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“Although I was born in Ethiopia, I didn’t have any firsthand knowledge about my roots. When I finished University, I moved to South America to volunteer. While living there, I learned to speak Spanish, make their local dishes and even their cultural dances. I felt a great deal of
accomplishment from all of this but I also started to question why I had never explored my own culture in that way,” says Fana Mekonen, an Ethio-Canadian young woman who is the founder of Enheed, an organization that helps works to bridge the gap between Ethiopia and the youth of the Ethiopian diaspora.
She says the idea of the initiative came after she traveled to Ethiopia and familiarized herself with the culture. “I started to search for organizations that I could go back to Ethiopia with and volunteer. I knew I had family I could visit in Ethiopia, but I didn’t want that experience. I wanted to immerse myself in the culture and with locals and not be my families “ingida” (guest). Needless to say, such an organization did not exist. So I went to Ethiopia on my own and volunteered with a local NGO based out of Akaki Kality. It was this experience that changed my life,” she explains.
Because she left Ethiopia at the age of six, during her trip, it was as if she was experiencing everything Ethiopia has to offer for the first time.
“I improved my language skills dramatically. I learned firsthand a lot of things about my culture from the locals and I got to finally gain firsthand experience of Ethiopia. I finally understood why my mom and rest of my family loved Ethiopia so much. It was this experience that gave birth to Enheed. I couldn’t possibly keep an experience like this to myself when I knew so much Ethiopian youth in the diasporas could benefit from an experience like mine,” she says.
It was this same experience that Enheed aimed to share with so many more people like Fana. With partners such as Ethiopian Airlines supporting the cause, a group of young people have already been to Ethiopia. While in Ethiopia, the group got the opportunity to visit the Ethiopian Airline Headquarters which instilled “so much pride”. “To know it’s Ethiopian in Ethiopia and doing such great things is amazing,” Fana says. Besides Ethiopian Airlines, the group also got to visit the Ethiopian Commodity Exchange to learn about its success. The group has also done volunteer work while in Ethiopia.
“Gaining firsthand knowledge gives you a tie back to Ethiopia. I think for the next generation of Ethiopian-Canadians, Ethiopia is the place their parents tell them about and they’ve visited a couple of times but that personal tie hasn’t been formed and that’s what Enheed is working to do. Learning about my roots is what led me to want to work for and with my community,” Fana says.
According to her, the feedback on the initiative has been encouraging and people are intrigued by what the organization is doing and they want to know more and support it. Enheed is a non-profit organization and it sustains itself by support from its different partners as well as donations made via the website www.enheed.org.
“Regardless of where we were born or raise, being Ethiopian unites us. That awareness is what I want to accomplish with Enheed. I want the next generation aboard to know it is crucial to have your own experience in Ethiopia. They might not be Ethiopian by birth but they are by blood,” Fana says.
Ethiopia’s relationship with its diaspora is one that has become very important to the country, whether it’s to encourage them to come and invest or support communities through tourism. Organizations like Enheed will play important roles in striving ensuring that the connection between the two will not be lost.