Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund is Now Live: A Labor of Love, A Work in Progress

By Prof Al Mariam

… In the Western world, one cup of macchiato [coffee with milk] could cost $3, $4 or $5 U.S. dollars. But what I beg of the Diaspora is to take $1 from their daily macchiato expense and give it to their country.

We could establish a trust fund and open accounts in Ethiopia and/or America. If each Diasporan could give us $1 from their daily maacchiato expense, that means we can get $1 million dollars a day. That means we get 30 million dollars a month. This money will not be part of the government budget. It will be administered through its own board.

If we get 30 million dollars a month, that means mothers in the districts who drink dirty water fit for cattle can now get clean water to drink. It means mothers who die for lack of medicine and ambulance services, will no longer have to die. It means we can build a high school for USD $1 million, or 30 million Ethiopian birr. That means one diaspora funded high school is built per day, 30 high schools per month, and multiply that by a year… 

H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed, Statement before Ethiopian Parliament, July 6, 2018.

Challenge accepted and the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund is now live!

When H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed issued his challenge to Diaspora Ethiopians to donate USD$1 per day for vital projects in Ethiopia in July 2018, I accepted it in a heartbeat on behalf of the global Diaspora Ethiopian community because I was sure we could meet and definitely exceed his request.

I assured PM Abiy in my weekly commentary that all Diaspora Ethiopians of goodwill and good faith will dip deep into their purses and wallets and pull out that dollar he asked us to give.

For me, PM Abiy’s challenge was not just about raising funds for unmet critical needs. It was much more than that.

PM Abiy is the first Ethiopian leader in living memory to openly and actively reach out to the global Diaspora Ethiopian community, embrace us unconditionally and declare we are one with our people in Ethiopia.

That is a very big deal for me because I remember the time not long ago when they used to call us  “extremist diaspora”,  “toxic diaspora”, “fools and idiots”, “anti-peace elements” and even “terrorists”.

PM Abiy said we are part of the extended family of Ethiopians scattered throughout the world. Not only that, he traveled thousands of miles to visit us in the U.S. and listen to what we have to say.

Later this month, he is going to Germany for a state visit and in the process meet diaspora Ethiopians in Europe and listen to what they have to say.

PM Abiy understood that we in the global Diaspora left Ethiopia but Ethiopia never left us because we carried Ethiopia in our hearts where ever we went. He said,“You can take an Ethiopian out of Ethiopia, but you cannot take Ethiopia out of the heart of an Ethiopian.”

That was exactly what I said in my very first commentary when I joined the Ethiopia human rights struggle in July 2006: “You can take the boy out of Ethiopia, but you can never take Ethiopia out of the boy.” That applies equally to all of the Ethiopian girls!

PM Abiy understood the extraordinary talent and resources of Diaspora Ethiopians.

When he came to Los Angeles on July 29 as part of his U.S. visit, I assured him publicly and proudly that the global Diaspora Ethiopian community will not only meet his challenge of USD$1 a day but exceed it by leaps and bounds.

Today, I make a personal plea to all of my diaspora Ethiopian brothers and sisters of good will and good faith, who have followed me for the past 13 years every week, friends of Ethiopia  and all others committed to democracy, human rights, rule of law and good governance in Ethiopia, to back me up and donate USD$1 per day, ($USD 365 a year preferably in one lump sum payment) to the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund.

I have no doubts that all diaspora Ethiopians of good will and good faith will give out of the goodness of their hearts and because they love their people.

But I want to make a personal appeal to the millions of my readers and supporters globally, both Ethiopian and non-Ethiopian, who have followed me over the past 13 years: If you believe the 13 long years I spent fighting for  human rights in Ethiopia was worth anything, I ask you to show me today by giving USD$1 dollar a day for 365 days to the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund.

That is all I ask of you!

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “The ultimate measure of a man (and a woman) is not where s/he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where s/he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”

Today, we Diaspora Ethiopian face a very small challenge which will be our ultimate measure.

Could we as Ethiopians away from home measure up and give USD$1 a day for critical social projects in our country?

