Ethiopian International Film Festival

Matthew, Galen and Phil

Last week I had the opportunity to work with two young American Filmmakers who were in Addis as part of the Ethiopian International Film Festival.  Working on behalf of the Public Affairs Section, I welcomed Producer Phil Hessler and Director Galen Knowles who spent the week in Ethiopia conducting workshops, leading discussions and hosting screenings of their film, “Far From Home” which deals with the complexities associated in an East African context through the story of a Ugandan Snowboarder!  They were here supported by a grant from the State Department in partnership with USC as part of the American Film Showcase which builds upon “smart power diplomacy” and the mission of people to people engagement through film.

Part of the aim through our work with PAS at the Embassy was to encourage Ethiopian youth to share their stories through film, promoting conversation outside of the prescribed narratives associated within an Ethiopian (or even East African) framework.  Clearly film (and in particular, Documentaries) is a powerful medium, yet one which has not yet fully been grasped here on the Horn of Africa.  We want to encourage youth to share their stories which in turn helps to bring people of different cultures together through a common interest in cinematography and the power it holds.  Original stories which each of us have are an influential tool to not only share our differences but to celebrate our commonalities.

Addis Ababa University Film School

Over the course of the week, I was able to work with Phil and Galen on two different occasions, once on Monday at the Addis Ababa University Film School and once again on Saturday at the Film Festival itself.  Through each platform we were able to interact with Ethiopian youth who likewise view film as a means of expression, telling their personal stories within the context of the larger realm of their region, their country and their continent.

The AAU Film School is the only one in Ethiopia(!) and is a Graduate-level program as there is no Undergraduate education offered which addresses student interest in movie-making.  Regardless though, there were numerous people in attendance, each with a clear vision and understanding of film and the important role which they play in sharing it with others.  Phil and Galen hosted a screening of their movie before leading a discussion, ranging from the beginning concept to the ongoing funding to the final production.  For those who were able to make it, the day provided insight otherwise unknown, with information directly from two filmmakers who were themselves living the experience in real time, happy to share their knowledge with others.

Oromia Cultural Center Presentation

For Friday’s events we moved to the Oromia Cultural Center where the Festival was being held throughout the week, with other countries screening their works for inclusion as well.  Sitting on a panel with Phil and Galen were respective Ethiopian filmmakers who addressed the issues from different viewpoints as it related to the country and the obstacles incurred within.  Questions and concerns were raised by the audience pertaining to issues associated with the dichotomies between the U.S. and Ethiopia and the variances in realities regarding filmmaking.  The underlying theme however of sharing your story, regardless of the circumstances, remained strong with the panelists and their message of encouragement.

Film, like music, eclipses boundaries which oftentimes language has a difficult time approaching.  It speaks to larger audiences through a wider array of tools, enabling everyone involved a much deeper level of understanding than sight or sound alone can accomplish.  In particular, Documentaries allow for a story-telling technique which gives unlimited credence to the subject while also encouraging knowledge and inspiration for those who are viewing it, recognizing the importance of the story while simultaneously fostering ideas of ownership over one’s own tale.

To play a small part in the Ethiopian International Film Festival was an honor for me, as it provided opportunities to see the power of educational and cultural exchange outside of the classroom, taking place on the larger canvas of society.  It gave me motivation to continue to use film as a means of expression with my students, encouraging them to  share their stories of challenge and success for others to see and hear, gaining strength through sharing and esteem in relating…

“Far From Home” can be rented or downloaded here:

All proceeds will be matched to help support Brolin become the first African Snowboarder to compete in the Winter Olympics!

