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Individuals of all economic strata are shedding their jobs, hometowns, and lifestyle to embrace a wider experience and a more meaningful existence.

Gelila Bekele

Gelila BekeleModel, Activist and Filmmaker Gelila Bekele, born September 4, 1986 in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia devotes much of her time to raising awareness for and aiding in global access to clean water and education, particularly in her native country of Ethiopia.

Her projects include several partnerships with charities, as well as her film Mai: Life Is Not Honey and a book entitled Guzo. #ThePowerOfFit.

Her early days were a combination of both rural village and life in the city that really shaped, strangely, her adult life as well: "Like the way I connect to places, what makes me feel at home and myself."

"Very free, climbing trees, drinking goat milk straight from the goat. It was very rural until I was about four and then we moved to the city. When you’re a kid you just adapt to everything."

"When I was almost nine we moved to Europe. We moved around a lot but I’m really thankful for that because I was able to adopt a language and be exposed to religion and culture - mainly just different types of people in general. It really made me who I am. I truly believe that." "What you see of me is probably really what you think and partly how you are as well, you know? I believe that. I have to be accepting. I always try to say there are two hands. One is fear, one is love. Which one do I choose in every situation, in every interaction? "

Gelila Bekele"I am not always successful. I truly believe in the universe and that God always has a plan. I came into the world from a very young mother - she was sixteen and gave me up so these little things happen because of that.

But also I am very lucky to have such a strong grandmother who raised me and again the universe kind of takes care of you. But, yeah, it also drops you as well."

"Your home is your first school, your first taste of everything. I learned not only from the good things my Grandmother practiced but also like the hardships, out of the fear or whatever she reacted to."

"You witness it. I witnessed it. And I said okay either I take this, or I don’t. Of course later on, right? But all of the things that she represented was always love and she made sure education was a big thing to me.

"You know it was a very traditional upbringing and I try not to practice that so much. I love our Ethiopian tradition and I love our country but it can be very silencing to children because it’s like “I’m the adult and I know everything.”

"I have to kind of do the opposite at times because I think my son teaches me who he is and even from discipline I see what works and what doesn’t, and just what he needs."

Gelila Bekele"Just observing him and listening and just communicating. Yes, I’m his mother and I am the adult and there needs to be structure but also needs a voice. The way I grew up was very traditional and like you can’t misbehave because you’re afraid!"

"Yeah that old saying, 'Children should be seen and not heard' as if they don’t have a mind of their own or something. That always bugged me, I don’t love that one."

"Yeah. But I do love all of the other things like the natural remedies that I use with my son, what I feed him, etiquette, and really understanding people and being a good listener, all of these things are what I learned from my grandmother for sure."

"You can be from any part of the world but the higher education you have, there’s less close-mindedness and more openness. All of that is connected to education. And I also see it within the modeling industry."

"A lot of my peers left either halfway through high school or started modeling at age 13 or 14 - so you can imagine where they were. I was discovered my freshman year at UC Berkeley. I had five more years more than them and it really helped me handle my accounting and how to invest."

"These little things they really matter. And also from a global perspective, I knew that my career had an expiration date on it. I believe beauty is five seconds long and what else is there?"

Gelila Bekele"I think I owe it to myself to really further myself in my education and that I also owe it to those young girls back home who were my peers at some point as well to go back and give something of myself."

I don’t think examples should be limited to 'Here I give you this and you follow me.' No, it should be 'I build a road or I carve out a road so you take your own journey.'

Of course, it’s not easy, it’s a very long-term commitment but to see the results makes you really keep going."

Gelila is an accomplished photographer now among other things. Her book, Guzo, is in print. She aligned her passion for photography with a charitable aspect. Guzo, it wasn’t supposed to be the project that it is now. It was truly my eleven, twelve years of a journey through every part of Ethiopia."

