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Author, Amharic, Africa, Award: My Journey Back to When I Started
by Leyla Angelidis, OHBD Author and Volunteer

What’s in a name? I have four names. Leyla. Marie. Fasika. Angelidis. I was adopted in 2008. My journey to re-connect to my birth country started with my first trip back to Ethiopia as a three-year-old. I started volunteering for Open Hearts Big Dreams after we returned. But only recently have I started thinking about what it truly means to me. I am still on that journey, but I am so glad that I embarked on it in the first place. After I co-wrote two #ReadySetBooks books, I felt much pride swelling through me. While I had wanted for so long was to give back to my birth country, I had never thought being an author of not one, but two books, would be part of that journey. And I am working on more titles.

Another step I took to reconnect with my first culture was taking Amharic classes. I have been learning, slowly but surely. When I do, I will no longer be a stranger to my birth country’s language and that makes my heart sing with overwhelming joy. I can't wait to come back to Ethiopia for the fourth time and be able to have basic conversations. And I have Dr. Worku Mulat, my Amharic teacher and OHBD Innovation Lead and Author, to thank for that. I want to give him a special call out for making his virtual class a safe place to learn even though I am not always right.

Recently, I learned I was nominated and selected to receive an African Achievement award for my work for Open Hearts Big Dreams including co-authoring two Ready Set Go Books. This was a big step in my journey because it made me feel even more connected to my birth country. It also gave me a better sense of how what I am doing is affecting others in a positive way. Recently, Dr. Worku shared a You Tube video he had seen, created by an Amharic speaking radio station. They were talking about Open Hearts Big Dreams, my family, and the award. Hearing myself discussed in a language I didn’t understand very well felt a little strange to me. But I was proud to be able to understand a little bit of what they were saying. Dr. Worku translated for me and I learned they ended by saying, “We are proud of our little sister” which felt great. It has been a struggle to connect with my culture, seeing where and how I am being raised; different parents, different home, different continent. But now I see the progress I am making, I look forward to continuing to represent Open Hearts Big Dreams, writing more #ReadySetGoBooks, and to traveling back to Ethiopia again.

Leyla Wins Best African Female Youth Influencer/Author Award

While 2020 was full of unprecedented challenges, 2021 started with an unprecedented surprise. We were honored to learn that our own Leyla Angelidis, daughter of Ellenore and Michael, author of Ready, Set, Go! books Stubborn and Surprise on Lake Tana, was honored by African Achievement Awards as the year's best African Female Youth Influencer/Author!

The African Achievement Awards are prestigious red carpet accolades that recognize accomplishments among the African diaspora of the Pacific Northwest in areas of leadership, community service, education, entertainment, fashion, and sports.

We're beyond proud of Leyla, who is driven by her passion to inspire a love of reading in kids around the world and especially in Ethiopia, her birth country, where literacy rates struggle to rise. Her infectious joy and energy are a driving force behind OHBD's mission to support literacy in Ethiopia and beyond by creating accessible, relevant, beautiful and engaging picture books and early readers that we publish bilingually in English and African languages like Amharic, Tigrinya, Afaan Oromo, and now Somali, to reach emerging readers in under-represented languages.

The online award ceremony is available here, Leyla appears around minute 35. The honor was even picked up by Ethiopian news outlet the Hiber Radio Daily Ethiopia News service. Leyla appears at around 20:39.

Our deep thanks to Davies Chirwa and African Achievement Awards for this tremendous honor!

From Video Games to Computer Science: Shaking The Leader Within
by Yonas Alem, OHBD CS Boot Camp Volunteer
 

I faintly remember how I would stress over finding the right way to ask for a guest’s phone to play games with, whenever there was an event in our house. My good aunties would just give it to me, with nice a pat on the back, while the “Petunia Dursleys” stressed over tricking me to stop my annoying nag, without having to give their device: win-win for them. Luckily, I do not remember ever being successfully tricked, perhaps because the trick worked so well in making me completely forget my request.

My love for video games turned into a passion to finish the stories of as many games as I could, ever since I first laid hands on my cousin’s PlayStation 2. The clear graphics, the compelling stories, playing on the TV… it was just lovely. As I grew up, I found the ability to create huge worlds fascinating. My introduction to basic programming, further made me believe I, too, could convert my imagination into perceived reality using computers.

