Sunday, September 24, 2006


On behalf of Alif (Alliance Investment Fund) I would like to express my sincere appreciation to everyone that attended the “Seeds of Hope” event. The audience was a mixture of students, community members, organizers and faculty. The documentary and subsequent discussion on the plight of vulnerable populations in Ethiopia was engaging and thought provoking.

I would like to thank Columbia University School of Social Work for providing us with the venue to facilitate this event. Additionally, the screening was a collaboration of the following organizations: Columbia University School of Social Work’s International Social Welfare Caucus, Tadias Magazine, United Nations Association - Midpenninsula Chapter, and Concentric Media.

Once again, thank you all for taking out the time to join us. Please feel free to contact me at with any comments, suggestions and thoughts about the event, and visit Alif at to find out how you can get involved in affecting change in the lives of marginalized children in Ethiopia.

I hope you will join Alif in its mission to invest in the lives of orphans and vulnerable children!

Nasir Al-Amin
"Investing in Our Shared Future"

Here are a few pictures from the event:

"SEEDS OF HOPE" Documentary

SEEDS of HOPE is a series of documentary films about courageous efforts underway in Ethiopia to break the silence, encourage innovative approaches to prevention, and lift the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.

We meet activists, family members, neighbors, humanitarian groups, community activists, and health care professionals who work side by side to advocate for greater awareness and provide care.

Through the compassion and generosity of those whose actions are not only documented, but honored, the series conveys a message of empowerment and hope.Learn more about the series as well as download and/or purchase the series compilation at:

Saturday, September 09, 2006

An Ethiopian girl shines shoes to pay for school

Closing the gender gap: An Ethiopian girl shines shoes to pay for school
By Andrew Heavens
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, 8 June 2006 – Meskerem Geremew knew she had to get an education. So the 12-year-old girl from Ethiopia’s bustling capital, Addis Ababa, decided to take action.
First she got hold of some rags and a cracked water container and set herself up as one of the city’s only shoeshine girls, holding her own against hundreds of competing shoeshine boys. Then she started saving, splitting her earnings between her mother and a special school-savings pot. On weekends and evenings after classes, Meskerem shines shoes for up to 1 birr (11 cents) a pair. On a good day, she can earn as much as 10 birr ($1.15). Half of that goes to buy food and other provisions for her family. The rest of her earnings are put toward school fees and related costs – 15 birr a month, or 154 birr for the whole year. After months of elbow grease, she collected enough to start paying her own way through primary school, while continuing to provide food for her mother and four younger siblings.
Today, Meskerem, spends the bulk of her weekdays sitting at a desk at Tebeb Mengel Primary School in the heart of the city, getting the lessons she paid for with her own money and using the exercise books and pens she bought through her own hard work.
“I had to go to school because I want to get knowledge,” said Meskerem. “Knowledge is how you become somebody

Thursday, September 07, 2006


“Harlem: A Dream Deferred,”
by Langston Hughes

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun
Or fester like a sore—
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over—
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?

By Nasir Al-Amin

LANGSTON HUGHES, A giant during the Harlem Renaissance era and referred to as "the poet laureate of Harlem," penned the aforementioned poem “Harlem: A Dream Deferred” as well as coined the insightful phrase: "We have tomorrow right before us like a flame.” So its fitting that I’m writing this from my Harlem apartment about a defining moment, which I believe depicts “what happens to a dream deferred.”

One of my fondest memories of Ethiopia is hearing the Azan (the Muslim call to prayer) echoing through the streets of Addis Ababa summoning its faithful to prayer—“Allahu Akbar-Allaaaahu Akbar.” On one particular day, I found myself in a café with a friend when the soothing call came out, “Allahu Akbar-Allaaaahu Akbar.” I told my friend I needed to make wudu (the act of washing parts of the body with clean water performed by Muslims in preparation for prayer) so I went to the café’s restroom only to thank God for not dying of disgust given its filthiness. I returned to the table and told my friend I would be back later as I needed to make wudu somewhere else. My friend suggested that I go to the nearby movie theater, as its facilities are more modern and hygienic. In a rush, I darted out of the café towards the theater.

Once at the theater, I approached the attendant working the door and in my broken Amharic (language of Ethiopia) I requested to use the restroom, only to be turned away. However, after numerous attempts at trying to convince him that I just wanted to use the restroom he directed me to a hotel a block or so away. At this point I became a bit agitated, as all I could think of was: ‘I just want to make wudu and get to the mosque for prayer.’ Moments later, I reached the hotel and asked the Security Guard/Bouncer at the entrance to use the bathroom. After hearing my broken Amharic he dared not reply back to me in Amharic so he just turned and pointed up the steps. As I made my way to the top of the steps I’m confronted by another Security Guard/Bouncer—in Addis this is a common occurrence, as often in restaurants, hotels and/or places of business there is some sort of guard—who again after hearing my decrepit Amharic turned and gestured for me to pass him and continue up the winding steps. By now I really have tunnel vision, I could see this large fountain style sink at the top of the sidewalk that ran along the side of hotel rooms—as the hotel was a one story building that ran up a hill with all of its rooms on one side—and all I kept thinking was: ‘I just want to make wudu…all this just to make wudu…I just want to make wudu…’

