ALEDO — Local women are invited to take a break from holiday craziness for a special Christian conference called Untangled from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, at The Slammer Bed & Breakfast.
Conference speakers will include singer/songwriter Chris Walters of Camanche, Iowa; Lori Boruff and Deb Bowen, both of Aledo, who are authors and speakers; and Amen Gabre, a 17-year-old exchange student from Ethiopia, who has worked with Ms. Bowen and is passionate about women’s rights in Africa.
“We wanted to launch a speaking platform for Amen to talk about special experiences she’s had,” Ms. Bowen said of the student, who spent the last school year at Davenport Central and is completing high school at Scattergood Friends School outside Iowa City. Ms. Gabre received a full scholarship from an anonymous donor.
Ms. Gabre’s essay about the book “The Bold Countryside Girl” by Beza Tamerat, a distant relative of hers, won first place in the 2016 Iowa Letters About Literature program, in the high-school division.
“I was just blown away by the depth of a girl her age,” Ms. Bowen said, noting Ms. Gabre’s talented-and-gifted program teacher at Central “really challenged her, and told her she could do it.”
Ms. Bowen encouraged Ms. Gabre to expand her essay for her “A Book by Me” series, short books for students written and illustrated by students. The series includes books on the Holocaust, human rights, veterans, and other heroes.
Ms. Gabre’s book is “The Plight of Ethiopian Girls,” and it’s about her life and the struggle for young Ethiopian women. It was illustrated by Faith Mutum of Rock Island.
“It’s very personal to me since I was a pre-teen when I witnessed young girls in a small village being circumcised,” Ms. Gabre wrote in a recent email. “I’ve never been able to forget their screams as their elders tortured them in the name of tradition. Since then, I’ve learned that many women die in childbirth and have other health complications due to this heinous act. I want to get a law degree and help stop this in my country and other countries as well.”
She said she was surprised to see how supportive the Davenport Central teachers were when she arrived in fall 2015. “It isn’t like that in my country,” Ms. Gabre said.
She also was impressed by Ms. Bowen’s giving heart. “She endorsed my dreams, and I knew her kind inclinations toward me,” she wrote.
In her essay, Ms. Gabre wrote of the Ethiopian author: “I used to think that girls who live in the countryside of Ethiopia would never get the chance to come out from their darkness. If phenomenal girls like you can make it through all the difficulties, obstacles, and pains that you endured, then it gives me hope that I can make it, too.”
On Saturday, the teen will talk about Ethiopia, “the reason why I became a feminist, and female genital mutilation, which I believe is the core part of my whole speaking,” she said by email. “Also, I will talk about God’s grace, mercy and blessing upon my family and I.”
The registration fee for Saturday’s Untangled conference is $89, which includes a light breakfast, lunch and conference materials. Payment options are by check, made out to Deb Bowen and mailed to 802 N.E. 3rd Ave., Aledo, IL 61231, or by credit card. To register by credit card, email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 309-371-9436. Limited overnight accommodations are available at The Slammer, 309 S. College Ave., Aledo; call 309-582-5359.
Ms. Gabre is raising money to pay off her parents’ loan for her airline tickets by seeking donations. You can win a coffee basket, which includes a package of Ethiopian coffee, by donating at La Belle Vie restaurant, 205 S. College Ave., Aledo.
Ms. Gabre’s book will be available on Amazon in January. Anyone interested in pre-ordering can call 417-527-2542. For more information on the book series, visit abookbyme.com.
Amen Gabre’s award-winning essay
First of all, let me tell you that I am a foreign exchange student from Ethiopia. I have been in Iowa for the past four months, and I have learned so much about life while on this journey in the western world.
Your book, “The Bold Countryside Girl,” is so incredible and has helped me put my life’s goals in perspective. Your book inspires me in my life and gives me hope for the future. I thank God that your ending to the book is hopeful, and that readers are left believing that they also can be successful and be led into the light.
