1967: Teame Mebrahtu – ‘It’s immaterial where I live’

By Stan Hazell

08/06/2021
Teame Mebrahtu photo: John Bond

 

Teame Mebrahtu came to Caux in 1967, five years after his homeland of Eritrea was annexed by Ethiopia. The liberation struggle – which was to continue for three decades – was gaining momentum. Resentment against government policies had led to a student strike, which closed all secondary schools.    

As a lecturer at the Asmara Teacher Training Institute, Teame Mebrathu had met members of an international group of Moral Re-Armament (MRA, now Initiatives of Change), who were touring the country with the film Freedom. He recognized the values portrayed in the film as part of his own spiritual upbringing as a Coptic Christian. But the concept of change at a global level was new to him.

 

Teame Mebrahtu speaking at Caux
Speaking at Caux with Philippe Mottu (left) and Frederik Philips (right)

 

His time at Caux was a revelation. He was struck by the mix of countries, cultures and religions represented and by the experiences people shared. He began to see that, if he was to help Eritrea, he needed to lose his bitterness against the Ethiopians and against the Americans based there, who had treated him badly. He decided that, as a teacher, he had a responsibility to bring about change but had first to change himself. It was a liberating experience.

His time at Caux was a revelation. He was struck by the mix of countries, cultures and religions represented and by the experiences people shared.

Back in Eritrea, which was still in the grip of the student strike, Teame began to work with the MRA team. He decided he had a duty to negate the mentality of thinking ‘I can’t do much about the problems’, and that change does not come from silence.

 

Teame Mebrahtu Zero School (camouflaging from the soldiers under the branches)
Children at Zero School hiding from air attacks under the branches of a tree

 

He was a speaker at a mass rally which persuaded the striking students to go back to their studies – an act which is likely to have prevented bloody clashes with the Ethiopian Army. Later some of the students told him that they had been swayed by his comparison of them to an aircraft which had run out of fuel and was trying to land on a runway planted with nails.

Teame went on to become director of the Asmara Teacher Training Institute and then Assistant Professor of Education at the University of Asmara. After the murderous Mengistu regime seized power in 1974, his life was threatened and he sought asylum in Britain.

 

Teame Mebrahtu at his desk at Asmara teacher training institute Eritrea
At his desk at the Asmara Teacher Training Institute

 

As a refugee, Teame declined welfare support and borrowed from relatives to support himself and his family. ‘I felt it was important to be a contributing citizen just as I would be in the society I came from.’ As a first step, he went to 100 schools in the south-west of England to teach the children about Africa and promote international understanding.  

You can’t solve problems through the barrel of a gun.

He went on to a distinguished career at the Bristol Graduate School of Education, teaching and mentoring students from all over the world, many of whom became leading educators in their own countries. He was and is still passionate about using education as a tool to bring change in a divided world: ‘You can’t solve problems through the barrel of a gun.’

One of his proudest achievements was a major conference in Bristol on multicultural education, which focused on improving  schooling opportunities for ethnic minorities and making all children aware of a world outside their borders.

 

Teame Mebrahtu credit: John Bond
Photo: John Bond

 

He also continued to work to improve education in Eritrea. Between 1986 and 1988, while the fighting still continued, he travelled to the liberated zone of Eritrea to conduct workshops for students and teachers, gathered under trees as Ethiopian MIG jets flew overhead. After independence in 1991, he set up a partnership between the University of Bristol and Eritrea, training educators and education officers.

Now aged over 80, he holds to his conviction that everyone has a personal responsibility to shine a light, however small, on the injustices of an imperfect world. Small chinks of light can become beacons of hope. ‘It’s immaterial where I live,’ he says, ‘it’s immaterial who I am: what is important is the part I play.’

 

________________________________________________________________________________

 

Watch Teame Mebrahtu speak at a conference held at the Westminster Theater, London, 1977, in the film Choice for an Impatient World from our archives (16'01" - 16'28")

 

 

_____________________________________________________________________________________

 

This story is part of our series 75 Years of Stories about individuals who found new direction and inspiration through Caux, one for each year from 1946 to 2021. If you know a story appropriate for this series, please do pass on your ideas by email to John Bond or Yara Zhgeib. If you would like to know more about the early years of Initiatives of Change and the conference centre in Caux please click here and visit the platform For A New World.

