Freweini Araia joined the armed struggle at just 14. Just like all the Eritrean teenagers of the 70s, she left home to go free Eritrea regardless of her age. After getting her military training, Freweini was assigned to work at the communication department of the EPLF during the armed struggle. She tells us about the importance of the communication section, its challenges and the efforts the department made to connect all the parts of the organization to function as one. Here is a translation of an interview she had with Hadas Eritrea.
- Thank you for making the time to be here. Would you please tell us about the time you joined the armed struggle?
In 1977, when most of the county’s cities were being liberated, Keren was also freed. It was the time I finished my general examination in 8th grade. At the time, the youth had strong feelings to join the armed struggle, and I was determined to go just like my fellow Eritrean youth.
In 1978, after taking my full military training that took about six months, I was assigned to work at the Communication Department. After a while, I was then re-assigned to serve as a physician of the team in the same department. At the same time, when the EPLF decided to make structural changes at the second congress, the Communication Department was made to hold three branches –the radio operator, telephone operator and postal service. That is when I was once again reassigned to the postal service.
At the postal service, we were trained by the people who had worked there for years before we started doing the job. We had the ultimate goal of providing quality service to all those at the rear.
- How was the postal service delivered during the armed struggle?
Cars were allowed to move only at night. As this was one of the biggest challenges the postal service faced, we were supplied with nine motorcycles as a solution. The head office was at a place called Ararb and we used to deliver mails from there to almost all departments of the organization through our motorcycles. Letters from families and friends were all delivered to all parts of the rear in Sahl.
- Let me take you back to the time you first got to Blieqat (a place where military training is given). What are your memories?
We all wanted to go to the field so badly that all the challenges and obstacles we had come across was just acceptable to all of us. Of course, there is the obvious hardship of being away from your family and comfort zone for the first time, but there was nothing that we couldn’t take in. We just couldn’t wait for the time to get the military training and hold our own guns and be the freedom fighters just like our sisters at the field.
On the other hand, there is something I don’t forget till this day. It took us three days to get to Blieqat. The day after our arrival, they slaughtered a camel for lunch and we all had camel for lunch. We didn’t have a choice but to eat it. Right after having our lunch, we were told to fetch wood for fire at one o’clock. It was just a third day for me, and I hadn’t even met my team mates. But with the help of a strong girl from a village, I was given a bunch of woods to carry. It was a though hill and I was the only one left behind. My team leader was worried when he found out there was a person missing from his team. They went looking for me and found me with my sticks trying to get to the hill. He told me to drop the wood and just pull myself together. I was so humiliated to be the only one to come without any fire wood but my team leader was more concerned about my safety. So this is one of my memories about the place. Blieqat is a place where we all learned to overcome hardships and think of our teammates as ourselves.
- What was the Communication Department like during the armed struggle?
Before I answer your question, I have something to say to the Ministry of Information. Although the Communication Department was one of the most important bodies of the EPLF, there hasn’t been enough coverage about it over the years. There is hardly any information documented about the department.
It is true that every department of the organization had its roles. They wouldn’t go on without one another. But all the departments couldn’t function without the communication department. They needed the information to function every step of the way. And that is what the department did during the armed struggle. It was the vein of the organization.
- You decided to continue your education right after independence?
After independence, I went back to school. I started from the 8th grade. It was much easier for me and I just didn’t want to waste time. That is why I decided to jump two grades and started my evening classes as a 10th grader. I took the matriculation exams two times, but I wasn’t successful. Luckily, in 2004, the government provided us with an opportunity to continue our education, and I was able to pass my matriculation exams. I joined Asmara University and got my social science certificate. That lifted my spirit and I continued to get my diploma and I finally got my bachelor’s degree in History in 2007. I would like to mention my family’s role in my educational success. Even though my husband was away due to the 3rd offensive, he gave me all the support he could when he sometimes came to visit home. But I would like to thank my eldest daughter; she managed to support me in every way she could. Of course my two sons had their roles as well but mostly it was my daughter who made it all possible for me.
- Would you please tell us what your role is at the National Confederation of Eritrean Workers (NCEW), about the association?
Although the association was established during the 1950s, it is in November 1952 that the NCEW was legally recognized. However, the organization hasn’t grown much as the country was under successive colonial rules. After independence, the NCEW has worked to strengthen its organization and connect to all the works at almost all institutions.
I am currently working as a judge for the board of work relations representing the association.