Beauty and solidarity: Exhibit and presentation celebrate strength and culture of Oromo women


A new photography exhibit and cultural presentation at Augsburg College’s Foss Center on February 24 and 25 aims to show the strength, beauty and endurance of Ethiopian women who have joined in solidarity and peace despite many obstacles. Through photographs and talks by the artist and two Oromo women from Ethiopia, the presentation will shine light on both the deep challenges and strength of women in East Africa.

The event is sponsored by Augsburg College’s Women’s Resource Center and Resources for the Enrichment of African Lives (REAL), a nonprofit organization that aims to promote education for girls and young women in Ethiopia and the United States, helping them to break out of the cycle of poverty, according to their website. The organization sponsors 135 girls in Ethiopia, as well as girls and young women in the Twin Cities, where 12 girls are being mentored.

REAL’s executive director and founder, Tsehai Wodojo, is an Oromo woman who grew up in Ethiopia. When she was young, a Swedish woman who came to her village sponsored her and as a result, Wodojo received an education. Because of the help she received, Wodojo was able to get an education, becoming a radio journalist and later a licensed social worker. Wodojo came to the United States in 1999 for health reasons, and in 2004, she founded REAL, because she recognized that education made such a difference in her life.

REAL is a volunteer-run organization that focuses on the educational world. They have nine different locations, and mentor girls who are “very poor and very bright,” focusing on their educational success, their leadership, and breaking the cycle of poverty. The sponsorships include 30 dollars a month, which helps the girls and their families become self-sufficient. This year, the organization has also started a Pan African Girls Institute in the Twin Cities area that has a similar goal of educational success, empowerment for young girls here. In addition, the local chapter gives girls here opportunities for correspondence with the girls in Ethiopia. Wodojo said she hopes the model can be used in other countries as well.

The Beauty/Solidarity presentation is free, but donations are accepted, which will go toward a documentary about “breaking the silence” of women’s lives in Ethiopia, Wodojo said.

Wodojo will share her personal story for the event, and will be joined by Marth Kuwee Kumsa, PhD, an Associate Professor of Social Work at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario and Peri M. Klemm, PhD, an Associate Professor of Art History at California State University in Northridge.

Marth Kuwee Kumsa is also from Ethiopia, and was imprisoned there for 10 years because of her activist work. The International community became involved in her case, and then she emigrated to Canada, where she obtained her undergraduate, graduate, and P.h.D. Education. “She has done extreme work capturing Oromo people’s culture,” Wodojo said, “which had me so inspired looking at how women in my ethnic background used to handle these issues.”

The event will also exhibit photographs by Peri M. Klemm, who traveled to the east part of Ethiopia, capturing the beauty there. Klemm will give a presentation and display her work. The pictures show the beauty of these women “despite lots of issues that impact the lives of women,” Wodojo said.

Coverage of issues and events affecting Central Corridor communities is funded in part by a grant from the Central Corridor Collaborative.