Learning that a computer and a PlayStation are nothing more than upgraded calculators came as a surprise to me. It is always crazy to think of our ability to control electrons in such a way that we can modify figures, do relatively enormous calculations in a few seconds, and, create programs that can notice patterns to make predictions. I destroyed my first PC hoping to disassemble the parts, see what's inside and rebuild it by myself; my parents didn't react well to it.

The more you understand, the weirder things get.

I am currently on a gap year, after finishing high school, and will be attending Columbia University in New York city, on a full-ride scholarship, in the fall of 2021. With my intentions to major in Computer Engineering, I wonder how different my path would have been had I not been provided with all the opportunities I had. From owning a computer, to having resources to read and watch, to attending Lebawi Academy, I was provided with opportunities that allowed me to jump the hurdle I face in exploring computers and myself. I had the option to take the opportunity. In Ethiopia, I know that is not the case for everyone. The fact that there are thousands of talented and passionate students who are denied the opportunity to explore Computer Science due to the lack of resources pains me. I believe being part of the bridge between students and coding resources is the best way to give back to my community.

On a phone call with Ezra, who is coordinating the CS Bootcamp initiative, he explained me to me how OHBD is trying to design a program that transcends instructing students, to go deeper and tap into the curiosity to initiate a yearning to explore and discover. I saw helping in the implementation was a definite to-do in my gap year. It always is an interesting journey to find the right balance between nurturing an individual's unique learning style and making sure everyone is on the same page.

In the exploration of one’s self in life, “it is only natural to grow”.

The pace at which growth happens greatly depends on the interaction one has with the environment, and the reflection one has with ones self. I further expected an experience and connection with people that would catalyze my growth in understanding my environment and myself better. The leader within me must be roused to come out, and I saw the challenges to be faced in implementing the program as an opportunity for my awakening.

Through the few months I have been involved with OHBD, I have found exactly what I expected. I am grateful to be working with a team that care for each other as much as getting the work done. I have also learnt significantly from the experience and wisdom of the people at OHBD.

OHBD works with Partners With Ethiopia to Increase Literacy
Ingrid Olson, Executive Director of PWE, an OHBD Collaboration Organization

My first trip to Ethiopia was ten years ago. The team I traveled with brought over a grand total of 56 suitcases, most of which were filled with donations. I thought that was fantastic. My goal on that trip was to see Ethiopia, learn about the challenges vulnerable children faced, and find ways I could be involved in making a difference. In my naivete, I thought handing out our donations to the poor was a great way to help. I failed to realize that donated items from the U.S. can take a toll on the local markets and impact Ethiopia’s economy in a negative way. Also, that help needed to be much broader than providing aid. I’ve learned so much over the past ten years, and today two of my top goals are to support projects that have long-term benefits, and if necessary, purchase anything we need at local markets in Ethiopia.

In 2016, Partners With Ethiopia (PWE) funded the building of a large-scale library and community center for Shanto, Ethiopia. We were so excited that a local construction company would be overseeing the project, all materials would be sourced in Ethiopia, and local people would be hired to do the work. By my March 2018 visit, the building was almost complete. We decided to go book shopping, and I was taken to what I was told was the best bookstore in the large town of Hawassa. In the back of my mind, I was picturing a warehouse version of Barnes and Noble. However, we walked into a one-room, very small bookstore with limited titles both in Amharic and English. Since English is strongly pushed in their school system, our NGO partner really wanted a mix of books in English in the library. It became evident that we would need to send books over from the United States. I was disappointed, but we found a great option of sending a shipping container through Books For Africa. While purchasing locally is important, at times importing is necessary. In December 2018, over 20,000 books arrived at the Shanto Library. I loved providing books to Ethiopia, and I knew that this was the start of a long-term book project for PWE, but sourcing books locally needed to be a priority.