Of course, those who could afford to give more are welcome to give more.

I ask the younger generation of Diaspora Ethiopians, the Aboshemanes or Cheetahs, to mobilize, energize and galvanize their friends on social media and everywhere to support the EDTF by making a donation.

I ask all diaspora Ethiopians who love, appreciate and admire Abiy Ahmed for what he has done over the past seven months to line up and support the Fund.

Show Abiy your love by donating USD$1 as he asked.

Truth be told, Abiy did not ask. He literally begged (move clip to minute 1:00) you to give USD$1!

Abiy Ahmed and his team are doing all of the heavy lifting in Ethiopia. I ask all diaspora Ethiopians to lift their hands and donate $1 a day.

There is an old saying, “Put your money where your mouth is.”

I say, “Put your money where your love is!”

The Ethiopia Diaspora Trust Fund Advisory Council

On August 9, 2018, PM Abiy appointed the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund Advisory Council (AC).

I believe we have the Ethiopian Dream Team advisory council for the EDTF.

It is a special privilege and honor for me to work with such an extraordinarily talented and dedicated group of diaspora Ethiopians, and serve as chair.

The EDTF Council members have given generously of their time and resources since their official appointment in August. But for their hard work and dedication, we would not have been able to launch the Fund with such speed.

I thank the Council for doing work that would have normally taken 6 months in 6 weeks!

I also wish to thank those members who participated in the successful launch of the Fund who, for reasons related to professional requirements in their jobs, could not make their participation public.

The EDTF Advisory Council appointed by Prime Minister Dr. Abiy has a global mandate to

1) mobilize  Ethiopian Diaspora communities to make financial contributions to the Fund; 2) facilitate the timely transfer of funds to the EDTF Bank Account in Ethiopia; 2) promote the establishment of EDTF Advisory Council chapters globally; 3) create mechanisms for regular input from Diaspora Ethiopian communities  on the operation and management of the Fund; and 4) make recommendations and provide advice and counsel to the Board of Directors on a variety of issues including  efficiency, effectiveness, accountability and transparency. (For more details, see here.)

The EDTF Board of Directors

The EDTF Board of Directors is the governance body for the Fund. Its members are appointed by the Prime Minister, drawn from the Ethiopian government, Ethiopian diaspora and civil society. The Board

1) provides  overall leadership and sets the strategic direction, policy, oversight and accountability structures and processes for the EDTF; 2) appoints the EDTF Secretariat leadership and staff and 3) review and approve project funding requests and institute monitoring, reporting and accountability procedures. (For more details, see here.)

Donations and use of donated funds

All donations and contributions will be used for designated projects. No donor contributions will be used for administrative purposes.

Volunteer services

The EDTF is currently established and operated by unpaid volunteers, including all members of the  Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund Advisory Council. Once the Fund is launched, the Council will issue calls for volunteers in diverse fields to come forward and provide assistance.

To become a volunteer for the Fund, complete the “Become a Volunteer” form under the “Get Involved” menu options from the https://www.ethiopiatrustfund.org/become-a-volunteer/

We are looking for volunteers to help in many areas including: coordination of Country or State donors, promoting the Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund and website, recruiting other volunteers and handling correspondence with donors, sharing information on social media, local grassroots  mobilization to engage the global Ethiopian diaspora communities, event planning, public relations and marketing, website management, translation and a whole host of other related activities.

Use of EDTF Funds

EDTF funds will be used to finance people-focused social and economic development projects.

The Fund will finance projects that meet critical needs selected based on established criteria and an assessment of their potential to make the highest positive impact on groups and communities in Ethiopia in such areas as health, education, water and sanitation facilities, habilitation and rehabilitation of persons with disability, agricultural development, technology, women, youth, financial inclusion, small scale entrepreneurship and other income and employment generating projects. The EDTF will give priority attention to projects focusing on youth, women, small holder farmers, small enterprises and entrepreneurs, who can be agents of inclusive social and economic development.

