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Black History is Our History and Highlights the Power of Inclusion
by Ellenore Angelidis, OHBD Executive Director

My daughter has asked me tough questions about Black History Month and the equity issues it has sought to  highlight over the years. In third grade, she asked me why her school focused on the same 3-4 people every year. She goes to a diverse school but there are a limited number of students who identify as African American or African. She knows so many more inspiring and impactful Black people whom she would like to see recognized for their contributions. In fourth grade, she also asked why the focus seemed mainly to be on slavery and civil rights rather than broader issues. She wanted to know why there is not more focus on the contributions Black people have made throughout history like the amazing women featured in the film Hidden Figures and the people she was learning about from her birth country of Ethiopia. She then took it upon herself to be elected to the student council and started to work within her school make the changes she wanted to see before the pandemic took centerstage. And later in fifth grade when the George Floyd-inspired demonstrations were ongoing, she asked me what we were doing specifically to help address racial inequities.  

In each case in addition to the specific answers, I was so grateful to share the connection I find between our OHBD volunteer work and making the world a more equitable place. We are helping Black children and adults everywhere get more chances to see themselves, and an important part of their history and culture, in children’s books. We know representations matters. We are now including kids with different abilities in our books as part of the launch of our new Mike Carr Legacy Project to honor a dear friend who left us too soon. See more on this important effort below.

We are also helping create the business and technical leaders of the future through our collaboration with the US Embassy. We know change and progress requires strong, inclusive, and brave leaders. We are teaching them computer science and business/entrepreneurship, but also how to be inclusive and value differences. We understand technical skills alone will not achieve the desired outcomes. I hear Leyla’s voice and questions when I evaluate whether what we are doing is contributing in a meaningful way to a more just world.

This year, we decided to more purposefully engage in Black History Month, celebrating the people, places, history, and culture of Ethiopia. We had a great time brainstorming which books to include – like those highlighting true stories: A Story of Hope and the Legend of Saint Yared or others focused on amazing ancient cities like Gondar and Lalibela. We also wanted to include the places where we are working with the US Embassy to offer leadership and computer science classes, among others: Addis, Mekelle, Dire Dawa, Jimma and Bahir Dar – all of which have a rich and long history.

The celebration is joyful and thought-provoking. It was also a reminder of when we contributed to a panel discussion at One Vibe on Pan Africanism. “We all have a shared history as well as a shared destiny.” The pandemic highlighted this truth in a stark and painful way this past year. Black history is our collective history and inclusion of these stories benefits us all. And we look forward to celebrating and highlighting Black history year-round.
New Team Member Spotlight: Yoseph Ayalew, Program Manager Local Printing

OHBD is thrilled to welcome Yoseph Ayalew to our team. He's spearheading a project to print Ready, Set, Go books right in Ethiopia! We asked Yoseph what motivated him to lead this incredible effort:

"I’ve always followed my passion rather than running after money. So when it comes to ‘work that matters’, non-profit jobs offer the opportunity to be a part of something that will profoundly impact society. That is why I joined Open Heart Big Dreams. Ethiopian children want to read a good story, but with the lack of good reading material, standards of literacy are going down. I suppose it is all due to the lack of stakeholders, but a few well-meaning Ethiopians are helping children properly focus on reading and making education a priority. I believe Open Heart Big Dreams will fulfill for those children who want read many story books. I am lucky to be a part of this journey. I am probably not the first person to work towards achieving my particular dream. As such, there’s no need to reinvent the wheel. My dream is big like Open Heart Big Dreams: to immerse myself with great ideas and techniques, and to take OHBD to the next level. That level is to improve children reading skills by helping to publish many story books with my colleagues throughout Ethiopia. Thank you. God bless you all"

OHBD now has bilingual Amharic-English books available for pick up in Addis Ababa for $2/book, with a 50 book minimum per order. We have 10 titles available in Q1 and plan to add 10 more titles during each quarter of 2021. Tremendous thanks to Partners with Ethiopia for sponsoring half of the first set of books!
Jane Kurtz Reflects On Literacy, Passion and Being A Book Ambassador

After author Jane Kurtz spoke to Betsy Bird about Ready, Set, Go! and OHBD's mission to increase literacy in Ethiopia, she wrote about her journey and how her Ethiopian roots have inspired her to bring the rich history, ancient culture, and brilliant stories of Ethiopia to children around the world. Thanks in large part to Jane's passion and tireless efforts, we've created and published a diverse catalog of books telling these stories and featuring some of the incredible people and places that make Ethiopia a unique historical treasure. From the rock-hewn churches carved into the earth in Lalibela to the gates and castles of Gonder, we celebrate the contributions of Ethiopians during Black History Month and every other month of the year.

Our efforts to publish engaging, beautiful and relevant early readers in Ethiopian languages like Amharic, Tigrinya and Afaan Oromo help readers in under-represented languages around the world connect with their language, their culture, and their heritage.

Thank you, Jane, for your words and your work.
Read more on the blog.

When You Don’t Find the Role Models You Need, Sometimes You Need to Become Them
by Ellenore Angelidis

Shortly after we lost our dear friend and longtime OHBD supporter, Mike Carr to cancer much too soon, I wrote a post about the impact he had on me and so many others. He became the role model he longed to find when he was younger after he lost the use of his legs in an accident. I wanted to honor his huge legacy in a meaningful way given the world lost such a bright light. To keep the candle lit for those who would never get to know Mike. 


