Interview | Zumra Nuru, the founder of Awra Amba community

Some people are determined to face challenges instead of being discouraged by them. Only the wise and brave ones dare to confront challenges and are eventually able to see the realization of their dream.

What seemed to be impossible has become possible. The one who was cursed sometime in the past has now become dignified. This happens with no miracle, but through his endeavour and strong commitment. I am talking about Zumra Nuru, the founder of Awra Amba community. Although he did not get a chance to go to formal school, he has got all the wisdom followers who share his idea, understand his logical reasoning and live together harmoniously under his leadership. Zumra received honorary doctorate from Jimma University.Zumra Nuru - founder Ethiopia's Awra Amba community

Moreover, the Awra Amba community was named Good Will Ambassador by the Interfaith Peace-building Initiative (IPI) for its role to build a just society. The Community’s rule which is expressed under the motto: “Treat others the way you want to be treated” was acknowledged and thus designated a Golden Rule. This writer had a moment of stay with the man of great wisdom, Zumra Nuru.

Zelalem Alemnew: When and where were you born?

Zumra Nuru: I was born in Semada Woreda of South Gondar Zone in Amhara State. However, I know nothing about that area. Then, my parents brought me to Este Woreda where I lived until I turned 13. By then, looking my attitude, I was considered as crazy. So I started to move from place to place looking for people who could understand my idea and ‘craziness’. In 1972 the Awra Amba community was established as I got the people who share my idea, and I started to live with them.

Zelalem Alemnew: Have you got the chance to go to school when you were a child?

Zumra Nuru: My ‘craziness’ prevented me from going to school. By the way, my mother said that I started to walk when I was six months; and at the age of two, my ability to ask and respond was like an adult man. At the age of four I started to ask about equality of women, children’s right, caring for elders and refrained from bad speech and deed. When I turned 13, I left my parents and moved from place to place. Then I found like-minded people to whom I transmitted my ‘craziness’ by way of sharing to them my idea. Other people treated us like a ‘beast’. Leave alone me, but all those who shared my idea also could not get the chance to learn. Moreover, I had no time to go to school.

Zelalem Alemnew: What prompted you to establish the Awra Amba community?

Zumra Nuru: I know that my idea is vital for the whole human race not just to the people in Ethiopia, Africa or Europe. Starting from when I was four, I have been striving for my idea-bringing peace and dignifying human kind- to get acceptance by all human beings. Dignifying human kind does not mean bowing down for greeting and deceiving by words; it rather means reaching for a man when he is in need of our help. If we do not help someone who is sick, hungry or has no money, we are not respecting him. Living in the world of superiority and minority is not the sign of dignity. Human dignity can be manifested when there is equality and mutual understanding. What I am standing is for human dignity. When we respect human dignity, it means we bring an absolute peace. When there is belief, there is peace. When there is peace, there is belief. If there is devilish deed, there will be neither peace nor belief. This is an idea shared by every human race, but not mine only. This is the image of nature which we naturally inherit; but not something we get from formal schooling. In the design of nature, every human being is brother or sister to each other. We are born to live respecting and helping each other.

But what I see is that something the opposite happening. Why is that happening? This question prompted me to establish the community.

Zelalem Alemnew: How hard was it to find people who share your idea?

Zumra Nuru: I spent about 20 years looking for them. It was hard even after I found them and made them accept my idea. Our lives were full of challenges and sacrifices. I am leading them to my ‘hell’.

In 1972, the number of members of the community was around 66. Since then, we have been making every efforts to solidify our unity by cooperating and helping each other. In 1988, the surrounding community who did not accept our idea reported to the then officials under the Derg regime as if we were members of an opposition party. We moved to the Southern part of Ethiopia when the governor came to attack us with the belief that the place is harbouring opposition party members. Zumra Nuru receiving honorary doctorate from Jimma University

We began to be treated like humans after 2001 following a broadcast of a programme about us by a local media.

Zelalem Alemnew: What is your future plan in terms of expanding your ideology and increasing members?

Zumra Nuru: My wish is to see Ethiopia reaching to the highest point where the developed nations have reached by freeing itself from poverty, envy, gossip and theft, and using time properly. That is the goal I am struggling for. When we go beyond our homeland, we find Africa, Europe and so on. Every where human dignity has to be respected. Peace should prevail and we should avoid sources of conflicts. We are the one who draw the images of both peace and conflict. If we all draw the image of peace which is vital for us, the image of conflict will fade out from where it exists. However, we have to bring change. We need to free ourselves from dependence. God treats everyone impartially. Nature gives time equally for all. The difference is some use it properly while others waste it unwisely.

Zelalem Alemnew: I heard you have four main principles you have held since childhood. Could you tell me about them?

