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Selam Youth Festival: Community building at its best!

17 Aug 2009

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This summer represented the evolution of the Selam Youth Festival. Growing from a one day celebration to a three day affair, the festival started as an initiative by a group of young, Ethiopian and Eritrean members of People to People Canada, their mission to empower youth and create awareness about HIV/AIDS. The festival was closed  with the  heartwarming documentary entitled Guzo: The Journey. In this film we are introduced to Lidya and Robero, two privileged youth living in the city of Addis Abba.  They are asked to spend a month in the countryside living like the farmers.

Many of us have become used to the idea of reality television, and have grown accustomed to seeing individuals swap lives and the hilarious results. From our very introduction to Lidya and Robero the stark realities of what they will face is made clear, the pampered lifestyle of a middle-class youth hanging out with friends in bars, dining at restaurants, the charmed city life is virtually unheard of in the countryside. Both Lidya's and Robero, families are supportive if perhaps a bit skeptical that they will survive an entire month.

So, we watch the enthusiastic youth go from a life of privilege to one decidedly agrarian life in the countryside.

We meet Belgeye, Lidya's sweet, endearing hostess. She is a hardworking 25 year old mother of three, her daily routine resembles the life of a serf, filled with cleaning pig pens, fetching water and twigs. This is definitely not city life. This routine seems unbearable to Lidya but it means survival for Belgeye. Though her life is the polar opposite of Lidya's, the two become extremely close. But the harshness of rural life quickly takes it toll and the once good-natured, carefree adventurers breaks under the pressure, almost appearing spoiled at times. In one memorable scene we watch Robero refuse dinner with his hosts and demand the meals the crew receives. Despite their discomfort the adventurers manage to survive, but while they can be barely contain their joy on hearing they will be leaving, the surprising reaction is the despair their hosts show.

In an age where reality TV is the norm, this film sets itself apart through it's humanity. Humanity and community building best exemplify spirit behind the Selam Youth festival. According to the festivals producer, Addis Embiyalow, “We seek to inspire our generation to be global leaders in health education and community building through the arts.” The festival’s artistic offerings prove they are well on their to achieving this goal.

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