Now as I begin to pass the first room I noticed a couple ahead of me entered one of the rooms. Again, at this point I’m not analyzing anything, nor observing my surroundings all thats running through my mind is: ‘I just want to make wudu and get to the mosque…all of this trouble to make wudu.’ As I continued to get closer to the large fountain I began to pass room after room until I came upon the fourth room. As I approached the door to pass, a young woman appeared at the rooms entrance standing at an angle that made the rooms content visible, as behind this scantly dressed girl, in nothing more than her panties and a bra, was about 20 to 25 teenage girls either in their panties and braw or not dressed at all. I turned my head and speedup my pace as I didn’t know how to process what I just saw.

Once at the top of the hill and at the fountain, I could hear in the distance the snickering of young voices, all in Amharic so I couldn’t make out what was being said. I glanced back and noticed that some of the girls had come out of the room in their skimpy clothing and were standing along the wall talking. I finished making wudu and began down the lone sidewalk towards the exit/entrance of the hotel. Although I know I was walking fast, it felt like I was an infant taking his first steps as the journey down the steps took an eternity. Once I got close to the room more girls had made their way out of the room only leaving those with no bras on at the door’s entrance. However, it wasn’t until I passed the door and got closer to the exit that I began to realize what I just witnessed.

My limited diction prevents me from finding the best word to describe that moment, that feeling. In Arabic the word and/or letters Ya’Sin are indefinable and thus uttered but not translated—the one who speaks it can not give its meaning. Similarly, this was an impalpable moment, a moment that can define and alter one’s purpose in life, evoke internal tears and set one adrift in a sea of ambiguity away from the shore of comfort and security, far from a place where everyone understands you, a place of toned voicelessness as one speaks but there is no resonance… as although one speaks one is unable to convey to the world…
what happens when a dream is deferred.

Awakening: Ambiguity Fosters Clarity (Re-Published)

Awakening: Ambiguity Fosters Clarity
by: Nasir Al-Amin
Ethiopia was a moment of awakening. It brought the numbers to life; the figures (4.6 million orphans, and 200,000 children living on the streets of Addis) became tangible. The words (domestic workers, poverty, commercial sex workers, child labourers, orphans, under-five mortality rate, and beggars) were now faces, individuals that I built relationships with, people I ate and laughed with, people I hugged and lent a shoulder to in moments of sorrow. In essence, my reality had changed. My perspective and/or worldview was altered by the realty of others. The children and their families became the center. My life, rather my life’s purpose was no longer about me. And it was this shift that nurtured a dormant seed of discontent that subsequently, led to a year of isolation, self-reflection and reprioritization.

After I returned to the States, for the first few months I isolated myself (at first unknowingly) from friends (especially my Ethiopian friends) and environments (Ethiopian restaurants and cafés) that at best reminded me of Ethiopia and at worst subjected me to that dreaded question: “How was Ethiopia?” As Ethiopia was no longer this tranquil place, an escape from America’s dominant culture and norms, a bastion of generosity and love, my on little gem, this utopia that the West had not conquered or found. Ethiopia (both figuratively and literally) in all it splendor had changed and I could no longer articulate this new reality. My life experiences, Columbia diction and education could not prepare me for the emotional component of my endeavor. The veil had been removed, and what I saw left me speechless.

What words can speak to the reality of desperate girls walking the streets at night selling their bodies, or a teenage mother and her baby after a day of begging trying to sleep and stay warm on the sidewalk wrapped in tattered and soiled blankets—shockingly, often one sees groups of street children huddled together employing body heat as their sole means of staying warm. How does one express that somber feeling when children run to your vehicle at traffic lights placing their hands and faces on the car window with a dismal gaze begging for food or coins?

Unfortunately, for some Ethiopians living abroad and in Ethiopia, this reality has become normalized and thus they have become desensitized to the destitute and their plight. So much so that when they speak of Ethiopia and/or their trip back to Ethiopia the latter (destitute families and children) are not apart of the discussion—for instance, some will rave over the industrial improvements of Addis (which is laudable), yet fail to recognize that the conditions that give rise to street children, prostitution, child labour and exploitation have failed to improve. How do I reconcile these two worlds? How do I express to people that their $5-$10 dollar a week Starbucks addiction could change the life of a child begging on the streets of Addis, as this same amount of money could take a child from the streets into the classroom, and secure food, a school uniform and supplies. How do I convey to people that the cost of clubbing (and its associated cost: dinner, drinks…etc) two nights a week if collected at the end of one month, could prevent an uneducated and desperate girl from resorting to prostitution for a year.