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Awra Amba
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Awra Amba
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Because I Dare

The members of the Awra Amba community in rural Ethiopia believe there is a way out of poverty—through improved education, equal rights for men and women, and hard work. It may sound simple, but these values turn many firmly ingrained local traditions and deeply held religious beliefs on their head.

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Segment 1

TITLE
Write This Down Productions presents
TITLE
2008, Northern Ethiopia
TITLE
Awra Amba (Amharic): "Top of the Hill"
ZUMRA NURU [Leader and Founder of Awra Amba]
We believe that men and women are equal. They work together side by side. When it comes to decision-making, men and women have equal say. They are both heads of the household. In Awra Amba, work is based on ability. We have to work in order to eat every day. Men do women's work, and women do men's work.
ZIBAD [the daughter]
I am not a member of the community yet. To join you have to be free from evil things. No conflict, no immoral behavior. No stealing, no cursing. If I fulfill these criteria, I can become a member. You must get rid of all bad habits, like getting drunk. You must only pursue good things. I have many children, so I need 300 birr for food and 100 birr for other expenses: a total of 400 birr [USD$30] per month. I have to work hard to earn this. I weave, sell at the market, and work on a building site. This is for a new school in Awra Amba. I pile the stones before they are broken for construction. Members of the community don't work here. My arms ache because of lifting the stones. I also get cramps in my thighs. I want to become a member because in Awra Amba jobs are given according to one's ability. Then I can do a job I am capable of.
SIGN
Tea. Bread. Soft drinks.
ZEINAB [the mother]
I have been allocated to run the local teahouse. I make tea, bread, and serve customers.
CUSTOMERS
Let me pay. / No, I will pay. / No, let me pay. / No, I will pay. / Here, take the money.
ZEINAB
Is she your daughter?
CUSTOMER
Yes.
ZEINAB
Do you know Mr. Mohamud?
CUSTOMER
Yes, I know of him.
ZEINAB
He is an Imam. I was married to him. I left and moved here.
CUSTOMER
Oh, you moved here.
ZEINAB
But he is not here.
CUSTOMER
Where is he?
ZEINAB
He is in the South. Before I came to Awra Amba I was uneducated and oppressed. I didn't know about my rights. In our time there was nothing called "men's and women's rights". Men oppressed women. They were superior to us. Our husbands didn't even allow us contraceptives. They just wanted more children. My daughter came here without any possessions. I welcomed her and her children. We shared everything I had. We have been together for one year now.
ZIBAD
My husband was very difficult and bad-tempered. So, I left and took my children to Awra Amba to live in peace. I left all my possessions behind. I just wanted to save my life.

Segment 2

TITLE
Every year, Awra Amba receives thousands of curious visitors from around the world. Tourists and even political and religious leaders come to study their way of life.
STUDENT
We are university students studying agriculture. There is a lot we can learn from you.
STUDENT
I have heard about this place, on the radio and TV. Can you tell me how Awra Amba was founded?
ZUMRA NURU
I have been waiting my whole life for someone to ask me this question and listen to me. I had the idea for Awra Amba at the age of four. My parents were farmers. They spent most of their time on the land. Plowing, scything, harvesting, etc. When they came home in the evening, my father's work finished but my mother's work continued at home. Cooking, collecting firewood and water, looking after the children, and washing his feet. These were her usual duties. Sometimes she would even get beaten by my father. Why is there a difference between them? Women are like servants, men are like masters. When I questioned this, my family would say, "You want to be different from others. If you are talking like this today, what will you do tomorrow?" They would say I am mad.
ZIBAD
I didn't have any opportunity to study. I lived most of my life in rural areas and I used to herd cows. Other people were given basic education but I didn't get it. In our culture you cannot study once you are an adult. It is seen as a taboo. Compared to other places I have lived, they have a different way of raising children here. My kids are young and they are absorbing the way of the village. I want them to be as good as the Awra Ambans.
TITLE
Every day people from neighboring villages come to use the mill in Awra Amba. While they wait for their grain to be milled they visit the local teahouse.
ZEINAB
Here you go, our loyal customers. Have you dropped out of school?
CHILD
Yes.
ZEINAB
Up to what grade did you study?
CHILD
Up to the third.
ZEINAB
So why did you stop?
CHILD
Farming and cattle.
ZEINAB
So you have become a farmer?
CHILD
Yeah.
ZEINAB
Why don't you just say "no" to your parents?
CHILD
We can't.
ZEINAB
Why don't you tell your parents, "If the children in Awra Amba study, why can't we?"
CHILD
We can't.
ZEINAB
Wouldn't they listen to you?
CHILD
No, they wouldn't agree. It's all about work.
ZEINAB
You missed out, my dear. Think about it, because we are building a new school here.
CHILD
Okay. I want to continue.
ZEINAB
Yes, continue. Is he paying?
CHILD
Yes.
ZEINAB
Take your time.
ZIBAD
Once my husband told me to tie the calf near the beehive. When he came back the calf had destroyed the beehive. He picked up a strong bamboo and started beating me on my thighs.
ZEINAB
Really?
ZIBAD
Yes, I can still feel it. I feel the pain, even when I sleep.
ZEINAB
Why didn't you tell me?
ZIBAD
What's the point?
ZEINAB
That is what a mother is for.
ZIBAD
I stayed with him for so long because I thought he would learn from his mistakes. I thought we could raise our children if we have peace. I put up with a lot. One day I almost electrocuted myself.
ZEINAB
Why?
ZIBAD
We had a fight. I went to the police and to the elders but they wouldn't listen to my problems.
ZEINAB
Why did you try to harm yourself?
ZIBAD
It happened accidentally. I was upset. I was out of my mind.
ZEINAB
So he drove you crazy?
ZIBAD
Yes. More than one can bear.

