To much of the world, Ethiopia, along with other large parts of Africa, is often depicted as a poverty-stricken, famine-saturated land crumbling from conflict.
To Ethiopian natives, the country is seen in a more honest and uplifting light that exposes the people’s strong sense of pride and the land’s transcendent beauty often reflected in its rich culture.
In fact, Ethiopia is Africa’s oldest independent country and the continent’s second-most-populous nation.
Its lush red soil is draped across its breathtaking landscapes and constructs the foundation of a country that is home to over 93 million people – many of whom do face the harsh realities aforementioned – yet carry on with a grounded sense of strength and courage.
Yet while the challenges Ethiopia has faced (and currently still tackles) are well documented, the admirable ability of its people to overcome hardships has often been overlooked – until now.
Budding filmmaker Nathan Araya has stepped in to fill that void with his latest documentary Sincerely, Ethiopia.
Araya, a 28-year-old Ethiopian-American, set out to tackle the public’s negative perceptions of his homeland by shifting his film’s focus to display a more positive portrayal of Ethiopian life and culture.
In doing so, Araya uncovered more of the country’s hidden gems, which he discovered were nestled in the inspiring narratives of eight Ethiopians who have dedicated their lives to addressing the country’s ongoing challenges.
“Growing up as an Ethiopian-American and being able to see what the media has portrayed about Ethiopia and their lack of knowledge, it has always been very negative,” Araya told theGrio. “The documentary was an opportunity for me to not to negate the negative images of Ethiopia but to provide another side to the story that the world has never seen.”
One man’s mission tells a nation’s story
Araya was born in Dallas, TX to Ethiopian parents and while he had never visited his homeland, he grew up in a household that celebrated the country’s rich traditions.
He also had a natural knack for media and earned a large following of fans and supporters over the years from various video skits he posted on You Tube.
But it wasn’t until 2009 that Araya decided to create a documentary and launch a more in-depth project to explore his heritage and discover more of Ethiopia’s untold stories.
At that time, Araya banded together a small group of friends – each of whom were also Ethiopian and were equipped with various international, video editing and marketing knowledge — and together they spent the next four years researching, campaigning, fundraising, traveling, and documenting a film that told Ethiopia’s fascinating story the way they thought best.
“We each had different goals,” Hellen Kassa, the film’s producer, told theGrio. “I had been to Ethiopia many times but I couldn’t adequately share what was going on. My goal was not to just tell stories but give good pictures and visuals of what is going on.
“People associate Ethiopia with poverty, drought, famine and for me, those issues do exist and I do see those negative sides but at the same time I saw beautiful people with an amazing sense to overcome hardship. And, in the midst of everything, there are awesome stories of people that are willing to inspire.”