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“At the End of the Day Hard Work Pays Off.” Mr. Teklemariam

By :- Luwam Kahsay H.

Our guest today, Mr. Teklemariam Tekeste, won an award for ‘awareness raising on ecological devastation and conservation land degradation through photography’ and was nominated for ‘Ecology, protection of citizens’ rights to a favorable environment, preservation of the natural, historical, and cultural heritage of the territories’ in an international competition held in Russia. He has also worked as a cameraman for about 40 years.

Let’s start with your background.

I was born in Mesfinto, a small village in the Serejeka subzone, 24 km from Asmara. Two of my brothers were martyred, one during the armed struggle for independence and the other in the war to protect the sovereignty of our nation. I, too, was mobilized during the 3rd round of Ethiopia’s invasion in 2000 and made it back home. Not long after that, my parents also passed away.

Like many families in the highlands, we lived in Hidmo, a traditional house, for almost four generations. After all of us left home our house faced the fate of demolition due to lack of maintenance. Watching our historical home destroyed had always troubled me. So, I set out to make peace with myself by doing something about it although I didn’t have sufficient materials to realize what I had in mind.

How were you able to rebuild your house?

I couldn’t do it all by myself. I was assisted by other parties. With the help of the villagers and members of the Defence Forces in our village, our house was completely rebuilt in a more modern form. It took us two years of hard work. I am grateful for all the help I got.

Were you satisfied with the work?

It was really beyond my expectations, but for me, it was not still enough. So I got engaged in beautifying its internal and external parts.

The work was tedious. I had to travel from Asmara to the village two to four days a week. A day before I go to the village I would buy tree seedlings, weighing 20 to 30 kg, from the nursery at Bet Giorghis and the next day carry them on my back to the bus station in Asmara to take them to Serejeka. From Serejeka, I would carry them again on my back to take them to our village. After planting them I had to go to Mesfinto at least twice a week to water the plants. I would walk for almost 1 km to fetch some 32 gallons of water. I sometimes use a donkey and at other times carry the pot of water on my back. And I am still doing it.

What did you plant?

Avocado, guava, apple, and traditional plants such as Geso, Tasos, and several types of flowers. They are all in good condition.

How do people react?

It is amazing! Especially watching youngsters being motivated by such a little project and getting involved in greening activities is the part that satisfied most. Many in my village and neighboring villages have also started asking me to bring them seedlings similar to mine from Asmara.

Tell us how you were able to take part in the competition.

I had no clue about such a type of competition. It was Mr. Tesfay G. Silasie, Minister of Land, Water and Environment, who suggested I participate in the competition. He knew what I was doing and was following all my activities. When I agreed he gave me the link, and I contacted the competition organizers. I was then able to participate in the contest and win an award.

Congratulations! What was the competition about?

The competition was organized in Russia at the beginning of January and it was open to participants from all over the world. It focused on environmental protection. We were required to fill out a form, stating our project, and send it on the Internet along with supporting graphic and written documents.

Two weeks later, I received a message announcing that I was the winner of the competition, and then I received my certificate.

How did it feel to win in an international competition?

It is an overwhelming experience! The victory is the country’s not mine. What I have personally witnessed is that regardless of the sacrifices you make, at the end of the day, hard work pays off. Due to extreme fatigue, there was a time when I suffered from a hernia.

Did you get support from others in working on your project?

It is obvious that as a person anyone needs the support of other people. But I believe in the principle that a person should first begin with himself and his family before seeking any kind of assistance from others. If your foundation is solid, nothing can stand in your way. Some people were saying “Why make this much effort?” “You will get tired in no time.” “Such a project can’t work in villages” and many others. Instead of being swayed by such remarks, I was trying to convince them to join me.

I have heard that you are an active member of the coordinating committee for tree planting in your village.

Yes, I am. The committee started its job in 2006, and we have so far planted 45 thousand trees. Every year, from February to May, we engage in terracing, and in July we plant trees. Guided by the motto “Development of a village by its villagers,” residents of Mesfinto village are working to transform their village into green land. As a result, they received a certificate in 2021 from the Ministry of Agriculture for being an exemplary village.

Your camera accompanies you wherever you go, right?

Yes, it’s because of the extreme love I have for it and my profession as a cameraman. Several years ago, I saw a woman crossing the street carrying a cylinder. That caught my attention and I captured it on my camera. I named the photo “Eritrean mother at work,” sent it to a contest organized by the National Union of Eritrean Women on the occasion of the organization’s silver jubilee, and won.

Any other message you would like to put across?

They say one tree produces sufficient oxygen for four people. So, cutting down one tree means killing four people. Our society should be made aware of the benefits of planting trees, and every one of us should take immediate action. The action starts with every one of us planting trees at home, in our courtyards. That is the way our country will be covered with trees.

Thank you so much, Mr. Teklemariam.

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