Segment 3

ZIBAD
Once a week we come here to work and raise money for charity. We do this to help people who are in need. I'm not doing this to become a member of the community, but just to help by contributing. This is not just for us, but for everyone in the world, even for Europeans. If we work at home, we could be lazy and get distracted. If we work together, a lot will get done
TITLE
Twice a year, the profits made from weaved products are shared equally between all community members.
STUDENT
I heard that the principles of Awra Amba were not created by you, Zumra. It's based on communism because you were a communist.
ZUMRA NURU
I thought all this time you were listening to what I was saying. Your question shows you have not been listening. I never had the chance to have a religious or modern education. I never had the opportunity. Sometimes I wonder about the benefits if I had been educated. What does it mean to be educated? I can't understand what educated people have accomplished. I can't see it.
ZEINAB
People from all over the country and even from abroad are learning from us. But local people like you don't want to learn from us because of religion.
MAN
If you embrace religion this place would be very colorful.
ZEINAB
What is religion? I don't get it. You see the work we do. We care for and help each other. Awra Amba helps to build our country. Neighbors have unreasonable hatred towards us.
MAN
No, the issue of religion is not hatred. We have treasures in our villages, like churches and mosques. You do not have churches or any place worship. You just say you believe in hard work.
WOMAN
Where does God exist? We know for sure that he is everywhere. Is God only confined to churches? No, in Awra Amba we believe God is everywhere. He is with us when we sleep, when we are awake. When we eat and when we rest. We don't want to lock him up through walls called "churches" or "mosques."
MAN
Even the rain outside is the will of God.
WOMAN
But we haven't forgotten God.
MAN
But you never thank God. He even blesses us with the rain, which is sweet like honey. Why don't you appreciate God?
WOMAN
Let me tell you. Listen to me! Doing good is essential for humans. We want you to understand and implement our culture. Religion is not important.
ZEINAB
Rather than killing yourselves through axes and bullets, why not care for each other?
VILLAGE GUARD
We are all children of Adam and Eve, so we should all help each other whether we are Muslim or Christian.
TITLE
Village Guard
VILLAGE GUARD
I carry a gun because people have strongly opposed us.
ZUMRA NURU
Unless the situation changes, we have to look after ourselves. Therefore we need something to protect us. If a fly lands on my eye, I have to remove it.
STUDENT
You said killing is not allowed.
ZUMRA NURU
To die is also not allowed!
VILLAGE GUARD
They considered killing Zumra because he is the leader. That's why I protect him.
ZEINAB
Thank God I found my daughter safely and she came to live with me. I don't think she will ever have a nice husband who will care for her and her children. I have no hope that she will marry again.
ZIBAD
Because of my past experience, I don't think I'll marry again. I have enough children, so I don't want more. I want to live in the Awra Amba community, being respected and treated like a member. Let me add some sauce. Pour me some water.
TITLE
Zibad's application to become a member was declined. She was not able to make the annual financial contribution to the community. She is still trying to fulfill all their criteria. Zeinab runs the brand new teahouse that has been built to accommodate more visitors. The new school in Awra Amba is nearly complete. It will also accept children from neighboring communities. Zumra has applied for more land from the regional government to accept new members.
TITLE
[end credits]