By Alemayehu G. Mariam
Author’s Note: Below is my speech at the First Annual Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund (EDTF) fundraising Gala. It has been a labor of love for me to serve as Chairman of the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund and work with so many wonderful Ethiopia lovers.
EDTF is barely 16 months since its inception. We started our EDTF journey by responding to H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed’s call to diaspora Ethiopians to donate $1 a day to support critical needs in Ethiopia.
Over the past 14 months, we have been able to establish EDTF as a legal entity in the U.S. and Ethiopia, successfully complete complex regulatory requirements, mobilize over 25 thousand diaspora Ethiopians and collect over USD 5.3 million. We are proud of our accomplishments given the fact that we were able to mobilize global grassroots support for EDTF. “Where there is a will, there is a way.” That is our EDTF way.
I wish to thank the 25,670 Ethiopian diaspora and friends of EDTF donors from 93 countries for contributing over USD 5.3 million over the past year. They are the power behind EDTF.
I wish to thank Dr. Hafez Ghanem, Vice President of the World Bank for Africa, for his inspirational keynote address at our gala event.
I also thank Dr. Domenico Fanizza, Member of the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund, for coming to our gala and sharing the good news in person that Ethiopia shall soon receive a US$2.9 billion financing package, the largest ever loan to an African country, to support Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s homegrown economic reform program.
Dr. Domenico Fanizza, Member of the Executive Board of the International Monetary Fund
I thank our many Sponsors who supported our first fundraiser with extraordinary generosity.
EDTF was able to survive and thrive in its first year because of its young and dedicated volunteers (Diaspora Ethiopian Cheetahs) who took on their responsibilities with seriousness of purpose. Our volunteers are the backbone of EDTF.
I thank UNDP for its generous support of our operations in Ethiopia.
I thank our East Coast EDTF Advisory Council members who organized the event: Dr. Bisrat Aklilu, EDTF Treasurer and members Prof. Lemma Senbet, Mr. Henok Tesfaye, Mr. Kassy Kebede, Dr. Zaki Sharif and Mr. Gabriel Negatu.
Our special thanks goes to members of the EDTF Board of Directors in Ethiopia including Sister Zebyider Zewdie, who traveled from far away to join us, Mr. Chernet Debele, and Mr. Yohannes Asefa. We thank Mrs. Hanna Atanfu, EDTF Communications Officer, for joining us on short notice.
I wish to commend and thank Ms. Yodit Gebreyes Endale, the award winning Ethiopian event planner in the Washington DC metro area for helping us put together a memorable inaugural fundraiser. I also thank Ms. Bofta Yimam, the Emmy and Murrow Award-Winning Journalist for serving as “master of ceremonies” for the evening.
Text of my speech at the First Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund Gala on December 12, 2019
They say the most dangerous thing to a festive occasion is to give a microphone to a professor and lawyer who makes a living by talking.
But if you think talk is cheap, then talk to a lawyer.
So, the only way I will talk more than 10 minutes this evening is if one of you makes a very large donation to EDTF, here and now.
Ladies and gentlemen,
I just want to say a few words about us this evening.
You and me and the over 26 thousand diaspora Ethiopians from 93 countries who donated $1 a day to generate over $5 million dollars in less than a year to support EDTF.
I want to say a few words about us who made history with the power of one, one dollar a day.
Someone once asked me in sarcastic disbelief, “Do you really think you can change anything in Ethiopia by collecting $1 a day?”
It was a question that made me sad and mad.
For I know what $1 a day means. What $1 a day can do.
I know over 85 percent of the people of Ethiopia live on one dollar or less a day.
I know a factory worker in Ethiopia earns less than $1 a day. A factory worker earns $26 a month, which is less than a dollar a day.
But what can we do with a dollar a day in America?
We can buy a cup of Starbucks latte for $4.
In 30 days, that comes to $120 a month, a princely sum that can sustain a family of 4 in Ethiopia for a month.
If we eat out frugally once a week at a fast food joint, that would cost at least $20. That is $80 a month.
It is not unusual pay $20 a day for parking. That is $100 a week.
Two movie tickets cost at least $20.
A one day pass at Disney is $112. For a family of 4, that is nearly $450.
But to be part of EDTF, it costs only $1 a day.
We made history with EDTF with just $1 a day.
In EDTF, for the first time ever, diaspora Ethiopians made history when we came together as ONE to work on a long-term intergenerational project to help our people.
