THE STORY OF AWRA AMBA

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.”

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Just over 40 years ago, in a poor, rural part of Northern Ethiopia, a brave young farmer called Zumra decided to create a new society from scratch. Many people thought he was mad. His wife left him. His family disowned him and accused him of being mentally ill. He was imprisoned for months and people tried to kill him. But he persevered, and along with a small group of like-minded people, he formed a tiny village called Awra Amba in 1972. The community endured many difficulties over several decades, including armed attacks, being forced to flee and move hundreds of miles away – coming back after several years to find that much of their land had been stolen, followed by years of hardship and near starvation.

 

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At a time regarded by many of the community members to be their lowest point, the community decided to tell the aid agency that was giving them food, to stop. They had decided that receiving food aid was making them dependent and less proactive. In an attempt to generate a sustainable stream of income, several members of the community learned how to weave. They started off by building one traditional weaving machine, which they used to make scarves, blankets and clothing to sell. Soon they had saved enough money to buy the parts for another machine. Their production capacity doubled and so their operation started to grow and grow.

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Today, Awra Amba is a thriving, gender-equal democracy and a hugely successful social enterprise. This has allowed the community to invest in social services, like education and healthcare, which they have shared with thousands of people in the region. These efforts have gone a long way in helping improve their relationship with many of their former enemies – most of whom now regard Awra Amba as a positive example of change and development.