Zumra Nuru: Yes, I had four main life principles and now they have become five. These are gender equality, respecting children’s right, helping the needy and restraining oneself from bad speech and evil action.

Here are the things that made me ask such moral questions:

The first one the fact that I come from a rural family. When I was four, I learnt that my mother had no equal right with my father in making decisions. Gradually, I came to know that gender bias existed in other households as well as in the society at large. Both my father and mother spent the day doing several activities in the farm and when they got home my father would take a rest while my mother would continue doing home duties such as making sauce, baking bread and enjera (a traditional flat pancake), taking care of children, washing clothes, washing her husband’s legs, collecting firewood, grinding so and so forth. If she couldn’t accomplish all these activities, her husband would abuse her verbally and even some times physically. That created a puzzle inside of me. Then, I began to ask why these all duties laid only on my mom’s shoulder? Does she have extra energy? Why is not my dad helping her at home while she is assisting him in the field work? This gender bias was not restricted to our home. It was rather a problem that every woman in the society faced.

The second thing is related with children. I used to see children being forced to perform several activities beyond their physical and mental capacity, and being punished when they failed to undertake tasks. Why should they be punished while they couldn’t handle the work given to them without taking their capacity into account?

The third one is about older people. On the street, I saw helpless people left aside as a result of being old aged and not healthy. They had nothing to eat or to drink, no cloth to wear and no shelter to live in. They are human beings like us. They needed to get everything others did. Then who is supposed to provide them what they need if we all ignore them?

The fourth one is……. I saw people stealing, lying, fighting and killing each other. What makes us different from animals if we do to others what we don’t like to be done to us? The name ‘animal’ is given for animals because they don’t know what’s good or bad, live life as it goes, fight for food and don’t help each other. We are the one who gave them the name based on their behaviour. But you can see how evilly we are behaving. Then, my question was ‘what is the difference between animals and us unless we don’t have sense of humanity?’ ‘You are not thinking like every man kind is,’ was the response I got. They used to tell me that I was sick. ‘Am I sick? Why am I not thinking like them?’ I asked myself. What I saw and heard until the age of 13 created a sort of mental discomfort in me. When I turned 13, I decided to look for people from the surrounding community who would understand and share my idea. Then I moved from my home town, Estie, to Gojam, Wollo and Gondar for about five years. When I met people, I told them my idea as I am telling you now. I asked them why everyone was not being treated equally and who was responsible for that. Unlike my parents who considered my questions as a sign of abnormality, the people I met appreciated my idea, but they had a doubt that it would be hard to find people who could admit it. I sometimes would lose hope of getting those who would understand me. I couldn’t find someone who either would ask me or listen to me.

Then I decided to go back home and work like my family so that I could help the needy at least to get mental satisfaction. I asked my parent to find me a girl who would marry me. By then, they thought I was getting better from my ‘craziness’ and they soon found me a girl happily. I got married and started to live with my wife engaging in farming activities like my parents did. At the time of harvest, I collected the yield and divided it with the surrounding needy people as I got much pleasure from helping others. When I did so, my parents said I was sick with a disease which couldn’t get a cure. ‘He gives his money for others instead of helping his relatives’ they said.

Who is not a relative to whom? For me, no one made herself/himself black or white for she/he wants to . This is the work of God. He created black and white not merely for humans but also for animals and other non living materials on earth. However, all human race is the descendant of Adam and Eve. How can one be considered as not related to the other? We all belong to Adam and Eve. They would tell me that I was sick because I was not able to differentiate a relative one who is not. Usually people consider some one as a relative when the line of kinship does not exceed seven generations. I just wanted to know who just said so. Who said that those having blood ties are relatives to somebody and others are not? We are the one who create differences among ourselves that in return result in conflicts. Then, we fear each other like a beast. If we had treated each other as brothers and sisters, we wouldn’t have had such a huge difference.

I never lose hope of getting people who would understand my idea. For a long time, I used to go searching for the people and went back home to farming. After a long and tiresome trial I found this community. I then paid them a visit every year and discussed with them about various issues. In 1964 EC, I joined the community and started to live with them.

The first issue I raised for them was gender equality. Why is a mother considered as a nanny and a father as a leader? The other point is that conflict shall be abolished in the whole universe. People asked me how it could be possible to eradicate conflict and I told them that conflict has no root; we are the one who nurture conflict. Instead of conflict, if we nurture peace and love, then conflict will be vanished from where it exists.

Peace can be sustained when we all, with no discrimination in sex or colour, as brothers and sisters, cooperate and help each other. When we help someone who needs our assistance, he will be happy as his problems get resolved.