Tax deductibility of donations

The Advisory Council is in the application process to receive 501(c)(3) tax deductible status. Currently donations are not guaranteed to be tax deductible. However, once approved by the U.S. Internal Revenue  Service, donations can be made tax deductible retroactively. The application process for this takes time.

Financial accountability

The Advisory Council and Board of Directors place the highest priority on financial accountability. The Board will issue annual, periodic and regular accounting of EDTF funds through independent audits. All audit reports will be posted on the EDTF website for easy access to the public.

Alternative ways of making donations

In addition to our website, you can donate to the Fund using our GoFundMe page at https://www.gofundme.com/ethiopiadiasporatrustfund

Individuals who wish to make contributions by check or money order may also do so on the website.

Earmarking donations

Currently, donations cannot be earmarked for specific activities or locations. The Terms of Reference of the Fund guide the use and applications of funds for projects selected through the prescribed process. (For more details, see here.)

Donations from friends of Ethiopia

The Council encourages donations not only from Diaspora Ethiopians but also all others including friends of Ethiopia and anyone interested in promoting democracy, freedom, human rights, economic development and good governance in Ethiopia.

Security of donations through our website

Our website is secure and protected, and does not hold any financial data of donors and contributors. We keep only your membership information, which includes your name and email.

Availability of EDTF website in multiple languages

Currently, the Advisory Council is able to present the EDTF website in English only with translations of critical web pages. As more volunteers come forward, the Council hopes to make our website available in as many languages as possible. We strongly encourage volunteers with proficiency in other Ethiopian languages to contact us using the website.

Latest updates and announcements on EDTF

Our website is the best access point for the most current updates, information and announcements related to the Fund.

Reporting inappropriate activity related to the Fund

The Council encourages reporting of inappropriate activities related to the Fund. Activities and behaviors inconsistent with the Fund’s missions, aims and objective should be reported by specifying details to: report@ethiopiatrustfund.org

Opening an EDTF chapter

The Council encourages individuals and groups to create EDTF chapters in their localities. (For details, see here.)

Engaging with the Advisory Council

The EDTF Advisory Council will host meetings, town halls and other events to interact with donors and supporters of the EDTF and maximize community engagement.

Efforts purporting to be “Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund”

The EDTF Advisory Council is aware that individuals and groups currently or in the recent past have presented themselves as representatives of the “Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund”. Any such efforts online, on social media or other forums have no connection whatsoever with the official Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund          ( https://www.ethiopiatrustfund.org/  ) established by H.E. Prime Minister Dr. Abiy Ahmed.

Ethiopian Diaspora Trust Fund is a labor of love (Ethiopia) and a work in progress

My greatest personal regret, having lived in America for nearly 50 years, has always been my inability to do something that made a difference in the lives of my  people in Ethiopia.

I experienced the pain of guilt and inadequacy in a way I did not expect when I visited Ethiopia last month after a 48-year absence.

When PM Abiy visited the U.S. in late July 2018, he issued a challenge to all Diaspora Ethiopians. “You do not know your country. You do not know your people. Many of your people drink water from the same river their cattle do. Come and see for yourselves.”

During my trip, I spent much of my time in the countryside (geter).

When I visited Sof Omar, (one of the most beautiful, spectacular and extensive underground cave systems  in the world) in Bale Zone, I was confronted with the ugly truth that Ethiopians actually drink alongside their cattle the dirty water of the Weib River.

It was a heartbreaking, soul-searching and soul-crushing moment for me.

When I think of how the EDTF will be used, the first thing that comes to my mind is the image of  villagers of Sof Omar and other villagers like them all over Ethiopia who have no choice but to drink dirty disease-ridden water every day, a fact documented by Rod Waddington.

Villagers collecting water in Sof Omar

Tears come to my eyes whenever I think that the water I use to flush my toilet is a thousand times cleaner than the water most rural Ethiopians  (85 percent of the population) drink.

But there are so many unmet critical needs in Ethiopia in all areas ranging from agriculture to youth and women.

Of course, the EDTF s not supposed to be a substitute for Ethiopia’s economic development program. Only a determined Diaspora response to address critical unmet needs.

