Calgarian Amhara youth raise awareness, funds for victims of Ethiopian civil war
"The only reason I'm not dead is because I'm in a different country," said Yohannes Nirayo, president of Amhara Youth in YYC, who moved from Ethiopia to Egypt when he was two, before moving to Canada around 12 years old.
He says many people are unaware of the ongoing tragedy in Ethiopia, which is why he co-founded the youth-led organization in November 2020. Nirayo believes that the Ethiopian government is not doing enough to solve the crisis, and so public awareness is especially important.
The conflict is complex, and has had a devastating impact on civilians on all sides.
In November, a joint investigation by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the UN Human Rights Office concluded that there are "reasonable grounds to believe that all parties to the conflict in Tigray have, to varying degrees, committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law, some of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity."
Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said at the time that "it is vital that all parties heed the repeated calls to end hostilities and seek a lasting ceasefire."
Amhara families impacted across the globe
Lulseged Yimam, president of the Calgary Ethiopian Community Association, says that every Amhara family is being impacted by the war, and that each family knows at least one person who has died as a result of the conflict.
That includes his nephew, who died a few weeks ago because he was unable to get the medical attention he required.
"We knew that that's going to happen — that's why we're shouting," said Yimam. "We're just trying to let people know that things like this are happening."
Yimam says the loss of his nephew is something he can handle, but he's worried about other families who have lost multiple loved ones during the fighting.
He says he's also worried for Amhara women and children in the region, who have been the victims of sexual violence.
"We need help. We have to speak in one voice and that is what we're trying to do," said Yimam.
Yimam is currently in Ethiopia and hopes to observe the situation first-hand, to ensure the crisis "isn't being kept a secret" and "for history."
Since its creation in November 2020, the Amhara Youth Group has grown to 28 youth members across Calgary. (Submitted by Yohannes Nirayo)
Aside from raising awareness and funds, Amhara Youth in YYC aims to uplift and strengthen Amhara youth.
Nirayo says that youth in the community lack opportunities to make decisions on youth-related issues and participate in non-government sponsored associations.
"Many Amhara youth have been forced to give up on their dreams and hopes. This is one of the main causes of extreme poverty," he said.
Nirayo says that Amhara Youth in YYC is already planning other forms of youth engagement, including tutoring for kids, soccer clubs and cultural dances.
They also want to create services for Amhara adults, such as resources to help with immigration work and taxes.