One of the highlights of my work is collaborating with passionate people who love Ethiopia just as much as I do. The team at Open Hearts Big Dreams (OHBD) is no exception. The Ready Set Go (RSG) book project is amazing! Providing culturally appropriate, early reader books in local languages has such long-term potential to increase literacy rates which will aid in the continued development of Ethiopia. I love the large-scale vision behind the RSG books. It has been amazing to watch Ellenore, Jane, and the whole creative team develop over 100 titles. To date, PWE has provided close to 1,000 RSG books to the Shanto Library, several schools, and to five small mini-libraries at drop-in centers for vulnerable children. For PWE, it is time to up the ante and support the printing of these books on a larger scale. As we talked with Ellenore, we expressed our deep desire to support the local economy by sourcing the printing locally. It was great to learn that OHBD has already had success with local printers and they will be continuing down that path. We are so excited to be involved in the printing of thousands of more RSG books this year. We have a connection to a brand-new community library and their local school district in eastern Ethiopia. They are excited to get RSG books in Amharic and some of the newly translated books in Somali! Another outstanding aspect of this project is the development of a teacher training program that is available to help schools implement these books into their classrooms. 

This year, on top of printing thousands of RSG books, we are sponsoring the development and publication of two new RSG titles! We also have a goal to help with the translation of many RSG books into the Wolayta language of southern Ethiopia. I am so thrilled about our collaboration with OHBD. Books have the ability to change lives through the knowledge they contain, the inspiration they can give, and the hope they provide to young readers who are striving to improve their lives. 

Board Member Bethelehem Teaches Amharic Online for OHBD
By Bethelehem Tsegaye, OHBD Board Member

My name is Bethelehem.  I am married with 2 wonderfully-made kids whom I’ve successfully raised to fluently speak Amharic. I moved to the US at around 15 years old; old enough to speak Amharic well, but young enough to ignore it. The latter happened for most of my life until I was pregnant with my first and realized that if I didn’t get my act together, my kids would not speak Amharic. That really worried me as I planned to visit Addis as much as possible in order to one day establish an educational outreach to kids in Ethiopia. In addition,  I didn’t want my kids to feel lost at family gatherings in Addis. Well, fear is a great motivator and I made a decision that my kids will be fluent in Amharic and I was committed! So I made it my mission to teach my kids Amharic no matter what. Fear and determination combined is an even greater motivator which helped me succeed! Now, my goal is to help other families by teaching their children Amharic!

Soon after I started my Amharic Zoom course, I found out about OHBD and it seemed as though everything was falling into place. My heart has always been set on education and especially literacy in Ethiopia. Open Hearts Big Dreams was already in action and fulfilling my dreams for Ethiopia and when the opportunity to get involved was presented by Ellenore, it was a very easy decision. Their mission is beyond my wildest dreams and I am so grateful to be part of it.

Read more on the blog!

Artist Spotlight: Alex Regasa, our first Artist in Residence!
 

We are excited to share photos from our first Artist in Residence class led by Alex Regasa, one of our Ready Set Go volunteer illustrators. We're impressed with how quickly Alex took this from an idea to reality.  Laura Bond, the volunteer lead on this project, authored a book (illustrated by Alex) which is coming soon! They're both committed to helping us make this a sustainable and impactful project, and we can't wait to see what comes out of these incredible Mobile Art Lab creative workshops! Here are some of the pieces that came out of Alex's first workshop:
Alex led an art workshop for fourth graders at a local elementary with one of the art teachers, Kumera, who also teaches English and Afaan Oromo. The school has only 6 teachers and around 200 students. He plans to continue to grow this program with a focus on supporting the art teacher. Some of the art they produce will end up in Ready, Set, Go! books! OHBD plans to identify more artists in Ethiopia who can create similar programs in their communities.


Thank you for your inspiring efforts, Alex and Laura. We're privileged to benefit from your talents and passion and are excited to continue supporting your efforts!
Betty Cooks Up A Delicious Dish For OHBD
By Betty Zemariam, Executive Director, Hope Arising, an OHBD collaborating organization

We were honored to feature some innovative fundraising efforts by talented volunteers, including our first ever online cooking class, which was offered by Betty Zemariam from Betty's Ethiopian Cuisine (she is also the Founder and Executive Director of Hope Rising, a new OHBD collaborating organization). She taught a delicious course on cooking the popular Ethiopian dish Beef Tibs, and donated the proceeds to OHBD for our literacy projects. We are in the beginning stages of a bilingual book project about Ethiopian cooking with Betty, and hope to collaborate more in the future. We are working on offering more fundraising cooking classes with Betty, beginning with injera in February.  We will also be donating #ReadySetGoBooks to Betty’s library efforts in Ethiopia.

