We all know of the saying, ‘United we stand and divide we fall.’ This saying is true to the core, since when human beings come together to champion a cause it most often has magical results. Similar to the African Philosophy of UBUNTU- a person is a person through other people and therefore we owe it to ourselves and our current and future generation to be ambassadors of remarkable progress. Beruk Gemechu and Samson Tadesse are such individuals who believe that there is purpose in Unity through their recently registered local NGO Fidel Birhan Charitable Organization. Capital sat down with the two co-founders for insights on their organization. Excerpts;
Capital: Can you tell us how and why you embarked on the journey to form a charitable organization?
Beruk and Samson: We embarked on this journey in quite an interesting way. For me (Samson Tadesse) this initiative began in a reflective manner. Whilst I was completing my further studies in Canada, I was doing my reflective paper for the completion of my study. My paper delt on comparing the education system approach between the country I was born in (Ethiopia) versus the Canadian system. Upon completion of my paper, I was compelled and driven to remembrance. This compelled me to retrace my roots in a Project I dubbed, ‘A journey back to Sideka from Winnipeg.’ I sought to go back to Sideka, to my former elementary school in order to renovate the school. The project in Sideka lasted three year from 2015-2018, where we provided the school supplies and aid materials such as: books, writing materials and a computer lab.
Similarly, during this time Beruk (My long-time friend) was tackling issues that he felt needed to be addressed as well. For me (Beruk Gemechu), at the time I was working with UNHCR in Gambella where I noted clan-based violence as well as continuous conflict. Digging deeper it was obvious that education really played a huge role in this since some youth during their pass time were riddled by addictions. To this regard, I went out of my way with my colleagues to sensitize them to use their time productively. The locality being scarce with reading materials to keep the youth productive, we developed a mobile library with educational materials where the library could literally go to them, instead of the other way around. The mobile library was received resoundingly and one could easily note the hunger and thirst for knowledge when the library moved from one locality to another.
When we met, we shared this spark of our experiences and our vision for our country. We recognized that if we come together and shared our knowledge and expertise beyond the regular norm of just donating money, we could really make instrumental change to society. Thus, FBCO was born. We shared our ideas with our friends and this caused a massive ripple effect and we currently have over 120 seasoned professionals as members who will stop at nothing to make lasting impact to this country through the strategic programs that our organization has developed.
Capital: Fidel Birhan is a generic Amharic word. What went into you choosing the name of your NGO?
Beruk and Samson: As noted, the name of our organization has its own significant meaning for us. The name of our organization was derived from the two Amharic words “Fidel” and “Birhan”; Meaning “Alphabet” and “Light” respectively. We believe an alphabet is the smallest entity that makes a word, consequently a word is the smallest entity that makes up a sentence, and a paragraph is the smallest entity that makes the story of all human beings. Therefore, each and every human being carries within themselves stories rich in words put together by alphabets. Our organization therefore aims to shed light on pertinent issues that make these stories and further enlighten them for others for a brighter future.
Capital: What are your core program focus areas that you aim to tackle?
Beruk and Samson: FBCO as an organization has five interlinked priority programs as per our five-year strategic plan for 2020- 2025. Our focus areas include: Supporting Children and Youth through access of quality education. Under this program we aim to: Support students by providing basic school supplies and other educational aid materials, Build Learning Centers equipped with sufficient teaching and learning materials for students including children with special educational needs, and build mobile learning centers to provide easy access to educational materials. To this end we have been in close contact with the Ministry of Education as well as academic institutions such as Addis Ababa University- Department of Center for early Childhood care and education. We have also engaged schools across the capital in order to see the way forward in designing learning centers within their vicinity.
Our second program is sustainable youth development both Human and Economic growth. Under this we target to provide training and workshops that increase youth productivity on matters that they are interested in and provide guidance on the economic value of diverse talents. We also want to be involved in initiatives that increase publicity of human and economic development through avenues such as traditional media and social media. Moreover, we want to surround ourselves in activities that continue to educate public and private decision-makers at all governmental levels on the importance of economic development and the tools it requires to be effective.
Our third focus is on strengthening community security and cohesion by preventing crime and reducing violence in communities: Under this we aim to: Equip federal and community police with knowledge, skill and capacity required in providing basic safety in collaboration with the rule of law institutions. We recognize and acknowledge that women play an integral role in leadership as a result we want to empower women to lead community safety platforms and peace-building committees thus enhancing gender inclusivity. In addition, we are gearing to organize local and national level dialogues and peace-conference platforms for communities which will go a long way in preventing crime and reducing violence.
Improving access to justice and grievance mechanisms with a special focus on women, children and refugees is also one of our vital programs close to us as FBCO. We aim to improve legal aid services; Victims support services and referral mechanisms for the poor and marginalize individuals. Under this program we further endeavor to provide legal empowerment, protection and better justice mechanisms for children and juveniles. Notable activity we are spearheading in this program is the digitization of a centralized legal aid system in one platform where all the party involved in legal aid be it government, donors or lawyers or paralegals can have access to data in order to provide the much needed services to people who often can afford them.
Last but not least, we are focused on Environmental protection. Under our 5-year strategic plan, we have aligned ourselves in promoting awareness programs on the impact of climate change as well as Environmental Conservation of Natural and Human Made Resource. To this end, amid the pandemic we had a project in 2020 dubbed, Green Legacy for peace where our members planted 600 trees in alignment to the call of PM Abiy Ahmed.
Capital: What are the challenges that your organization has faced thus far?
Beruk and Samson: Of course, in the journey of inception there is always an uphill climb or various challenges along the way. However, optimism and resilience are the approach we have used to tackle every situation. When we first wanted to launch and register the NGO earlier on last year, the world was hard hit with the pandemic which presented a myriad of challenges. As two co-founders who live on separate continents, the avenue for communication was shaky. Formal documents that required to be submitted to the government for registration that often took 3-5 days to send from Canada to Ethiopia, took two months because of lockdown. On the flip side, the CSO and overall registration provided a smooth registration transition and we are very grateful to them in that regard. The launching ceremony as well as a meeting with the board members was a bit of a hurdle in 2020 but we ironed things out through zoom meeting.
One of the major challenges that we have faced which is vital to our operation is funds. The world being bewildered by the global pandemic led to shrinkage of funds either from grants perspective, or even members’ contribution because of economic constraints in all angles. However, the FBCO family has remained resilient and we are on track to meet our program targets following the launch of our organization on the 27th of February 2021.
Capital: The organization, currently being volunteered based, how would you describe your support system both now and in the long term?
Beruk and Samson: Fidel Birhan currently has over 120 seasoned members who are the core backbone of the organization. The support system in terms of expertise it resounding as we have members who are CEOs, some who hold high level government positions, while others are experts from their fields, that is, from professional photographers to accomplished doctors, Engineers and so on. Our team is diverse which is of great benefit to us. In terms of financial support both now and in the long run, we recognize that funding is crucial for the realization of our program’s success. To this regard we continuously seek to expand our networks and we are diligently drafting impactful proposals for grants and donor funding. We are interested in working with all development agencies and unions, be it UKAID, USAID, JICA, Norad, SIDA or the African and European union. We also seek to work collaboratively with local and international NGOs to making lasting impacts to this country and similarly invite them to work with us.
Capital: Is there anything you would like to add?
Beruk and Samson: We would like every reader or audience out there to be part of the Fidel Birhan family. You can look us up at fidelbirhan.org and be part of this great movement by reaching out to us. We believe that when united we can achieve what seems to be impossible, because we are all stronger together.