We can but hope…
It has been almost two years since the Ethiopian government blocked all internet access and phone communications in the northern region of Tigray. For thousands of people across the globe it has been a torturous 22 months, unable to have any contact with family and loved ones who have been cut off from the rest of the world since November 4th 2020. What makes it harder is that no-one is really talking about it.
Many are going through unimaginable pain and anguish having not been able to speak to their mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers for all of this time. Food and medical supplies are now completely scarce due to the on-going siege and it is hard to know how on earth the seven million innocent civilians are still surviving. As an ethnic Tigrayan, Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director General of the WHO says himself that he cannot reach his loved ones or send them any money due to the banks being closed now for almost two years.
The Tigray Women’s Association together with the Tigray Youth Network are desperate for their voices to be heard. Having attended countless protests and demonstrations, it is difficult to say what impact these have had. All too often the general public acknowledge there is a group of people holding banners, waving flags and crying pleas for help, but rarely do they feel compelled to investigate what is actually going on.
With the situation deteriorating, there has been an increasing urgency to try something different in the hope that Tigray might receive the coverage that it so deserves.
On Tuesday 23rd August, a team of Tegaru women took to the streets of London to share what would normally be one of the most joyous times of the year for millions of women and girls across the world – The Tigray festival of ‘Ashenda’. As they are unable to travel out to Tigray, they wanted to bring Tigray to the UK, sharing this beautiful tradition in the hope of raising awareness of the situation that their families are facing back at home.
‘Ashenda’ is a traditional annual festival celebrating womanhood, sisterhood and feminine strength and joy. For the last two years these celebrations have been overcast by a dark and lingering shadow caused by the siege that the Ethiopian government have put the region of Tigray under.
It is estimated that over 120,000 young women and girls have been subjected to the most gross cases of sexual violence since the fighting began.
This inspiring group of women and girls, adorned in their traditional Ashenda dresses, performed to crowds in a ‘flash-mob’ style song and dance. Starting at the London Eye, they immediately raised eye-brows and drew attention simply with their unique and vibrant attire. Finally there was a glimpse of hope.
The team sang and danced across the Golden Jubilee Bridge, into Leicester Square, Piccadilly Circus and China Town, attracting crowds who were intrigued as to what was going on. Of course it’s not unusual to come across the odd street performance in Central London, but this was somewhat special. It was new for every single person involved – none of whom had ever even considered performing to a live audience before – but it also carried a deep and urgent message.
Each performance ended with a solemn speech – an opportunity to finally engage with the general public. Many people stayed around to talk personally with various women, asking questions and wanting to know more. For many of the women this was the first time in two years that they were able to share their own personal stories with people who were willing to listen. Needless to say, this had a significant emotional impact. It not only served as much-needed therapy, but also opened people’s eyes to a situation that they were previously completely oblivious to.
It wasn’t a surprise that the majority of the crowds were wholly unaware of the atrocities that have been occurring since November 2020. Many were frustrated and angry that they had not seen this on mainstream media outlets. According to the WHO this is one of the worst humanitarian crises in history, so why has it been hidden so much?
Sadly, on Friday 26th August, the Ethiopian Government carried out an unprovoked airstrike on a kindergarten in the middle of Mekelle, the capital city of Tigray. Reported numbers of casualties are unclear, but at least two innocent children were killed and several wounded. This news heavily dampened the spirits that were raised only days before and further highlights the fact that Tigray desperately needs help from the international community.
The main aim of Tuesday’s event was to raise awareness, which was indeed a success, but more needs to happen. The people of Tigray are completely in the dark, unable to contact anyone. They are rapidly running out of food and medical supplies, if they even have enough cash left to purchase anything.
Until access is granted to the region, we can but hope that the horrors awaiting are not completely irreversible.
Tigray can wait no longer.
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Luke Vincent Tapley