We reached at an agreement to live together after a prolonged discussion, however the surrounding community reported to Derg blaming us as if we were the members of ‘Woyanie’. We then fled to the Southern part of the country. In migration there is no work. If there is no work there is no money, food or cloth. We buried our dead fellows under the bush. We struggled for the achievement of our objective from 1972 to 2001 sacrificing our lives. After 2001, a journalist reported about the living style of our community. Though it was too hard to find like-minded people, at least I got many who ask me to understand my idea. This is my first step forward. My aim is our idea to reach out all human kind. Nowadays, many are coming from Europe and America hearing about the community via radio, television, magazine and the Internet. Getting people who understood my ideas is one thing and I hope one day these people will act accordingly. These are the four basic principles. These all I said earlier are what we have been practising since 1972.

Zelalem Alemnew: Was there any time when you gave up due to different challenges?

Zumra Nuru: If I had lost hope, I would not have reached at this stage. As I told you earlier, this is the design of nature, not mine. If it was my design, I would drop it one day when I became angry.

Zelalem Alemnew: When was the time you felt sad and happy most?

Zumra Nuru: It was after I met with these (the Awra Amba) people when the then government officials declared ‘red terror’ against the community. I felt sad for putting their lives in danger. I thought it was after all because of me.

I was very happy when a journalist transmitted my idea via a public medium and people from different corners of the country began to ask me and satisfy my need of getting people listen to me.

Zelalem Alemnew: What challenges did you face while you were migrating to the southern part of the country?

Zumra Nuru: What do you think would happen to the community which is being considered as ‘Woyane’? (Woyane was a freedom fighters group considered as enemy by the then government). We left our place in 1988 and came back after three years while the country became under the control of the current government. Instability of the Derg regime and its fall helped us to survive.

Zelalem Alemnew: Could you tell us about the culture of your community in relation to traditional ceremonies such as mourning and marriage as you are being taken as a role model for the people of Ethiopia in combating backward traditions.

Zumra Nuru: We believe that we have to help each other while we are alive instead of spending time and money for mourning ceremony. It’s useless if we bury the dead with gold; rather we prefer to use the money for fulfilling their interest while they are alive. We shall spend the money for food if they are hungry, for shelter if they don’t have a place to live in and for medical care if they are sick. In addition to the mental satisfaction we drive for ourselves, what we do for others while they are alive has a great relevance for the people we extend our hands for help.

During wedding ceremonies, leave alone other expenditures, we don’t even invite others for tea because it has no relevance. Why should we spend huge amount of money that we acquired through long time of saving just for the sake of two or three days festivity? We believe that the money spends for the expense of the wedding ceremony shall be used as an asset for newly engaging couple. So still there is expenditure of money by parents, but the money is for the use of couples not for festivity.

Zelalem Alemnew: Could you tell us about your children?

Zumra Nuru: I have three daughters and three sons. The elder one has got married and the others are in school. In fact all children’s of the community are my children

Zelalem Alemnew: How is the leader elected in the community?

Zumra Nuru: Leaders are selected by community election

Zelalem Alemnew: What is the religion the Awra Amba community worships?

Zumra Nuru: What can I call our religion? Every religion followers want us to follow their religious philosophy. How many Gods are there? …. He is only one. We may give Him hundreds of names, but He is only one. Mind you, if you know that God is only one then what are the manifestations of religion? Its manifestations are being restrained from stealing, lying and envy. Moreover, by helping the needy and being generous for others, religion can be manifested. For me, faith is an individual’s property- the means we use it to communicate with God. It can’t be a common property which could be spoiled while one among the members commits something wrong or sin.

Zelalem Alemnew: What message would you like to convey for readers?

Zumra Nuru: For Ethiopians, let’s get rid of poverty from our country. Poverty could be eradicated when we refrain ourselves from bad speech, attitude and practices. Let’s cooperate and help each other so as to develop our country via bringing our knowledge, wealth and effort together. We are walking on the way our forefathers have led us through without being conscious of our defeat this time. We need to pass something new for the coming generation in order not to be blamed by them. Let’s free ourselves from dependency. We all are human beings. God gives time equally for all. So, there is no reason why anything hinders us from reaching to the point where the developed nations have reached as long as we utilize our time effectively and efficiently.

For the entire world, a peace secured in Ethiopia doesn’t mean for all. The peace gained merely between Ethiopia and Sudan can’t represent the whole universe. Universal peace could be attained if we all stand for peace and worry about human dignity. When everyone thinks about human dignity, the world will live in peace.

Zelalem Alemnew: I thank you a lot for devoting your precious time for the interview.

Zumra Nuru: It’s my pleasure. Sharing my idea to others is my everyday wish.

Source: Ethiopian Herald

Content gathered and compiled from online and offline media by Hornaffairs staff based on relevance and interest to the Horn of Africa.