Agitu Wodajo: Advocate for women in Ethiopia and Minnesota

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by Farrah Yusuf and Sacdi Mohamed • Why would a rich person in Ethiopia migrate to America to become poor? Because if you are like Agitu Wadajo, you have a drive to empower women in becoming increasingly self-relaint. The mother of five children gave up her comfortable life in Ethiopia to come to America. In Ethiopia, Agito lived in a mansion with many servants and had owned property. Agitu was wealthy in her homeland in Ethiopia. She also used to live in the capital city of Addis Ababa.

Agito Wadajo was born and raised at Nedjo wollega in Ethiopia. As a young women she “received a degree in community nursing from the public health college” in northern Ethiopia. After college Agitu was a midwife nurse. Throughout her career she never lost a baby! Agito went from a nurse to helping displaced the women in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia men were abusive, powerful and looked down on women.

“In Ethiopia,” says Agitu “women lack child care and without childcare women can’t do anything!”

While in Ethiopia, Agitu was passionate about helping other people, “especially helping displaced women in Ethiopia who had little or no education skills.” In 1990, Agitu opened the Women’s Self-Reliance Association in Ethiopia.

“This program,” said Agitu, “teaches women many things, from how to sew to how the mill process of food works. It also helps women who are trying to start their own business and those who are trying to sell products.”

“It was successful and I could make a lot of money but instead I used that time to help others,” says Agitu. As her success grew, so did her fame. A majority of Ethiopian men, who were powerful and abusive, didn’t like Agitu’s mission. They portrayed her as a women who encouraged divorce and conflict.

In 1994, Agitu and her children migrated to the United States. She chose the Twin Cities located in Minnesota as her new home, due to the fact that a sibling was already living there. In 1997, Agitu enrolled in Metropolitan State University and has graduated from there with a BA in Human Services and a impressive GPA of 3.73!

At the Twin Cities, Agitu saw the same problems that she had seen in Ethiopia. Ethiopian women didn’t speak the nation’s official language and had few skills. They had no resources to help themselves and many were victims of domestic abuse. After seeing the same horrors that she saw in Ethiopia, Agitu opened the International Self-Reliance Agency (ISAW).

“Starting the ISAW was extremely easy [than starting the Women’s Self-Reliance Association back home] because in the United States, they encouraged [me] to do it.” said Agitu.

ISAW is similar to the WSA in Ethiopia. ISAW “provides educational, financial, emotional, spiritual and social support to isolated immigrant women in the Twin Cities.” Agitu enjoys and is enthralled about her work.

“I don’t count the hours I work or the problems I have.” says Agitu. “I count character. I count whether I build it in others, and build it to please God. In that, I have the most happiness.”

But despite her happiness and her hard work, Agitu still faces obstacles.

“Other organizations are comparative and my work is thriving.” says Agitu. “I’m always overworked and underpaid, the work is intense, and funding our organization is challenging. We also need more staff. [But what keeps me going is when I see] women coming in crying and I solve their problems in a short amount of time.”

To many Ethiopian women, Agitu is a symbol of hope, while to a small percent, she is a threat. But one thing is true: she is brave. Brave for leaving her homeland, social class and starting the Women’s Self-Reliance Association under a male controlled country.

“I’m not doing this for myself,” says Agitu, “I’m doing it so one day I could see women as political leaders or in control.” Perhaps that would come true one day but all we can do is wait and do our part like Agitu!

Farrah Yusuf and Sacdi Mohamed are high school students in the Twin Cities. They originally wrote this article for Haboon magazine..

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