Nike Ethiopian Women’s Football Project

This past Summer while I was home for break, I had the opportunity to give a presentation on behalf of the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia at Nike World Headquarters in Oregon.  Last year I wrote a proposal to support Gender Empowerment Through Football (Soccer) wanting to show the female youth of Ethiopia that they could find success through various avenues, including sports.  I reached out to two very good friends of mine who work at Nike – Dong Guk at Nike Korea and Jack at Nike America – both of whom not only understand the global sports market, but likewise the reach that can extend from positive initiatives.  Both DG and Jack responded in kind, setting up a meeting to take place at the main campus located in Oregon with other colleagues who likewise found an interest in this project.
              Dong Guk, Matthew and Jack

With Dong Guk flying in from Seoul and myself flying in from Los Angeles, we met Jack who had organized the meeting, including participants from Footwear Development, Global Sales, Community Impact, and Business Planning.  I gave a presentation highlighting the sports initiatives that had been done in Ethiopia already, including a NBA Basketball Clinic, as well as other Football outreach programs in rural areas, each used as a mechanism for positive change outside the classroom that in turn goes to create empowered youth on a local and national scale.  More of a brainstorming session as opposed to a speech though, everyone in attendance discussed possibilities as it related to Ethiopia, including working with The Nike Foundation on an array of projects which would go to support our cause.

Just Do It!
                           Just Did It!

From Nike Korea’s end, Dong Guk returned to Seoul with a plan, implementing an endowment strategy with the Global Football Team there for a donation package of $30,000(!!!) worth of equipment, including balls, cleats, shin guards, socks, and jerseys which would go to support 11 youth teams or about 130 players!  Although this was clearly more than generous, I am still in talks with both DG and his team in Seoul to make this an ongoing practice where we could continue some sort of donation over the course of upcoming years, either in Ethiopia or following myself to new countries wherever this global English teaching path takes me.  With two boxes already arrived in Addis, we are in the process of shipping the rest over, also aiming to include partnerships with our neighbors to the North, Djibouti, for outreach there as well through a local NGO, GirlsRun2.

                    Nike Korea Donation

I am grateful for the generosity of Nike and my dear friends who helped to facilitate, as they too share a vision of empowerment through sports, understanding that learning does not only take place within the classroom, but that it can be found on fields across the world where players themselves are lifelong students.  Through a collaborative effort with our Public Affairs Section at the Embassy in Addis I have no doubt that we will be able to utilize this partnership to the fullest, benefiting countless female youth Football players across the Ethiopian landscape.  When I initially wrote this proposal with the hopes of getting some positive feedback, never in my wildest dreams did I think it would take on a life of its own, creating countless opportunities for everyone involved.  For this, I am grateful, and I look forward to how the Nike Ethiopian Women’s Football Project turns out…

U.S. Embassy Newsletter: “The Cross-Cultural Dynamics of Ethiopia in Los Angeles”

While I was home in California during my Summer Break, I had the opportunity to meet with an Ethiopian who used to work in the Public Affairs Section of the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa.  Connected through mutual friends, I was invited over to her house where I met her husband and son, each of us sharing stories of both the U.S. and Ethiopia, enjoying each other’s company over a delicious dinner.

To share this connection once I returned to the Embassy here in Addis, I wrote an article for the bi-weekly newsletter within the Embassy community, The Lion, in which I address the cross-cultural dynamics of these two countries from the perspective of both Americans and Ethiopians.

I hope you can enjoy the following words as they pertain to my experiences sharing a little bit of Ethiopia in California during my recent Summer Vacation…

“The Cross-Cultural Dynamics of Ethiopia in the United States”

True realization of culture stretches across oceans, not left in one land to be silenced in another.  As a university teacher in Ethiopia, I share with students not only my experiences from teaching in the U.S., but similarly, those educational encounters which have shaped me from Europe to Asia, the individual pieces making up the collective knowledge.  For the Ethiopian Diaspora living in the States, they bring with them both a shared and individual history of their homeland, expressed through different avenues within the enclaves of Washington, D.C., Minnesota, and Los Angeles.

During my recent Summer vacation, I was able to meet with a former Public Affairs employee from the Embassy who now lives with her family in Southern California. Yeru is an educated and cultured individual who speaks highly of both her respective homes, from Addis to L.A., cognizant of the differences but understanding of the similarities.  With a husband and son living with her in California and a daughter who still lives in Ethiopia, it was a pleasure to share stories from both countries, highlighting the cross-cultural commonalities which make up this dynamic global relationship.

