[dehai-news] Shaebia.org: "The Youth Must Always Feel Independent," Dr. Senait Bahta

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From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Mon Mar 02 2009 - 11:50:03 EST

"The Youth Must Always Feel Independent," Dr. Senait Bahta
Amanuel Tesfay, Mar 2, 2009


Dr. Senait Bahta is an anthropologist at the Department of Anthropology and
Archaeology at the Eritrean Institute of Technology, Mai-Nefhi. Although she
had ambitions to attain higher level of education when young, the colonial
situation in Eritrea was not encouraging. She attended university till 3rd
year in the Department of Business Management. Then she joined the armed
struggle. She had an interview with Shaebia.org, excerpts:


Q: What forced you to quit your studies?


I couldn't continue my studies, despite my ambitions. Because, after we
(Eritrean university students) returned from a one year teaching university
service, we were told to say 'Ethiopia Tikdem.' Most of the Eritreans who
were in the university met to discuss quitting our studies and to join the
armed struggle. Some of us joined the struggle and others preferred to stay


Q: Then how did you attain your doctorate?


It was after long years that I got the chance. First, I joined the armed
struggle. Staying there for sometime, I went to England for medical reasons.
I had to wait for a while there until I got the medical services. So, I
applied in a university believing that I could use my time. Mastering the
English language and joining a new department was challenging. But I had the
ambition and I believed that I could do it. The system and the way of living
in England was also a challenge. In order to improve my performance I had to
regularly visit the library and read as much as I could. I spent all my
scholarship money in buying books and photocopying notes because I had a
plan to take them to Eritrea after completing my studies.


Q: Any challenge you faced because you were from Africa?


There was that negative picture about Africa and Africans. For example, when
our instructors wanted to talk about civilization in Africa they used to
tell the students that if an African wears western made cloths, he considers
himself civilized and if a woman buys coca cola for her children, she
considers herself civilized. It was an embarrassing understanding and I used
to spend a lot of my time debating with my classmates and our instructors.
Any way, what matters is the skill and resilience you develop in order to
face such challenges and accomplish your studies successfully. Someone has
always to look forward against all odds---especially the youth.


Q: What inspired you to develop that much interest on education? Anything
related to family background?


It is an important question. In the Eritrean society education (knowledge)
is highly respected. Every family wants to see its children being educated.
There are different proverbs and sayings that describe the value of
education in the Eritrean society. Growing up in such an environment, you
would definitely be interested to acquire higher level of education. So,
although my father was a teacher, the main inspiring factor was the
society's interest in education. We had classmates who used to come from
remote areas where they had no access to reading materials or electricity,
but yet who were outstanding.


Education was also considered as the main source of income and prestige at
that time. Students strived hard to achieve good results so as to have a
better life and there were many who really changed their lives in that way.
Families in the villages, even those who were not educated, sold their
livestock or harvest to cover their children's expenses. Thus, the family
and the society were the basic motivating factors.


Q: What do you think is the main role of your profession in Eritrea?


It is interesting in two basic things: first in introducing us with the rest
of the world and secondly for the development of the tourism industry.
Eritrea is rich in archeological remains. So far, it has about 40,000 known
archeological sites. Furthermore, there is a strong scientific belief that
life began in our area. So, having experts in the profession,
anthropologists, archeologists. is quite important for Eritrea which is rich
in unexcavated ancient remains. Researches are more representative and are
well interpreted and explained when they are done by native experts. I am
not denying the expertise of foreigners; but what I am trying to say is that
native researchers should have the upper hand in researches like this one.


Human remains that were found in Buya are evident that supports the
beginning of life in the region. This alone could attract international
researchers and visitors. It is wise, therefore, to have your own skilled
professionals in order to avoid any damage, lose or misinterpretation, and
to ensure ownership.


There are many Eritreans in foreign universities who want to do their
masters or doctorate researches here. Therefore, we need to establish a more
convenient ground and opportunities for them so as to attract more


Q: What exactly has it to do with the development of ones identity?


Knowing your history is knowing your identity. And we have a rich social
history. So, it creates a sense of confidence, ownership and social cohesion
among the people because it enables them to feel proud of their past. For
example, Ethiopia is known for famine and draught. When foreign researchers
try to explain the country or its people, the first term they refer to is
'famine'. So, an Ethiopian would definitely feel unhappy to hear or read


Generally speaking, if you have an ancient civilization and make your sites
noted on the world heritage list, it strengthens your identity and helps you
feel proud of it.


