Shaping fate and challenging one’s limits: Ethiopian Journalist Marta Dejene

December 6, 2018 Africa , Interviews , OPINION/NEWS , OTHER



Ambo Mekasa interviews Marta Dejene




Few have managed to change the course of history to set paths anew. Such people are committed to surmounting challenges of a different brand. People laud them as hero or heroines of all time. Among this group are found the physically challenged people.


Below you will find the inspiring story of a physically challenged Ethiopian woman who became a role model for the physically challenged or otherwise.


Today’s guest is Journalist Marta Dejene. Marta was born physically challenged in 1980 at Arat Kilo, Addis Ababa. Unlike children of her age, she had no chance to spend time playing with her friends on gamboling fields in the neighborhood. Marta spent her childhood perusing different books that afforded her a window into the socioeconomic and political situations of the world. In her earlier childhood, with the help of a personal teacher hired by her parents, she was busy reading text and reference books.


Later, she started elementary education at Atse Naod School, afer which her high school education at Menelik II School. She was one of the top-scoring students of the time and was a high ranking student from elementary to high school. Often, she stood from first to third in her class.


Overcoming all challenges in her life she has become one of the influential and exemplary woman. Marta is a double winner of the National General Knowledge Quiz Questions and Answers Award (A mastermind award).


After completing her high school education, Marta joined Addis Ababa University and earned a BA in English Language and Literature. This allowed Marta to realize her long-cherished desire to publish her own newspaper. She managed to bring into life Ewin Newspaper, which revolved around socioeconomic activities of the country and the life of physically challenged people.


In collaboration with Ethiopian Television, to help turn around the lives of people in the same situation as her and sensitize others, Marta started a TV program on the physically challenged people in Ethiopia, working on this for more than six years.


Now, Marta has established an Indigenous Charity Organization, Ewin Charity Association, to support the physically challenged people in the country, acting as CEO of the Association.




Who is Marta?


Marta: Marta is one of the Ethiopian woman born with disabilities who has been confronting harsh realities to fulfill her goals.


Like many Ethiopians, she was born in a disagreeable setting, especially for physically challenged people. By disposition she believes in taking the bull by the horn. She never says die from realizing her ambitions. Her physically challenges could not hamper her life from living a happy life as a woman. In general Marta is a physically challenged woman who is working hard without considering her challenges.



How was your childhood?


Marta: My childhood was a bit different. It was not like the one children in my vicinity led. I grew up not playing with my agemates. My being physically challenged was one of the strangleholds that posed a problem to tie me down. The wrong perception of society to the likes of me was the other challenge that did cast a shadow on my childhood.


While my friends were running amok in the neighborhood, I was reading brain-racking books, some of which were beyond the confines of my understanding.


I spent most of my time reading different books on the socioeconomic activities of the country which helped me to expand the frontier of my general knowledge. That is why I became double winner of the national Questions and Answers Quiz.



What was your academic performance like at that point?


Marta: I did not join school on time. But, I used to imbibe basic knowledge with the help of a private teacher. In addition to reading different books and magazines, I always listened to radio programs. But upon joining school I began outshining. I had also a better understanding than my siblings on social, economic, political and other aspects. Always, I was an icebreaker caller of the Ethiopian Radio program to answer challenging questions and quizzes. Hearing how I hit on the nail, most listeners were considering me a most educated person,while others suspected me to be the daughter of the Ethiopian Radio journalist Dejene.


My active participation and being such a big agenda to listeners served me as a source of inspiration. I built a good image about me. It is when they saw me participating on the Ethiopian Television National Question and Answer quiz that they realized my being a physically challenged person. Before that some even took me for a person of letter that used a pseudo or pen name.



What inspired you to become a Journalist?


Marta: The inspiration could be traced back to my childhood dreams. My voracious appetite for newspapers and addiction to radio wielded influence on me to embrace journalism. I often reflected journalists were well informed. “How lucky they are?” I envied them. I adored jotting down reportage-like writings and recording my voice on tape. It was a thrill hearing what my voice sounded like. Journalism was my number one desire. But, at that time, I never knew the criteria journalism set as a requirement.


Once, while I was learning at Menelik School, a journalist from Ethiopian Radio asked me “Which walk of life do you want to pursue?” and I answered journalism. He tried to dissuade me saying “Journalism has many ups and downs!” Though he attempted to discourage me to relinquish my dream, my ambition rather picked up steam. After completing high school, I went to Ministry of Trade to take a license to start publishing a newspaper.