Betty writes:

My name is Betelhem (Betty). I moved to the USA eight years ago. I am a mother of 5 kids. Growing up, I saw my mom helping needy people. She would make food and tea and take it to a beggar who lived on the street or she would help kids from families in need. Twelve years ago, I got a chance to found an international non-profit organization which is based in Arizona. I am working as the Executive Director.

I like the Open Hearts Big Dreams literacy program very much because growing up even in the capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, we never had a single story book we could read. English is my second language. I learned it at school and taught myself by reading old newspapers I got from bread wrap. The lack of books always makes me sad. When I got married, I spent a lot of money buying books for my kids because I didn't want them to be like me, without books to read.

I wanted to get an advanced education but entering college in Ethiopia was very hard. There were only 2-3 government universities when I completed high school. I moved to Tokyo for a better life. I stayed there for four years to save some money and went back to Ethiopia. Then I was able to get into and attend a private university for four years. I was married with two kids when I started and I had my last three children while attending the university.  I was also working full-time. It was very difficult but it was worth it to me and for my family.

In Ethiopia, sharing food with someone is an expression of love and respect. So if you go to any Ethiopian house, the first thing they will do is cook and serve you a very nice meal made from food they do not usually eat for themselves. Even if you told them you are full, they will force you to eat. We like feeding each other, and we eat on one big round plate.

I like introducing my culture's food because most people in the world have a lack of knowledge or incomplete facts about Ethiopia as a country and our cuisine. Ethiopia has many good and beautiful features and the food is a great way to show people more of that beauty.  I volunteered to provide a cooking class as a OHBD fundraiser to raise money for the book project and to share how to make the tasty Ethiopian dish, beef tibs, with more people.

Read more on the OHBD blog!

Our First Online Gala Raises over $25,000 for 2021 projects!

When the pandemic derailed our gala plans, we moved what is usually our biggest annual fundraising event online. We had to rethink the popular Dessert Dash, which in previous years had bidders racing to bid on and select their choice of elegant pastries, cakes, and sweets from Seattle's best bakeries. This year bidding was on Facebook instead of in person, but the desserts were just as sweet. Cakes, cookies, pies and gift cards poured in from volunteers, and we were able to offer mouthwatering selections beyond the Seattle area in places like Denver, where generous donors helped us sweeten the holidays for our supporters. Special thanks to Monica Lenoci, our long time amazing dessert auction chair, for leading this innovative approach.

We were humbled by the overwhelming generosity of our volunteers, staff, board members, and others who donated or bid on the diverse offering of gifts, getaways, desserts, experiences and opportunities that we were fortunate to include in our offerings, which raised over $25,000 for our 2021 priorities. With listings that included vacations in Cabo, Florida, and Palm Beach, the chance to write a book with Jane Kurtz, original artwork, exquisite confections, handmade jewelry and the many beautiful Ethiopian handcrafted objects, we were able to meet and exceed a generous $8,000 matching donation goal. For the first time, we offered an online culinary lesson and an Amharic language class that each raised funds while sharing the beauty and richness of Ethiopian culture and supporting the many talented Ethiopian artists, scholars, teachers, and chefs in our community.

Thank you to all our generous donors and supporters, including those of you who bid on an item or signed up for a class. Your support makes our work possible. It's not an exaggeration to say that we could not do this without you.
New Release Of the Month: The Party

This year we plan to highlight one of our favorite bilingual early readers every month, starting with The Party: Beautiful Braids. This sweet tale follows an Ethiopian family as they prepare for a party by braiding each other's hair in some of the distinctive styles that are popular in Ethiopian culture. Also featured in this book: the winning entry in OHBD's first ever art contest! Our winning artist, Lucy, entered a portrait of her sister, and we're honored to feature it in this charming tale of family bonding and beautification.  
You Can Help Us Increase Literacy in Ethiopia!
  1. You can buy our books on Amazon. We offer 30% discounts for bulk purchases of 10+ books! Full listing of RSG title, languages and discounts available! Don't forget to leave a review; reader reviews will help other readers find our books!
  2. Use Amazon Smile whenever you shop on Amazon and designate OHBD Fund as your beneficiary. Your AmazonSmile Impact has raised $458 so far!
  3. Run a Facebook birthday fundraiser! Facebook covers the fees so more of your donation goes to our mission. You can also ask your employer if they offer matching donations for employee charitable contributions.
 
 
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