John Bond
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01 March, 2018

A biography was launched at London’s Initiatives of Change centre last month. When the event concluded, an Eritrean got up from the audience and pulled himself onto the speaking platform, hindered by his artificial leg. A casualty of Eritrea’s fierce war of independence from Ethiopia, he was determined to pay tribute to the subject of the biography. ‘Dr Teame came to us in the war zone,’ he said. ‘He inspired me to train in education, and it is thanks to him that I persisted until I succeeded.’ His sentiment was echoed by many participants.

Thousands of people have benefited from the work of Teame Mebrahtu, a man from an Eritrean hilltop village who has made an immense contribution to education in numerous countries, and to the growth of harmonious multicultural societies. Now Dr Mebrahtu’s remarkable story has been told by journalist Stan Hazell in Long Way from Adi Ghehad.

This story was not easily uncovered. As Professor Malcolm Johnson of Bristol University said at the launch, ‘Teame is legendary for being modest about himself’. Mebrahtu’s wife Teblez and their three daughters helped break down his resistance, but it still took Stan Hazell three years of weekly meetings with Mebrahtu, questioning him closely, to write the book.

Over 100 people attended the launch, many of them refugees. Mebrahtu spoke directly to them of his pride in his Eritrean culture, and the values it had given him. ‘Our traditional ways brought peace at the village level. I hope there are aspiring PhD students here who will research these ways. They have much to contribute.’

Don’t form ghettos, he urged. ‘We should be brave enough to disperse ourselves rather than create a little Eritrea in London. We need to learn to live with difference.’ The British may be reserved, he pointed out, ‘but they are a caring people. We have to care for this society. We need to take part in street parties – and in the street cleaning parties too. We can volunteer in charities, serve the disabled and the underprivileged. That will make our cultural diversity functional.’

Mebrahtu lives his talk. For years he and Teblez have cared for those in need in their Bristol neighbourhood, cooking meals for the elderly, helping with services for the homeless.

And his concern extends to people of every nationality. In Eritrea he was head of a teacher training college when the country was part of Ethiopia. Though passionate for Eritrean independence, he was determined that every student receive a quality training, whether Eritrean or not.

The brutal Ethiopian regime known as the Dergue, who ruled Eritrea dictatorially, saw him as a threat, and put him on a death list. He managed to get to Britain and was granted asylum. There he completed his doctorate, and was offered a position on the staff of Bristol’s Graduate School of Education. Since then he has taught students from all continents. Many have become prominent in their country’s education; seven have become the Minister of Education. Mebrahtu himself has lectured in 30 countries.

Amidst it all, Eritrea is constantly on his heart. When the war with Ethiopia intensified and Eritreans fled to Sudan, he went to Sudan to organise education in the refugee camps. Later he went into the liberated areas of Eritrea, risking the bombs of the Ethiopian Airforce, to train curriculum developers for the ‘Zero Schools’ in those regions. When Eritrea achieved its independence, he developed training courses for Eritrean School Directors and District Education Officers.

‘Teachers are like candles, burning themselves out in order to light the way for others,’ he concluded. ‘A teacher gives the time and energy and effort needed to touch the future.’

A long Way to Adi Ghedad is available here.

Watch the video from the launch and exclusive interviews with Dr Teame Mebrahtu and Stan Hazell:

Photos by Laura Noble. Video by Yee Liu Williams.