Q: There are many changes, due to technological advancement, in the world at
the moment. How do you think this could affect the issue of identity?


The world is getting smaller due to technological advancement. We have to
benefit from the opportunity but not get lost in the spread and have
negative understanding about globalization. You have to take your part in
the game while keeping your identity. Technology has become a big threat to
identity and culture. If you develop your awareness, the development could
strengthen your social cohesion and identity. After all, we have to be
participants in the world development but not always recipients or


Q: Attributed to globalization, there is a belief that says 'culture' no
more represents identity. What do you think?


Even though the world gets smaller, there is no one who would not want to
have an identity. The notion emerged with the development of the western
culture and the information technology that supports it. Of course, there is
a threat to many cultures, but it could not stop people from caring about
their own indigenous identities. There was always cultural influence; the
exchange of customs and the like and there will be in the future among the
different cultures in the world. But, it is obvious that culture will
continue to represent identities.


Q: What is change for you?


Change is life, I think. If something is static there must be some thing
wrong. If societies don't change either way that means there is no life.
People do change over time. They have to choose the best thing for them to
acquire the best change.


For example, the experience I passed through and the educational opportunity
I had, changed my way of thinking considerably. Most of the time I keep
thinking about the decisions some people take which is contrary to their
interest. Life is about choices. You have to be careful to choose the best
thing for your life; if not you would live in regrets.


Q: You told me that you are a friend of books. What are the main advantages
that you gained from reading?


There is peace of mind in reading. When I face something disappointing, I
rush to the shelf and pick a book. Reading gives you knowledge, experience
and better understanding. So, the youth have to develop the tradition so as
to develop themselves and be aware of what is happening around them.


Q: You once were a student, a fighter, a refugee and now college instructor
in your country. What is your understanding about the Eritrean youth of the


Well, people do change over time. The former Eritrean generation faced the
challenges of colonialism and succeeded. There is a different situation and
types of challenges that the youth of the day are facing. Our youngsters are
fortunate because they live peacefully in their own country. There was not
such a chance for the former generation. But, there are much harder
challenges that the youth is facing today. Life is becoming more complex and
expensive even at international level. Many youths have lost their mortgage
in the economically rich countries and the economic challenges youths in the
developing countries have is much harder.


However, whatsoever might be the challenge, the youth has to be more
courageous and self-confident against all odds in order to succeed. You
don't have to lose hope and take unwanted response like what we see now in
the west. The youth has to be systematic, flexible, confident and tolerant.
For example, when I was doing my Ph. D, sometimes I had to work for 24
hours. Despite this, the advisors overload you or they utter disappointing
words. Hence, some of my colleagues either quit their studies or took
unwanted measures in their lives. What the youth should always put in his
mind is that life is full of challenges, ups and downs, and that he has to
be tolerant because there is a better tomorrow. The youth should realize
that every challenge brings a better solution.


Q: You also give seminars on gender equality. What is the term equality for


I was raised among boys. I used to do everything they do; cycling, playing
games and the like. My mother was so worried about this, thinking that I
would be a tom boy. So, she usually advised me to do things that girls do.
But, regarding my lessons, she gave me utmost support and especially during
exam days she would never allow me to do household chores. My older brother
also encouraged me to read many books that developed my understanding. So,
growing up in such a situation, I hardly had any worry about gender bias.


What basically equality is, therefore, equal access to education, employment
and human rights and the like. There is nothing that belongs to him or to
her; both genders have the same rights. So, women should ensure their
equality by participating and contributing in their community. Now, I can
see many optimistic young girls in different places and they have to be role
models for the younger ones.


Q: What do you have to say to the Youth?


Obviously, the youth is the hope of a nation and the society expects much
from them. Adolescence is the time when you produce much. The youth have to
develop the sense of being independent and self-confident. One might get
financial support from a relative or family, but this should not be a means
of creating dependency. You have to believe on what you do by yourself. The
assistance must be a plus, but not the source of your living.


Making good friends and reading are basic things that the youth should
exercise. Good friends are important during challenges. Since the world is
full of challenges and opportunities, the youth must be wise and patient in
choosing the best for them and their country.


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