 

 

 

Featured Story
Off
Event Categories
75 stories 75th anniversary

related stories

This is us square 8.png

75 Years of Stories: Meet the team!

When we launched the 75 Years of Stories series in February 2021 about 75 years of encounters at the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Caux, we had no idea what an adventure we had embarked o...

Caux in snow 2021 credit Cindy Bühler

2021: Initiatives of Change Switzerland – Opening Caux’s doors to a new chapter

As our series of 75 stories for 75 years of the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Caux draws to an end, the President of Initiatives of Change Switzerland, Christine Beerli, and its two Co-Di...

Aad Burger

2020: Aad Burger – Struck by a virus

In 2020, the Caux Forum went online in response to the pandemic. Its organizers found that this made Caux accessible to people all over the world who could not have taken part in normal circumstances....

Marc Isserles 2017

2019: Marc Isserles – ‘We must save the children’

During World War II, the Caux Palace (later the Initiatives of Change conference centre in Switerland) provided a refuge for Jews fleeing the Shoah. Over the years, some of them – or their descendants...

Wael Broubaker climate actionist

2018: Wael Boubaker – ‘Climate change should be top top top priority’

When Tunisian economics graduate Wael Boubaker joined the Caux Peace and Leadership Programme (CPLP) in 2018, he expected a conference which would look good on his CV, and some beautiful scenery. Inst...

Tanaka Mhunduru CPLP

2017: Tanaka Mhunduru – A home for the world

Tanaka Mhunduru from Zimbabwe is one of the organizers of the Caux Peace and Leadership Programme (CPLP), a one-month programme for young people from around the world. He first took part in 2017....

Diana Damsa Winter Gathering 2016

2016: Diana Damsa – ‘It made me feel I counted’

The Winter Gathering of 2016 was a special experience for Diana Damsa – not just because she experienced Caux in winter, but also because, for the first time in eight years, she had no responsibilitie...

Philippe and Liseth Lasserre

2015: Lisbeth Lasserre – ‘The richness in art’

Lisbeth Lasserre came from Winterthur, where her grandparents, Hedy and Arthur Hahnloser, had built up a private collection of art at their home, Villa Flora. Amongst their artist friends were Bonnard...

Catherine Guisan

2014: Catherine Guisan – Europe’s Unfinished Business

Catherine Guisan is Visiting Associate Professor at the University of Minnesota, USA. She has written two books on the ethical foundations of European integration. In 2014 she spoke at Caux’s first se...

Tom Duncan

2013: Tom Duncan – Restoring a healthy planet

2013 saw the first full-length Caux Dialogues on Land and Security (CDLS). These events, which took place at the Caux Conference and Seminar Centre, focus on the links between sustainable land managem...

Merel Rumping

2012: Merel Rumping – Going out on a limb

When Merel Rumping from the Netherlands first visited Caux in 2012, she had a goal in mind – ‘to explore how I could contribute to a more just world through my professional activities’....

Lucette Schneider

2011: Lucette Schneider – Choices which make the magic of Caux

For many years, Lucette Schneider from Switzerland organized the team which gathered in the early mornings to wash, peel and chop vegetables for the kitchens of the Caux conference centre. ...

Mohan Bhagwandas 2003

2010: Mohan Bhagwandas – Addressing the crisis of integrity

Mohan Bhagwandas is all too aware of his carbon footprint. In the 13 years from 2006 to 2019, he flew 17 times from his home city of Melbourne, Australia, to Switzerland to take part in the Caux confe...

Rajmohan Gandhi 2011 Caux Forum Human Security

2009: Rajmohan Gandhi – Bridges between India and Pakistan

25 distinguished Indians and Pakistanis came to Caux in 2009 with the aim of building bridges between their countries. The man who initiated the gathering was Rajmohan Gandhi, a grandson of Mahatma Ga...

Iman Ajmal Masroor

2008: Learning to be a Peacemaker – ‘An eye-opener to the world’

2008 saw the launch of an unusual course on Islam’s approach to peacemaking for young Muslims and non-Muslims, devised by Imam Ajmal Masroor from the UK. The course’s coordinator, Peter Riddell, descr...