Zekarias Mekuria says Culture and history are two notions that shape her being. Having
grown up in a family with a multiplicity of cultural heritages, I found my
bearing in defining myself as a global citizen, but one who is shaped by her
love for home – Africa. When I selected History as a major field of study for
my Bachelor’s degree, many people I knew thought I was crazy and said that I would
waste my prime years of schooling while at it. I am a strong believer in one
doing what they are passionate about – I wanted to know – where did we all come
from? This curiosity has always driven decisions I take in life. And all of
that combined defines who I am today, a woman who has matured into a force for
championing common good; giving special focus to girls and women. Somehow I am
intertwined in a life that pushes for me to constantly challenge myself, but
with a core purpose of serving those are in need of my assistance.

Awareness, Kindness and Purpose are my
influencer words. I believe in knowing – familiarity with surrounding issues
and prospects is key. I was never a gender relations advocate in school, the
challenges that girls and women face had not sunk in yet. At school, I learned
about gender theories, wrote analyses and read reports about the plight of
girls and women in Africa. Girls having to get married off against their own
will, women being silenced because tradition dictates they bear the emotional
and physical pain – all of these pained me. Joining the workforce made it even
clearer – the concept of the glass ceiling was something alien to me but I soon
came to grips with it. It did not deter me however, I put in my best effort at
all times – it is later on that I discovered I had let myself be put at a
disadvantage. For me being kind and supportive was not an option, it was at the
core of who I am so it did not matter – it was a stepping stone to my finding
my purpose. Today, I have a passion project that brings mentorship
opportunities to girls at my former university. I learned that the more
competitive the campus had become, some female students struggled with
self-awareness and finding a source of encouragement. Like many other women who
have graduated from the university, I felt I could do something. A simple act
of putting myself in their shoes – what if I had had someone to talk to when I
was at campus? Since 2014, peers, friends and many other women have been part
of this purpose to serve other young women.
My mother. She is a strong woman of kindness. I look up to my
mother for inspiration, humility, strength and courage. She has been supporting
orphans for years now. It does not matter how busy she gets with her other day
to day responsibilities, the orphans are her children as much as my sibling and
I are.
Desta Hagos is an awarded painter. I met her at a youth
networking event a few years back – she smiled from across the room. I had
heard little of her story when we met but I knew she had a brave story behind
her. She told me that she was the first woman in her class to create a life size
nude portrait. She has had an amazing career as an artist breaking stereotypes
and stepping beyond the confines of artistic expression. Her daring character
is a motivating factor – every year she sets of the Ethiopian Women’s 5K run by
sharing a positive message to the thousands of girls and women who participate
in the run – her energy inspires.
Michelle Obama does need an introduction. Everything about her
speaks strength, determination and poise for her set goals. In 2014, she spoke
to a beaming and excited group of young Africans at the Mandela Washington
Fellowship bustling with energy to return home to share what they had learned. Her
words resonated with me: ‘We’ve done this because we believe in Africa, and we
believe in all of you.  And understand we are filled with so much hope and
so many expectations for what you will achieve.  You hold the future of
your continent in your hands, and I cannot wait to see everything you will
continue to accomplish in the years ahead’. I thought at the time and still
know this is a message that many young Africans need to hear over and over
again – we have a responsibility to make our continent better, to change the
narrative and some of the undesirable realities. And of course, I am mighty
inspired by and look up to her passion for girls’ education.
Ms Leymah Gbowee (2011 Nobel Peace Prize) – I know her as a
woman who refused to take ‘NO’ for an answer at a time that her country Liberia
needed her the most. While in Addis Ababa in 2015, Ms Gbowee presented a
lightning talk about her encounters at building peace in Liberia. Her story was
striking – once she and her peers refused to back down in the face of a
life-threatening situation to voice their plea for peace brought forth to
Liberian authorities at the peak of the civil conflict that ravaged the country.
As a student of peace and conflict studies, this is a remarkable real life
example of the role that women play in peacebuilding but one which often goes
unnoticed. She stood for what she believed in.
I want to see Berchi Africa grow as a full-fledged not-for-profit
organization that partners with other like-minded organizations across Africa. I
want Berchi’s young women from Ethiopia to travel to meet and share experiences
with peers all over Africa and vice versa. I strongly believe that knowledge is
power.  Africa holds potential, and girls
and women need to be connected to such opportunities. As a co-founder of the
Ethiopian wing of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts, I also
want to see a strong movement sweeping across the country as a harbor for girls
and young women’s empowerment. I understand that entrepreneurship is a key
driver for our economies – I envision building a socially conscious business
that will benefit women all over Africa. Yes, I discuss my plans with my
Every country has a unique battle that girls and women face
every single day but there are some challenges that cut across the board –
early child marriage, gender based violence, less opportunities to pursue
education, rape, lower wages and so forth. Women are forced to endure
emotional, physical and society imposed strains which leave them vulnerable.
For example, calling out women is OK for some because how else is a woman
supposed to find a partner? The very established fact that a woman needs a
partner for society to define her as complete is sad reality. By whose
standards is she complete and why can she not be recognized for whom she is? On
other hand, women are not supposed to talk about their troubles – after all, they
were created to withstand pain. Ideally, why should a story of a woman giving
birth and all the changes she has to go through silently be spoken of on the
same account as a man who went to war and returned injured? These and a myriad
of other questions inspired my commitment to creating a platform that would
build greater self-awareness amongst young women so they could discover and
make the most out of the potential they hold within. Every year, we run a Berchi
and Greet which brings peers, role models to connect with young female students
at university. As we continue to build the platform, we plan to include an
annual thematic forum and an annual boot camp. This year one of our volunteers offered
a summer internship opportunity to two students.  That is the direction we are heading, going
from connecting mentors with mentors to creating opportunities for internships
as well. We also partnered with a similar US based non-profit called Thrive African Girl. Berchi is an Amharic word I love, it calls
for valor, strength and perseverance.
I write. This could be a simple entry into my diary or some
fiction I cook up in my mind.
MY   –  
The continent is full of amazing women who have made outstanding
contributions to their families, societies and economies. We need to keep
telling these stories no matter how small the contribution to inspire others. We
all know that domestic work is hard labor – how many girls and women in Africa
get a genuine pat on the back for taking care of the home and the family? How
many women are confident enough to know they own the capacity to become
managers, creators and executives? I believe that sharing with each other the
little victories can help build one and all. Every African woman needs to be
told ‘Thank You’ just for the sake of it for there is so much she does not tell
that goes on in her life, and that she goes out of her way to do to make sure
others are taken care of.
I would love to work on an educative project, one that connects
girls and women within countries, across regions and the continent. I believe
in education as it builds capacities for individuals. I lead the creation of a
project that allows girls and women to learn from each other, traveling in
their respective countries and beyond their regions and countries. I would love
to rigorously advocate for this project. The support would not end with
experience and skills exchanges but also would be a channel for women to back
each other in more concrete ways like employment, investment/pool funds for
women run businesses, research, etc. This would be a support system with far
reaching impact in advocating for and taking action towards bettering the lives
of girls and women in Africa. 
Do not let anyone tell you that you cannot do something. Always
have a curious mind and give your best when you can. Always know that there
will be those who cast doubt on your abilities, do not mind them – you believe
in what you do and this should serve as your driving energy. If you cannot
speak out for yourself, find others who will listen and help you overcome the
situation – there is always an ear out there – you are not alone. Find out what
you are passionate about and pursue it. Never miss out on opportunities to
speak and up and network as much as you can.