in the Embassy that hosts Ethiopian intellectuals as guest speakers. For example, the first one was about diversity in Ethiopia and the relation it has with Egypt. So we are trying to know and understand the real people-the people on the street- and to let them know and understand us also. A lot of years have passed and have been wasted with unfortunate misunderstandings.