In my very first commentary when I joined the Ethiopian human rights struggle in July 2006, I wrote about my own inability and our collectively inability in the Diaspora to help our people in Ethiopia.

In that commentary, I asked, “CAN ETHIOPIANS AND ETHIOPIAN AMERICANS LIVING IN AMERICA MAKE A DIFFERENCE IN THEIR HOMELAND?”

In October 2018, I finally got a chance to answer my own question.

The answer is a proud, “YES, WE CAN!

I know for a fact that every member of the EDTF Advisory Council is working to make the Fund a success driven by a can-do attitude.

But the fact of the matter is that the EDTF is in reality a labor of love for all of us.

All of on the Council labor hard in our professions because we love what we do.

But our labor for the EDTF is a special one. We labor for a cause much, much greater than ourselves.

That is why our work for the EDTF is not a love of labor but a labor of love.

Each one of us on the Council feels blessed to have had the privilege and honor to serve our Ethiopian brothers and sisters in their greatest hour of need.

We know there is a great deal to be done. Nelson Mandela said, “After climbing a great hill, one only finds that there are many more hills to climb.”

We know we have many more hills to climb in building and solidifying the EDTF. It will take our collective determination, good will and energies to make it a success.

The EDTF is not a project for one or two years. It is a project we shall all cherish in our lives and proudly pass on to our children.

My greatest fear is that we, Diaspora Ethiopians, may fail the suffering people of Ethiopia by not stretching out a helping hand.

I want to make it perfectly clear. Our people do not need a hand out. They are too proud for that.

All they want is a hand up in the form of USD$1 a day.

My greatest hope is that we Diaspora Ethiopians will exceed PM Abiy’s challenge by leaps and bound and prove to the world that we can help ourselves without handouts from anyone else.

As we launch the EDTF on October 22, I do not know for sure if my fear will win over my hope.

A former late regime leader in Ethiopia once said, “Diaspora Ethiopians can begin, but they never complete anything”.

I have always been haunted by these words. Truth be told, these words have haunted me to write my weekly commentaries for so many years.

So, whether my deepest fear that “Diaspora Ethiopians can begin, but they never complete anything” will win over my undying hope of “Yes, we can!” meet and exceed PM Abiy’s challenge of USD$1 a day is in each of your hands, my Diaspora Ethiopian brothers and sisters.

We in the Advisory Council have done our part to this point and launched the EDTF.

We know we have much more left to do. We shall continue to work and ensure the success of the EDTF because failure is not an option for us.

But the real success of the EDTF is now in the palms of our collective diaspora hands.

We can open our hands and give life to the Fund which will save the lives of countless numbers of our brothers and sisters.

Or we could clasp them shut and let our brothers and sisters continue to suffer in misery.

I believe the EDTF is the single collective defining moment in our lives as Diaspora Ethiopians, regardless of our economic status, profession, age, gender, etc.

If we give a hand up to our people and the EDTF succeeds, we would have defined the moment and we shall leave a proud legacy for generations to come.

Paraphrasing the words of the poet Robert Frost, “We shall be telling this with a sigh/ Somewhere ages and ages hence:/ Two roads diverged in a wood,/ one was a path to giving/ the other to indifference/ We took the path to giving/ And that has made all the difference in the lives of our people in Ethiopia./

If we fold our hands and wait for someone else to give EDTF a hand up and it fails, the moment would have defined us.

We will be living proof of the foretold grim and gloomy words, “Diaspora Ethiopians can begin, but they never complete anything.”

I say to all of my Diaspora Ethiopian brothers and sisters of good will and good faith, let’s join hands across the globe and lift up Ethiopia!

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., said, “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

In the end, I ask each and every diaspora Ethiopian one question: If YOU and I working together in common cause do not rise up to raise up Ethiopia, who will?

Let us give USD$1 per day, $USD365 a year and help our people help themselves!

REACH OUT AND INSPIRE SOMEONE TO DONATE TO THE EDTF!

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