In My Own Words: Reconnecting with a Cousin

Oromo Students Solidarity Protest in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of creative commons @ctj71081.

Oromo Students Solidarity Protest in Washington, D.C. Courtesy of creative commons @ctj71081.

"My name is Desta Edosa. I am 33 years old, married and a father of two sons. I am originally from Ethiopia, specifically from Oromia.  I came to the United States in 2009 through a visa lottery, and I won. In February 2016, Caren Bedsworth from the American Red Cross called me and left me voice message saying I had a message from relative in Ethiopia. Listening to her voice message, I could not believe at first it was true as I did not know Red Cross gave such services. As Caren provided the office’s address, I looked on the internet and verified that the address mentioned was American Red Cross’s address. I called back Caren and asked who the person was. She delivered the letter to my home and I was so excited when I saw his handwritten letter. It had been about seven years since I last saw him.

"The name of my relative is Galataa Bazzaa. Galataa had just graduated from high school when he was captured by Ethiopian security forces and taken to a prison.  He was a very outstanding student who was always known among his classmates and teachers as a straight A’s guy in his academics. By the time he was taken to prison, he had just been admitted to Addis Ababa Medical School to pursue his higher education. Only students of high caliber are given an opportunity to study medical sciences in Ethiopia and Galataa was one of the top.

"To understand the case of Galataa and why he was taken to prison, it is very important to know a little about Oromo people in Ethiopia. Oromo are the largest ethnic majority in Ethiopia which comprises about one third of the total population. Even though Oromo are the majority in Ethiopia, they have been marginalized both economically and politically since the establishment of the country. There was even a time when Oromo language was banned from state media and people were forced to change their Oromo name.

"As a result, Oromo people have been protesting this injustice for almost a century. Even at this time, the Ethiopian government has killed more than 400 Oromo people including kids, pregnant woman and elders because people peacefully demonstrated against land grabs and removal of Oromo farmers from their land due to the expansion of the capital city Addis Ababa (for more information on the Oromo protests, please click here or here).

"Galataa’s story is not different from thousands of Oromo students who are unjustifiably languishing in Ethiopian prison. He was just active both in his academic and among his society and communities. That’s the only reason he has been thrown into jail and sentenced to eight years.  The Ethiopian government labels students who protest against it as anti-piece, anti-development and even terrorists if it wants to make the punishment sever. It is very common for Oromo students to be taken to prison in Ethiopia even for just speaking of their mind; that was what happened to Galataa.  

"It had been about seven years since I heard from Galataa. I have been informed about his wellbeing by his sisters and brothers but never heard a word directly from him.  Even though technology brought the world together these days, it’s still hard to be connected with loved one in a prison cell. The American Red Cross has done such excellent job connecting me directly with a person I care about a lot. I appreciate their service and their team a lot for connecting family over the globe when there is no other possible way.  I hope they will keep doing such excellent job and help more Oromo families who lost track of their loved ones."