I used to think that girls who live in the countryside of Ethiopia would never get the chance to come out from their darkness. If phenomenal girls like you can make it through all the difficulties, obstacles, and pains that you endured, then it gives me hope that I can make it, too.
You make me look deeper into my home country of Ethiopia, which helps me to discover my talent and hope for the future. Most of us live in our own worlds and fail to fathom what people go through every day. Your story is influential for the broken-hearted because it encourages me. It teaches me how I can reach my goals even when my situation may seem impossible, when people are negative to me, when I feel betrayed, or when I hear words that really hurt. My heart just melted when you wrote:
“I asked for education but they talked about marriage. … With my question still shouting in my head, I simply conformed to my parents’ will. Thus, I just stayed at home and did chores that don’t fit my age. I got up early in the morning; I loaded jerry cans on donkeys’ backs and went far away to fetch water with the neighborhood children. My mother would give me qolo (roasted grain) for the journey. Then we walked kilometers and would be back at noon.”
So many students in the Western world complain about going to school when there are so many girls in the world who wish very badly that they could. They cannot attend due to social problems and restraints. I find it very sad that a girl in Ethiopia has to stay at home with her mother and get trained for her life as a wife while she is still a child. She has no other options and cannot dream of a better future.
I had never heard about how girls were treated so differently in the countryside of Ethiopia until I read your book. After reading your book, I was inspired to go visit my relatives who lived in the eastern part of Ethiopia, Arsi. My hatred to this backwards society began when I was 12, when I saw five girls being circumcised with one razor blade, and they screamed so loudly.
You might wonder why I didn’t do something instead of watching it happen. My parents couldn’t intervene and say anything because the Ethiopian people call it a tradition because they think that uncircumcised girls become lewd. You cannot go against them. To me, it is plain brutality and certainly not tradition.
After witnessing this horrible and immoral act, I began to dream big dreams. My goal is to stand for the girls in my country of Ethiopia and teach the elders that the tradition of female circumcision is killing girls’ sense of worth. This is not a temporary feeling that I had when I saw the girls; it is rather a feeling that I have deep in my heart. I want to represent all girls and show them that there is a different way. My goal is to lead the movement to make changes about how Ethiopians treats their young girls. I hope to be that light that leads them out of their darkness.
You also write a very surprising story:
“I was always terrified to serve dinner to my older brothers; after all, I had been working all the day and they were at school. Don’t they possess a sense of sympathy, or did the tradition make them inhuman? I bore this rancor for years, but it all burst out when my parents arranged a marriage with someone I never had known. I was not asked if I wanted to marry or not; (it) didn’t matter as long as the bride was wealthy enough. That time, my resentment to be born there, and to be ever created, got to its zenith. Therefore, I decided to run away, to be bold enough to accomplish my own dreams.”
It is very remarkable that you lived with a parent that was not trustworthy. Your parents preferred a penny rather than their own daughter, and they betrayed you.
Your book has helped me dig more and more into my upbringing, and I feel a deep sense of sadness for the other Ethiopian girls who are suffering from this same type of oppression. You will always be my hero, as you have encouraged me to study in the United States and learn how to be an advocate for girls in my home country of Ethiopia.
I finally understand that the problem you face is not only personal, but that this problem is part of a larger cultural tradition that needs to be abolished. As I read your book, I became aware that you were a part of the system, and that your destiny relied on others in the community. I know that not much can be achieved as a single person, but if we unite together, much can be done. As a saying of my local people goes: Fifty oranges are a heavy load for a person, but they become a beautiful decoration for 50 people.
I crave and aspire to see change happen in the life of my people. Ethiopians, and in particular fellow girls and women, have been forced down by the gravity of poverty, social, and traditional evils. My hope is that the girls will rise up and make changes.
As you have shown in your book, education is the key to helping girls to understand the possibilities that exist and create better lives for themselves. I hope to be a part of that solution when I return to Ethiopia next year.