I started working on Sign to Me, a true story of a young deaf boy, as a first step. Shortly after starting that book, Susie Carr, Mike’s widow, reached out to ask if OHBD would be willing to accept a personal grant to launch the Mike Carr Legacy Project.  There were tears in my eyes because I was so thrilled to get the chance to do this important work in partnership with Mike’s family.  We decided on the following focus areas to start:  We will create children’s books featuring kids with different abilities as main characters as well as supporting ones.  Even with our focus on gender parity, highlighting the country and cities, featuring all regions and religions of Ethiopia in as many local languages over time as possible, not one of our first 100 books featured a child or adult with a different ability.  It was a stark reminder that, without focus and intention, this representation will not just happen. 


In addition to inclusive books, we are ensuring our other programs are available to young people with different abilities including our computer science and business and entrepreneurship trainings with the US Embassy and developing a “disability lens” to help other organizations avoid the miss we made. Lastly, we are working on a research project to identify successful local efforts supporting kids with different abilities that we can highlight, scale, or amplify. Our Innovation Leader, Dr. Worku Mulat is heading up those efforts and is traveling to Ethiopia at the end of this month to begin this research. The response from the diaspora and the local Ethiopian community has been wonderful so far.  Mike Carr’s legacy is a huge responsibility we are honored to take forward. EVERY young person deserves BIG DREAMS and role models like Mike.

Read more on the OHBD blog.
OHBD Publishes First Two Books Focused on Inclusion - Mike Carr Legacy Project

We at OHBD believe children in Ethiopia, like those around the world, deserve beautiful, relevant books in which they can see themselves. We know that representation matters, and we're so excited to share our first two titles in a series of books featuring Ethiopians of different abilities and genders. We're honored to publish these as part of the Mike Carr Legacy Project, an initiative to create opportunities and representation for kids with disabilities in Ethiopia.

Sign to Me follows a young deaf boy whose world lights up when a relative who understands sign language comes to visit. As he and his family learn to sign, their worlds transform and joy abounds. This sweet tale of how accommodation and understanding can turn a challenge into a blessing is based on a true story shared by our Washington, DC lead and co-author Meseret Tekle.

Girls Grow Up looks at some of the fabulous females of Ethiopia, like Isabella Tewodros, the youngest scuba diver in the world, and Yetnebersh Nigussie, the blind Ethiopian lawyer fighting for equality and human rights. This book is a celebration of some of the amazing girls and women that help make Ethiopia great.

Every time you purchase a Ready, Set, Go book you're helping us create and distribute more bilingual children's books in Ethiopian languages. Remember to leave a review after your purchase to help others find our books, too!
Cooking For Books With Betty is Back!

Our last cooking class with Betty from Betty's Ethiopian Cuisine was such a hit that she's agreed to come back for a two-part lesson on how to cook an Ethiopian staple: injera. This famous flatbread is a central component of Ethiopian cooking, and you'll learn how to make the dough (part 1) as well as how to cook a savory stew (shiro wat) to serve with it (part 2). Some of the funds will be used to donate Ready, Set, Go books to libraries through Hope Arising, a nonprofit that supports health, education and microloans in Ethiopia.

Betty’s organization Hope Arising received 75 copies of Ready Set Go titles)

Classes will be held February 27 and 28 at 1 pm over Zoom. Make your $40 donation here to reserve your spot and we'll send you an ingredients list and the Zoom link! We hope to see you this weekend!
Hibret Elementary School Library Opens

We are excited to celebrate the opening of the new Hibret Elementary School library in Gonder, Ethiopia with our longtime collaborator and supporter in this effort, Mekonnen Kassa. The library was built to honor Mekonnen's father, Sargent Fentahun Kassa, and his love of learning. We're grateful to Sargent Kassa for raising such a remarkable son and for helping inspire a love of reading in future generations of Ethiopian children. Thanks also to Link Ethiopia and individuals from Microsoft for supporting this project!

Mekonnen wrote about the project for the OHBD blog:

I thought about the children of Gonder who do not have an opportunity to read and remembered my father’s insistence on getting an education. Along with my participation in OHBD, I leveraged all my relationships and used them to build a small library at my old elementary school. I discussed my decision with Ellenore and secured her full support. I then started raising funds using Microsoft employee donation and company matching programs. I traveled to Gonder, visited the school, and met with the principal and teaching staff, and identified the place for the library. Almost a year later, the building is about to be completed as seen in the photos below.

We built the library because I remember my father’s insistence on education and I understand the value of reading books. America has afforded me the opportunity to read, and it has benefited me tremendously in my personal and professional life. We wanted to provide similar opportunities to our children in Gonder. This library is a small contribution but I believe it is a significant step to awaken the community to focus on educating our children."

Read more on the blog.
Our First Art Contest Winner Is Now A Searchable Illustrator on Amazon!

Last year, Lucy was inspired by her sister's beautiful braids to draw a portrait and enter it into our first ever OHBD art contest. Her work was chosen as the winner and was published in The Party, a sweet tale of family bonding as relatives braid each other's hair in preparation for a special gathering. Here she is holding up her book, and her winning artwork.

Our next annual art contest is approaching soon! If you know a young person who loves to draw or paint, they could become a published illustrator, searchable on Amazon like Lucy! Follow OHBD on social media and subscribe to the newsletter to watch for the announcement calling for submissions coming soon.

You Can Help Us On Our Mission To Support Literacy

  1. Ask your school or library to carry OHBD books. We offer a 30% discount for bulk purchases! Complete catalog here.
  2. Sponsor the creation or printing of a Ready Set Go book
  3. Run a Facebook birthday or goal oriented fundraiser. Facebook covers the transaction fees so more goes to our mission to increase literacy! Remember to ask if your employer offers matching donations!
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Open Hearts Big Dreams Fund · Editor - Anna Graham · 3518 241st Ave SE · Issaquah, WA 98029 · USA

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