The Lion Newsletter
                The Lion Newsletter

On my own accord though, I took the opportunity one day to visit Little Ethiopia, a city block in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles which is more akin to Bole than to Beverly Hills.  With cafes and shops next to restaurants and galleries, there is Amharic which lines the street, interrupted only by banners which espouse the cultural virtues to those who speak English.  I stopped for a customary cup of Buna as well as taking some time to explore an art gallery.  Speaking of the peculiarities of Arat Kilo while only a few miles away from Hollywood Boulevard was a bit surreal, yet the locals I visited with have respect for both entities, honored to be from Ethiopia but happy to call L.A. home.

Yeru’s husband and son have learned to combine one love which both countries respect, beer, starting an Ethiopian Craft Brewery, “Addis Brew”, in Southern California.  With more Hops than its East African counterpart, St. George, yet still remaining true to the roots of Habisha taste, it was a treat to sample, reminding me of highlands of Ambo while at the same time able to visualize the setting Sun over the Pacific.  Food and drink are perhaps the perfect representation of culture, and both Ethiopian and American flavors are captured in each bottle, a testament to the historic and global significance which can be shared around a table irrespective of location. 


On the other end side of the world is the daughter, Christine, who chooses to support Ethiopia through her own personal involvement.  Heavily immersed in both the art and poetry scene in Addis, she has ambitions to help the cultural aspects of visual representation and spoken word be paths of change within an East African context.  Understanding the global power of art, she helps to foster ideas through innovative methods, moving past parameters set by others, instead focusing on empowerment through words.

Within Los Angeles, Little Ethiopia is a single vibrant ingredient that adds to the multicultural flavors which make up the city.  A place which fosters constructive discourse between people with vested interests in the direction of both Ethiopia and the U.S., it is a critical space which increases, never subtracting, from the metropolis in which it is situated.  Personally, to be able to have a catalogue of experiences which adds context to cross-cultural understanding, I was grateful for the opportunity to see a little bit of Ethiopia in my hometown, and in turn, honored to be able to share my own culture through education back here in Addis…

English Language Programs and USC Rossier School of Education

About a week into my return to The Continent, I couldn’t think of a better segue between the two global realms which make up my current set of circumstances than to combine my educational experiences from back home in California with those I am practicing here in Ethiopia.  Working in conjunction with my Master’s Degree Program from the USC Rossier School of Education and my current position as a Fellow within the State Department’s English Language Programs, I was invited to participate in an online Webinar where I spoke to the power of each and how my education coupled with experience has provided unparalleled opportunities both as a student and as a teacher.

A colleague of mine from the EL Program side, Danielle Yates, organized the online meeting with the assistance of a Professor of mine from USC, Dr. Emmy Min, hosting about 15 current M.A. TESOL students for an hour-long session about the relationship between English language teaching and the employment prospects abroad.  For my part, I was able to speak at length about my experiences over the course of the past (as well as upcoming) year living and teaching in Ethiopia and how my education at USC prepared me both academically and culturally for this placement; one which undoubtedly has the most difficult of challenges but at the same time, elevated peaks which allow for viewing the most beautiful of Sunsets.

                  ELP/USC Flyer

The success I have found teaching abroad are a testament to the rigorous classes which I took as a student at USC and the continuous support I receive from those involved with the English Language Program.  To be able to share those stories with current M.A. students is a wonderful opportunity, and something which I admittedly would have only dreamed of while I was enrolled in the TESOL Program myself.  Yet from those days in Korea to these days now in Ethiopia, the path of global education has taken me to places which I only read about in books or heard about in song, only now understanding the tears of defeat and the echoes of victory of which are spoken. Life here in Africa is by far the most difficult undertaking I have ever done, yet I remain confident in my educational and experiential background, formed through the combination of the University of Southern California and the English Language Fellowship.  And while the journey is far from over, with many more paths and unforeseen bends in the road, I am excited as to where it leads and grateful for the continuous support of those I meet along the way…