AWiB Women of Excellence Gala Dinner 2014

It is not always common as Ethiopian women to celebrate each other’s journey towards becoming Women of Excellence (WOE).  Such has been the culture of AWiB the last three years, giving the spotlight to those nominated and selected. This year, AWIB received 21 nominations, of which 12 were interviewed and seven were selected. AWiB’s Women of Excellence celebrates the accomplishments of women in their careers, businesses and communities.

The seven nominees were chosen for their vision, courage, compassion, proven success and generosity as demonstrated by how they help other women succeed.  AWiB’s board conducted an extensive research and based on the set criteria, short listed seven nominees selected for final round, who were celebrated at the gala dinner. These women who were chosen for WOE 2014 celebration exhibit excellence in whatever area they have passionately committed to, as well as being part of the movement to make changes to the community, society, country and continent they serve.

I noticed the stride and pride of the seven women of excellence who were carefully selected by the board of AWiB, as they arrived one after another at Kaleb Hotel for their refreshment drinks, and a walk through of the evening from me as their chaperon for the WOE. Some recognized each other and embraced one another, while others meet for the first time. Looking around me, I was in awe of the years of experience that was amongst these dynamic women that exemplified humility, as well as grace.  Impeccably dressed with their colorful traditional Ethiopian attire, they sat around drinking their afternoon beverage, sharing stories, posing for a picture or two, and humbly experiencing their surprise of such recognition bestowed upon them by AWiB. Even more spectacular to watch was the attention they demanded as they walked towards the limousine that was assigned for them, in downtown Addis.  As one of the WOE shared with me, she felt that she was a bride again, with all the glamour, surprise and joy.

Once we reached Sheraton, AWiB’s photographers, cameramen, board members as well as members greeted them with chanting, clapping, setting the rest of the night to be a night of celebration, joy and  harmony that can only emanate by women that came together for a cause they were passionate about. It was a delight to see AWiB’s guests surrounding the WOE as they posed for pictures, chatted with admirers, as well as meet their family and friends before they entered the Sheraton ballroom to be sited at a spotlight as the guest of honor for the evening.

AWiB board members at every corner in anticipation to start the evening in a timely and efficient manner were seen escorting guests to their designated seats. As this was  one of a kind gala event, all tables were assigned beforehand. While business cards were collected for the evening draw, our Mistress of Ceremony, Munit Mesfin shifted the attention of almost 500 guests of AWIB to the stage. Dimly lit, the stage had a grand piano, a place for St. Yared painting to be auctioned, seats for the WOE, setting the stage for a grand evening to come.

Before the President of AWiB, Seble’s welcoming speech, guests were shown AWiB’s documentary with screens from all corners of Sheraton’s ballroom. As AWiB’s documentary was being shown, you can feel a shift in the energy of the room, to one of respect and anticipation of a spectacular evening to come. The President, seizing this opportunity affirmed this by the applause that followed when asking how the guests were doing that evening. Seble, then, went to introduce the WOE one by one and thanked them for their presence and phenomenal work as well as appreciating the high standard they set for all of us. She further called upon all board members of 2014 to come forward and take a bow, as well as thanking all the partners and those organizations and individuals that assist AWiB to be memorable, inspiring and as excellent as it is every year. She reiterated the fact that for anyone that is serious about leading one’s life with passion and commitment, AWiB is the right place for them. With that, Jorga Mesfin, an accomplished pianist, started to play classical music on the grand piano as Sheraton staff served the three course gala dinner.

Gala dinner allowed sitting down and mingling with those that were assigned on the table. Gradually, the introductions, smiles as well as appreciation of the ambiance set by AWiB were heard from the guests, as well as the clicking of knives and forks. As dessert was being served, the keynote speaker, Dr. Catherine Hamlin, honorary citizen of Ethiopia, founder and owner of the Fistula Hospital approached the stage and passionately gave us a glimpse into the phenomenal work she has committed her life to, saving the lives of woman that were suffering from fistula, as well as treating and curing 35,000 women. Dr. Catherine shared the amazing work the fistula hospital has been doing which has now grown to five hospitals around Ethiopia, also having just graduated the first 24 midwives that have been trained for four years in the midwifery School. Dr. Catherine in her usual soft-spoken manner, even at the age of 90, pleaded to all of us to see her vision of eradicating preventable fistula in Ethiopia. It took AWiB’s guest a few seconds to realize Dr. Catherine had finished, as they gave her the longest standing ovation I have witnessed.

Then followed the auctioning of St. Yared painting, which was sold for 70k birr to Ato Tadesse Tilahun CEO of NOC, with the evening MC Munit doing a grand job for her first live auction. Our musician of the evening, Tsedenia Gebremarkos, transitioned us to the rest of the WOE evening with one of Alicia Keys song “Super woman,” accompanied on piano by Jorga.