They informed me as a precondition that I ought to have at least a ten thousand Birr bank account and other office equipment like computer, printer, etc. I borrowed five thousand Birr from the locality’s credit service and the rest from my parents. But I became hard-pressed for a computer. It was very expensive at the time.


As a way out, I asked Ethiopian Television to allow me a second chance to participate in the second round question and answer quizzes. Luckily, I won the competition and got the money to buy the much-sought-after computer to kick start my job. This way, I became a journalist and started the Ewin newspaper.



What is expected from the government to make the lives of the physically challenged people brighter?


Marta: I want to stress two things. The government, out to democratize the country, should cater to the demands of the physically challenged people. First, infrastructural facilities should be put in place in the country taking into consideration people living with disability. Most infrastructural facilities in the country were built oblivious to the demands of physically challenged people. For example, the roads are replete with potholes which are very challenging if not dangerous for physically challenged people. School and higher learning education institutions stop short of necessities for the physically challenged people. This challenge could prevent them from upgrading their education.


Things should start from the way we build our home. Everyone should be mindful of the fact that falling in the domain of the physically challenged could happen at any time or to anyone. As such, there is a need to troubleshoot challenges together.


Second, necessary equipment for the physically challenged people are very expensive and hard to access in the country. For example, wheelchairs, braille and other essential equipment are important to the physically challenged people to pursue their education and serve the country.


In addition, the government should heed the needs and wants of physically challenged people. Even if s/he passed an entrance exam to study medical science, students living with a disability would not be allowed to join such a school. For example, I know such a student who was prohibited not to learn medicine and who stayed at home heartbroken. I want the government to exert maximum effort to take the hassle out of the life of physically challenged people.



What does the outlook of the public towards physically challenged people look like?


Marta: I think things today are better than yesterday thanks to sensitization works done through different media. Now, I believe society has a better understanding than before on physically challenged people. Yet, there is a lot to be desired. Still, there are parents who keep their handicapped children indoors rather than sending them to school or start their own life and family. I believe there are things to be done to empower physically challenged people in any field they could specialize circumventing hurdles.



What is expected of physically challenged people to make their bread butter down the road?


Marta: They may be showered with lip services and sometimes unnecessary sympathies. They must not be deterred by such things from challenging their limits.


But they have to commit to change to turn around their situation. People may discourage them not to try things, but mindful of their health, physically challenged people must focus only on their goals. They must not dwell long on their limitations. Rather, they have to strive to do better than their best and stop wailing their failures. They should unflaggingly pursue their objectives.


Though it needs the support of family and government, they should never stop from realizing their ambitions. They should thank God for what they have rather than lamenting what they lack. If so, they are going to be successful in any field and are going to live the happiest life ever.



What is your take on women empowerment, has the reformed government made a point?


Marta: The ongoing change has come with golden opportunities for millions of Ethiopians. I think a bright spot in the country’s history has taken shape. It is a harbinger that we are going to see many marvelous things in the coming years. Thanks to Prime Minister Dr Abiy Ahmed, many women have come to power and the first women president has popped up on the political scene. This unfolding is the first of its kind in the country’s history as well as the continent.


The saying goes ‘behind every successful man there is a brilliant woman’. For example, behind the Great King Menelik there was Etege Taytu. Now, many women are being empowered. I can assure you that in the not so distant future we shall see how women play a key role in the development of the country. This will upturn the former saying to “Behind Ethiopia’s developmental leap, there are superb women.”


I believe, shortly, Ethiopia will join the ranks of developed countries. Hopefully, love will burgeon among Nation and Nationalities of Ethiopia as ever before and democracy will be enhanced.



What kind of policy should the government follow to empower physically challenged people?


Marta: As we know, the country has no problem having golden policies. The problem lies in translating them into actions. I want the government to be forthcoming in tangibly implementing the policies regarding physically challenged people. It has to focus on how to make their life better in all aspects.



What do you suggest as a way forward?


Marta: Everyone has his/her own challenges. Life by itself is a big challenge for human beings. But finding a way and making the future brighter relies on individuals’ caliber. Physically challenged people should work hard to prove fit and write history in gold ink like others did. They should be grateful for what they already have. They should thank in advance.


The government must give equal chances to the physically challenged people, if they prove fit to handle the task.


Marking anniversaries related to physically challenged people for window dressing and touting plans on the media do not change the life of physically challenged people.


Many things have been said regarding physically challenged people. But now, we have to stand together to make history. We should make it our daily motto that the physically challenged people will be inspired to face any challenge and create a new thing for the country.





Ambo Mekasa

EPA reporter, earning his BA in English Language and Literature from Arsi University.

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