“My wish is for all elders around the world to have a comfortable life like us!”

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Awra Amba, a new society, created from scratch.

The words of Hossain Bogale, who passed away recently at around 90 years of age. Hossain was a wise and elegant man and one of the founding members of a community called Awra Amba. He did not live there until he was older, but helped build the village and moved there once his children had left home. Hossain spent the latter part of his life living in Awra Amba, which he considered his spiritual home.

“This place for me is happiness.”

In 1972, in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, a young farmer called Zumra Nuru decided that he’d had enough of the way things were in society. He wanted to live in a world where women and men were equal and where traditions and religion did not dictate every aspect of life. Despite not being able to read or write, Zumra followed his dream and set out to create a new society, from scratch.

Zumra was born in 1947 and grew up in the Ethiopian countryside. After a hard day working on the farm, his father would put his feet up, while his mother continued working at home, until the early hours of the morning. Zumra was sent to work on the farm at an early age, and was never able to go to school. He grew up being told that Muslims and Christians were different, but he had no idea why. Despite questioning many traditional practices and what he saw as injustices around him, the answers he received from his mother and father never satisfied him.

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Zumra Nuru in a classroom at Awra Amba

He tried starting conversations with his family and community about women’s rights, the importance of education and social justice. Zumra’s radical ideas soon led him to be labelled as mentally ill and he became marginalised by his family and the wider community.

After many years of searching for like-minded people in the surrounding areas, Zumra came across a group of farmers, among them Hossain Bogale, who listened to his ideas. For several months, the group met up on a daily basis to discuss the things they wanted to change. They drew up a progressive manifesto, where the main principles were self-reliance, peaceful resistance and equality for all – regardless of gender, ethnicity or age. Harmful, traditional practices, such as female genital mutilation and child marriage were abolished. Religious rituals were abandoned, and no place of worship was built in the village. The community decided to show their faith in God through hard work and respect towards all human beings.

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A young girl from Awra Amba

Zumra and his friends quickly became unpopular with neighbouring communities. They were regarded as godless and immoral and their way of life was considered a threat. They suffered from violent attacks for many years. They were chased out of their homes and Zumra was imprisoned for 6 months without charge, before being set free.

Despite being attacked, harassed and imprisoned for their ideals, the Awra Amba community remained peaceful in their response. They reached out to those who attacked them, in an attempt to clarify the misunderstandings they may have had, inviting them to visit the village and ask questions.

In Awra Amba discussion is key, at both family and community level. Each family holds a fortnightly meeting, where everyone has a say, children as well as adults. If an issue arises it is dealt with immediately, before it gets out of hand.

An Awra Amba couple.

An Awra Amba couple.

“The community believes peace will be created throughout the world, if human beings participate in family discussions for peace.” (Journey to Peace, a book written by the Awra Amba Community)

Today, Zumra’s dream is finally becoming a reality. Over the last 40 years Awra Amba has grown from the initial 19 to nearly 500 permanent inhabitants, with thousands of community members and supporters based in other villages around Ethiopia and even other countries around the world.

Awra Amba makes a living through a sustainable textile business that most of the community members are involved in. A majority of profits are invested into social services, such as building and running schools, clinics and an elderly care home. The rest is invested back into the business and shared equally between all members, no matter which job they do.

It’s important to note that the schools and the clinic in Awra Amba, both funded and built by the village themselves, serve thousands of people in the region – most of whom live in villages that used to oppose Awra Amba.

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The school at Awra Amba.

Zumra has lately become a prominent figure in Ethiopia. He was awarded an honorary PhD from the University of Jimma for his contribution to sustainable community development. He is regularly invited to speak at universities and conferences. In April this year, he made his first ever trip outside Ethiopia with two other community members, invited for a tour around France by a French human rights organisation. Awra Amba receives thousands of visitors from around the world who come to see and hear how they have achieved change.

We have known the Awra Amba community since 2004 and have watched them grow and develop since then. In 2010 we started working in partnership with the community on an innovative, interactive documentary for multiple platforms, which aims to tell their story in a comprehensive and engaging way to a global audience. The idea was triggered by a wish from Awra Amba to share their story with the world and discuss the issues at the heart of their way of life.

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Awra Amba’s village square.

The documentary allows viewers to explore Awra Amba on a computer or tablet in a 360 degree immersive environment. In the virtual village, they will discover beautiful short films and a wealth of multimedia that awaken the stories of the community. Our aim is then to create a platform for a global dialogue about some of the most important issues in the world today.

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Using Awra Amba’s inspiring story as a catalyst for the dialogue, we want to make it easy for people to interact. So we have divided the discussions into 10 themes, associated with the multimedia within the interactive documentary. The platform will be moderated and led by a number of opinion leaders in the different subject matters to spark the discussions.

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For the last four years, we have been filming, editing, designing and working on a prototype for this, together with a team of over 20 creative professionals, including directors, producers, cinematographers, editors, graphic designers, developers, musicians, translators etc. Please watch our trailer and consider supporting this collaborative initiative: http://igg.me/at/awraamba

Source:
By Paulina Tervo and Serdar Ferit
Filmmakers at Write This Down Productions
www.awraamba.com

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