As the evening made its way to the unveiling of the WOE, one of the founders of AWIB, Nahu Senay Girma, took on the stage to introduce and give a gift to the creative machine, as well as the editor behind “Temslat” (that document and shared the stories of 64 accomplished Ethiopian Woman) Mary-Jane Wagle. Mary then thanked all those involved in making the book a success including the Network of Women Association, AAU interns and all the women that shared their stories, out of which some were celebrated at the WOE. The anticipation of the stories of the WOE was at its highest as one of AWIB’s youngest yet dynamic board member and lawyer by profession Blen Sahlu took on the stage. With her carefree persona, and piercing vocabulary shared her story of what AWiB meant to her, and how the experiences have enriched her life. With that she explained the process of choosing the WOE following the call for nomination of WOE. Blen introduced all seven WOE by name, and guided the guests to the individual documentary of each woman.

Bogalech Gebre – The Woman Who Restores Womanhood

Frealem Shebabaw – The Woman Who Changes Problems to Opportunities

Dr. Lia Tadesse – The Woman Who Improves the Health Care Delivery System

Rahel Mekuria – The Woman Who Pioneered TV Broadcasting Education

Ambassador Tadelech Hailemikael – The Woman Who Institutionalized Top Women’s Leadership.

Tirhas Mezgebe – The Woman Who is Invested in No Woman Dies While Giving Birth.

Zemi Yenus – The Woman Who Instills an Attitude of Concern for Others

As I looked around the room when the documentary was being screened, you can hear a pin drop, as the guest were taking in the stories of the phenomenal women who were nominated to represent AWiB’s WOE 2014. Some were in tears, some clearing their throats, some dreaming, others inspired, this was almost the climax of the evening. Although the room was full of other phenomenal women, those that were put on stage, with the spotlight on them were alleviated to the status of the few pioneers that dared to act upon their vision.

As the seven WOE went on stage to wrap up the evening with question and answer as well as to declare the WOE 2014 by the designated judges, Metti, a journalist on 105.3 Afro FM, asked a thought provoking question, “What keeps you going, to do the amazing work that you are doing?”

Each woman boldly gave their answer with conviction:

Tirhas Mezgebe – “If you have a vision, lots of challenges arise, but when it’s also God’s vision for you, no-one can stop you.”

Frealem Shebabaw – “I can change my community and I am responsible for my life have always been my way of thinking regardless of the obstacles I face.”

Zemi Yenus – “We have an obligation to change our world, we need to meet the challenges that allow us to properly perform to accomplish what we set out to do.”

Bogalech Gebre – “What’s the alternative? If I don’t do it, who will? Gradually, it becomes part of you day in and day out. “

Rahel Mekuria – “God gives me an opportunity to start and finish. I have had the courage to face all my challenges, as I have no choice, we are it!”

Ambassador Tadelech Hailemikael – “I have been given an opportunity in my career that I have embraced and used. The issues of women are not only societies’ or communities’ but also of the government’s to create enabling system and policy.”

Dr. Lia Tadesse – “Every day, we face challenges, including me. As women, we face it head on, with passion, love, assisting others. Through Gods help, I have tried to make changes one step at a time.”

After an applause from the guests, Meaza Ashenafi, the representative of the judges that were to pick one woman who would take the title of the 2014 WOE  and be given the 100, 000 birr to give to a charity of her choice, took on the stage. Meaza mentioned her awe in being introduced to AWiB’s WOE selection process, and the hard task of being a judge to choose amongst these seven phenomenal WOE. She then asked all her fellow judges to stand and take a bow, which included Tsedey Worku, Tigist Abate, Sara Mohamed, and Dr. Emebet Mulugeta.

With that Meaza named the WOE 2014 to be Tirhas Mezgebu.  As her name was being called, seeing all the WOE, and spending time with her earlier, the humble and quiet Tirhas did not quiet expect her name to be called. She held her hands over her face in shock, given a sigh and a cry.

Every year that I have attended AWiB’s WOE celebration, every WOE chosen to represent that year is not just a surprise to the person chosen but to everyone there. As Tirhas made her speech choking, she brought everyone to tears when she said, “My work in the forest was between God and me, never did I imagine being on stage amongst such amazing people to be named WOE 2014.” As guests moved towards the WOE on stage to congratulate all the celebrated women, take pictures, give flowers and embrace each other, I couldn’t help but wondered, “Could the next prime minister of Ethiopia be amongst us, women, in this room?”

October 21, 2014
By Sofanit Mulugeta @deldeyoch

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