Student Profile: Abesha Shiferaw-Elfaqir Witnesses Egyptian Revolution and Plans Return to Egypt

Abesha Shiferaw-Elfaqir sees life from the perspective of an Egyptian rebel. While many seniors are focusing on getting into the door of their future employer, Shiferaw-Elfaqir is planning to live out her passion for social justice building on values she learned while growing up and studying in Africa.

Shiferaw-Elfaqir, a senior international relations student, was born and raised in Ethiopia, where she learned the values of family and interdependence. She was taken care of by her godmother and left Ethiopia when she was 7 years old.
Driven by a culture that underlined fellowship and pride in one’s roots when she moved to Seattle, Washington Shiferaw-Elfaqir drew upon the same principals at USF.

The Egyptian revolution had just begun when she moved to Cairo as part of an AMIDEAST Education Abroad program January 2011. The study abroad program allows students to interact with the people of North Africa and the Middle East. Living in an apartment located about two miles from Tahrir Square, Shiferaw-Elfaqir and three other students from other U.S. universities, had, “in the strangest sense, front-row seats” to the protests in Egypt last year.

“We could smell the gun powder and feel the tear gas from our house, and we witnessed the burning down of the National Democratic Party building, but in my month of staying there, I never encountered any bad exerience with the people,” she said.

In the midst of destruction, violence, and corruption, Shiferaw-Elfaqir found an abundance of peace and hospitality. On the first day of protesting, January 25, a cab driver who was wary of the progressing danger offered his cell phone number to her and her roommates, so that he could take them through a safe route to their home after eating a late breakfast and shopping at a bazaar.

A cab drive that would normally take 20 minutes lasted two hours. The driver drove around protesters and barricaded roads.

“This just goes to show how hospitable the Egyptians are. It’s a testament of their strength, which had a profound impact on me,” she said.

During her move to Morocco as part of the study abroad program’s curriculum, Shiferaw-Elfaqir witnessed another social movement take place in Rabat, the central city where protests were happening at the time. Up to 30,000 people marched through the streets demanding solutions to the near-10% unemployment rate, government corruption and the need for education reform. The protesters held a peaceful demonstration, so Shiferaw-Elfaqir was able to attend.

Yet when discussing her study abroad experience, Shiferaw-Elfaqir relates her experience in Egypt to her own cultural upbringing the most.

“Ethiopian culture is very community oriented, so I grew up with this concept of everyone supporting one another and [living] in a very close knit environment,” she said, “Holding each other accountable and supporting each other is such a beautiful concept and reality to me, and I believe in that, so that’s the philosophy I live by.”

Upon returning to USF, Shiferaw-Elfaqir became a founding member of the African Students Association. She said the cultural organization is representative of her personal mission of shining light on the struggles of marginalized people of color. The African Students Association, created in December 2011, is open to all students with the aim to promote a positive image of Africa to the USF community. The group is currently comprised of students from various African countries who share their perspectives on their respective countries, cultures and politics.

“Many people have this idea [that Africa is] synonymous with poverty and destruction. We’re trying to get people to move away from these negative connotations,” Shiferaw-Elfaqir said.

Although she still finds it difficult to describe the revolution and protests she saw during her month in Cairo and her time in Morocco, the current senior said she continues to draw learning lessons from her experience.
“[The revolution] is a historical moment that shows us what can happen in the 21st century — that this world isn’t perfect, that there is something to be changed,” she said.

Upon her graduation this May, Shiferaw-Elfaqir plans to go back to Egypt to work in a non-governmental organization that provides education to refugees.

For more information about AMIDEAST, visit www.amideast.org/abroad/home.

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