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

Ramez Salame credit: Inner Change

1968: Ramez Salame – ‘I gave away my gun’

Ramez Salamé was a 21-year-old law student from Beirut, Lebanon, when he took part in a leadership training course for young people in Caux – a precursor of the scores of similar programmes which have...

Buth Diu (photo Arthur Strong)

1966: Buth Diu – Not who is right but what is right

In 1966, a senior Sudanese politician, Buth Diu, presented the London headquarters of Moral Re-Armament (now Initiatives of Change) with spears and a hippotamus leather shield, as a token of his desir...

Robert Carmichael and Indian

1965: Robert Carmichael - Industry which puts people first

In 1965, the first freely negotiated agreement between industrialized and developing nations on the price of a raw material was signed in Rome. This pioneering accord was in large part the work of an ...

Muriel Smith

1963: Muriel Smith – A voice for racial healing

Near the coffee bar in the Caux Palace stands a grand piano, the gift of American mezzo-soprano Muriel Smith. She was a familiar face at Caux conferences in the 1960s, filling the meeting hall and the...

Walking Buffalo portrait

1962: Chief Walking Buffalo – Respect and protect Mother Earth

In 1962, a documentary about a remarkable 62,000-mile journey was premiered in Caux. Two years before, Chief Walking Buffalo of the Nakoda (Stoney) Nation and Chief David Crowchild of the Tsuut’ina (S...

Daw Nyein Tha (from Joyful revolutionary) square

1964: Daw Nyein Tha – ‘When I point my finger at my neighbour’

You never knew who you might meet in the Caux kitchens in the 1960s. The kitchen which prepared dishes for Asian guests was presided over by a small Burmese woman in her 60s. Few would have guessed th...

Patrick Colquhoun

1961 - Patrick Colquhoun: ‘That week changed my life’

‘Papers about Moral Re-Armament (now Initiatives of Change) sent to me by a friend over the previous three years invariably ended in the bin,’ wrote Patrick Colquhoun. But his first visit at the confe...

Marcel Grandy and Archbishop Makarios

1960 - Cyprus: 'Hope never dies'

There are few problems in the world that have not found some echo in the conferences and encounters in Caux since 1946. In 1960 Cyprus gained its independence, after several years of sometimes violent...

Lennart Segerstrale

1959 – Lennart Segerstråle: ‘Art must be dangerous to evil’

In 1959, a vast fresco was unveiled on the wall of the dining room of the Caux Palace. Its creator, the Finnish artist Lennart Segerstråle, chose the universal image of water to represent his vision o...

Caux school 4

1958 - Angela Elliott: At school in Caux

Angela Cook (later Elliott) arrived in Caux in 1958, aged four. She was one of some 40 children who lived in Caux at different times between 1955 and 1965, attending a small chalet school just up the ...

Jessie Bond 1945

1957 - Jessie Bond: 'I saw his greatness'

Jessie Bond was struggling to cope with four children and her husband’s frequent outbursts. She was seriously thinking of leaving him when they went to Switzerland to spend the summer in Caux. A time ...

Freedom scene square

1955 - Freedom: 'Do you think you could write a play?'

‘We were catapulted into history,’ said Manasseh Moerane, one of the writers of Freedom. The play was seen by 30,000 people all over Europe and demand was so great that they decided to make a film. Fr...

Zeller family black and white

1956 – The Zellers: A family invested in Caux

‘We had the great joy of deciding to sell our house and give the money to Caux,’ Anneli Zeller told the conference on the 29 July 1956. ‘The man we sold it to was so impressed that he gave 10,000 Swis...