In EDTF, for the first time ever, we made history when we proclaimed the First Responders when Ethiopia is trouble should not be American, European or other taxpayers.
The First Responders should be Diaspora Ethiopians.
In EDTF, for the first time ever, we made history when in less than a year when we
created nonprofit legal entities in the U.S. and in Ethiopia.
set up an Advisory Council in the U.S. and a Board of Directors in Ethiopia.
obtained nonprofit tax exempt status (501 c 3) in the U.S.
built a dynamic website.
worked out payment processing with many financial institutions.
speedily completed complex U.S. regulatory requirements.
put out a request for proposals and received over 300 submissions for review (some of which we hope to fund next month)
and collected $5 million.
Imagine doing all that in less than a year!
But that is not all.
We made history by creating an organization powered 100 percent by volunteers. Thank you so much OUR volunteers! We appreciate you.
We made history by creating a Fund in which 100 percent of donations are dedicated to projects.
Not a penny collected in donations goes for administrative or any other non-project related activities.
Above all, we made history by creating an organization that is all inclusive without regard to race, religion, ethnicity, region or ideology.
To be part of EDTF, all that is required is to be willing to give $1 a day.
In all of my travels on behalf of EDTF over the past year, I have often met individuals who point an accusatory finger and try to shame me on how badly EDTF is doing.
They say, “There are a million diaspora Ethiopians and you could collect only $5 million?”
I smile wryly looking not at their faces but the three fingers pointing at them.
There is nothing easy about helping people.
We serve in EDTF to help our people, not because it is easy but because it is hard.
We do EDTF as an expression of our love for our people and our motherland.
EDTF is a labor of love for all of us who toil deep into the night.
Indeed, EDTF was born in a labor of love.
When H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, the “2019 Nobel Champion of Peace” called on diaspora Ethiopians to take one dollar from their daily coffee budget and create a fund to help their people, we were very excited.
I wish to take this opportunity to congratulate Prime Minister Abiy on accepting his Nobel Peace Prize a couple of days ago. He made me – he made us all — so, so proud!
We accepted Prime Minister Abiy’s challenge for one $1 a day for one reason only: To show our love, concern and dedication to our people who live on less than a dollar a day.
Let me tell you something.
No one will spend every minute of their spare time working on EDTF unless they are driven by love.
Love of one’s own people.
Love of country.
Love of humanity.
Love of womanity.
So, I can say confidently to you tonight, EDTF is powered by love.
That is why you never hear us complaining about the glass half empty.
We do what we do without ever complaining.
Because EDTF is a labor of love.
Aah! What good men and good women will not do for love!
There are challenges ahead.
But we are not daunted.
EDTF to us is a journey to us, not a destination.
In that journey, we will certainly change the old work horses.
We will get younger and stronger work horses to continue the journey.
But the EDTF carriage, made of steel and welded by love, will go on to deliver for generations to come.
Our greatest challenge is not collecting money.
Our greatest challenge is showing diaspora Ethiopians the grand vision of EDTF.
It is a vision made up of dignity, humanity and prosperity.
EDTF’s vision is national dignity.
With EDTF, Ethiopia shall no longer be known as a “beggar nation”.
EDTF’s vision is of shared prosperity.
It is our vision that Ethiopia shall be known for her prosperity, not poverty.
EDTF’s vision is national unity.
It is our vision to come together and help each other in our common humanity.
EDTF’s vision is equality of opportunity for all.
From this vision comes my dream for EDTF.
I have a dream that one day EDTF will be a source of pride and dignity for all diaspora Ethiopians.
I have a dream that one day in every village, highway and byway in Ethiopia, there will be signs advertising, “You just entered an EDTF Zone”.
I have a dream that one day there will be water wells dotted across the countryside in Ethiopia with signs, “Water well powered by EDTF.”
I have a dream that one day there will be schools across Ethiopia emblazoned with signs, “Back to school with EDTF”.
I have a dream that one day there will be clinics in the hinterlands of Ethiopia over whose gates are inscribed the words, “Welcome. Healing supported by the tender loving care of EDTF.”
I have a dream that one day EDTF projects will engage and inspire young Ethiopians to exercise their creativity and create a youth-powered, knowledge-based economy in Ethiopia.
And Yes! Indeed, I dream of the day when I will sit down in my rocking chair rocking to and fro, smiling and sighing joyfully,
“Thank God Almighty we did it beautifully!”
Please donate to EDTF at www.ethiopiatrustfund.org/
Video — Prof. Al Mariam, Chairman of EDTF