The Aikido Ethiopia Project (AEP) grew out of the success of the Hawassa Peace Dojo, which is one of AE’s oldest and most successful programs – what began in 2005 with a simple tai no henko demonstration between AE founder Don Levine and a local youth named Tesfaye Tekelu has blossomed into a thriving dojo in the Ethiopian town of Hawassa.
The Hawassa Dojo (the town of Awassa officially changed its name to Hawassa in 2012) provides regular aikido instruction for 200 boys, girls and young adults ages 7 to 25, more than 30% of whom are female. The dojo is part of a larger community organization called Action for Youth and Community Change (AYCC), which provides health and fitness opportunities and community education programs in Hawassa and throughout Ethiopia.
Training conditions are far from ideal, yet the students participate with smiles on their faces. The dojo itself is a mud and grass structure with cloth-covered mats. Temperatures are in the 70s year-round, and humidity is high. Some students have dogi that have been provided by AE donors, while many train in their street clothes.
AEP is based on the Hawassa Dojo model, and seeks to replicate its success elsewhere in Ethiopia. Among its current initiatives is planning for the inaugural Ethiopian aikido seminar in November 2014, which will feature six shodan exams, including the first female aikido shodan candidate.
“Aikido changed and shaped me and the path I am on. It continues to shape me as an individual and my community around me.”