November 25, 2015
Beyond the Orphanage

RELIGIOUS TOLERANCE THAT FOLLOWS THE ETHIOPIAN WAY

Ethiopia prides itself on the religious tolerance and acceptance. At BTO, our organisation is non-denominational and it follows Ethiopia’s lead; it is built on respecting each other’s different faiths and is built on tolerance. The story of Yohannes is demonstrates those policies of respect and fostering openness.

Yohannes knows what it is like to experience religious intolerance. He used to live with his brother at the home of their grandmother. Like his brother, Yohannes chose Islam as his faith, but his grandmother continued to insist the brothers follow a traditional indigenous religion.

First Yohannes’ brother left home, unable to tolerate the situation, seeking refuge at a local mosque. Two years ago, when Yohannes could no longer bear his grandmother’s religious intransigence, BTO offered him refuge. At BTO Yohannes found comfort in being able to practice his religion in surroundings that were open to different faiths. “Islam is important to me as it gives peace to me,” Yohannes says of his decision to become a Muslim at the age of 14. “It helped me to listen to my inner self—before I could not figure things out, but then I found serenity.”

Despite Yohannes’ experiences at home, Ethiopia has a history of widespread religious tolerance within its borders and which continues today.

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and Muslims go out of their ways to show respect toward each other’s religions, and to share in the religious festivals and traditions of each other’s faiths.

Orthodox Christian weddings, hosts will ensure there is halal meat prepared as prescribed by Muslim law for their Muslim guests.

At BTO we admire and aim to reciprocate such religious inclusion and tolerance.

“Our policy does not even allow for any sort of discriminatory thoughts,” says our head social worker, Martha Kafato, “This is a typical Ethiopian approach.”

BTO now pays for Yohannes’ two room home; a home that he shares with 19-year-old Nathaniel, an Orthodox Christian. Inside their small bedroom they share a bunk bed and equally adorn their respective beds with their religious motifs of their own choosing. “We are taught to respect all,” Yohannes says of why he ensures he gives such respect to Nathaniel and his faith. “The Muslim faith teaches peace.”

Yohannes is now earning Arabic so that he can read the Koran. He also takes part in numerous Ethiopian Orthodox Christian celebrations with Nathaniel. BTO is committed to ensuring each individual has the freedom, safety and right to practice their faith, but most importantly, to encourage and promote respect for others practicing theirs. We see Yohannes’ story, as one of success and his sense of inclusion is reflective of what we do here at BTO.

“It is nice to live with a friend,” Nathaniel says. “We help each other with our work and share ideas.”

Additional reporting from Addis Ababa by James Jeffrey

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