"Ethiopia has over eighty ethnic groups so I can’t even fit that into one book, no way. So I started making mini films, mini-documentaries of the community and school and water projects - just all of the different things I would experience and I started to see these really beautiful stills on the screen as images."

"So, I thought, 'How cool are these?' So I took these shots and made a book for a holiday or birthday or whatever. And when I got pregnant I was like, 'What could I do?' A few friends said, 'This just can’t be only for friends, you have to put it on the market self-published.' And so I did."

Gelila Bekele"My first film was more of like an educational thing and just connecting with people. For me to have one foot in this society and another foot over in America - to be able to share what I learned from that."

"We live the life that we choose to live, right? I think in many cases at some point, even if you are trapped or whatever the situation is, there is always a choice. Unless it is an extreme situation, of course, but I am me."

"It doesn’t matter what clothes you wear, your skin is still yours, your soul is still yours, and you act accordingly based on what you feel. I try to kind of practice that."

"My existence in Ethiopia is still me and my existence in this part of the world is still me. I’ve had crazy moments where it was very hard for me in the beginning to kind of understand what the universe’s purpose was for putting me in these places."

When asked about what’s going on in America, in particular right now - what many would consider the very inhumane treatment of children, does it make her feel anti-American at times?

"No, because I separate politics from people. America is great because of its people. It’s compassion. It’s a land that accepted all of us. There is a lot of brutality, there is a lot of oppression, there is a lot of mistreatment - for all kinds of people in history."

Gelila Bekele"What makes it really really sad, because I am alive at this part of history right now today, today we are reliving what a lot of our ancestors lived through - their nightmares. I am a proud Ethiopian-American. I love this country. My son was born in this country. I want to make it better for him and his friends."

"So that means fighting policies. I truly believe for every bad opposite, wrong, negative, experience there is an exact opposite: the good, the love, the beauty, the strong that fight through it. I am 31 years old and most of my generation never witnessed the previous threats in this country."

"Civil rights were before us. Women’s rights were before us. So many presidents have come and gone. Living through different countries I realize that to vote, to care is something you must do."

"I used to argue with a lot of my friends like “Did you vote?” and they would say “Eh, it’s not gonna matter,” and I think that people really understand that’s not true now."

"It doesn’t matter which side you’re on but if you want the future that you really really envision, how do you become active in it? I want to be part of that force that brings the good. All of these things are on the surface now."

"Even that one tweet or one post that will go viral, one image of something powerful to force people to say, I don’t stand for this so I’m going to be proactive and I want to change this.”

Gelila Bekele"Something happened. The women’s march. So all of these things that people are fighting for, I think it’s become stronger and I believe in the people."

"I don’t believe in politicians. People make places. Land is empty without people, it is just land. No matter where it is, I love the US because of its people."

"I love my country because of its people. You have to make sure that everyone is okay. Right now there are all these extremes coming out because of fear and also there was this side that felt neglected so now power stretches its giant foot and stomps on people."

"That doesn’t last. Anything that was born out of fear falls. I don’t care what regime, totalitarian, communist, whatever, fascist - it fell. I just hope that more people get on that wheel that want to change this."

"It does not make me less attracted to America. If you are that person then you shouldn’t be here. There is a saying I love, “Like because, love despite.” So if you only like the US because of whatever reasons. If you love, you love it no matter what."

"I mean as a mother, your heart breaks to watch these images. There was a thirteen-year-old African American boy shot by police because he ran. Yes, it’s wrong to run from police but he didn’t deserve to be killed. How do you change that?"

Gelila Bekele"I also believe in the arts. The arts are the biggest connectors. Whether you use film, photography, music, expressions, whatever it is, all of that connects us, changes us, it speaks to us, speaks to the younger, older, all generations."

After living in Europe for a while, Gelila relocated to the United States, and she was admitted to UC Berkeley. She was scouted during her freshman year by a modeling agency, and she signed with Ford Models in the USA and in Paris. She is currently represented by Elite Model Management (New York) and Premium Models (Paris).

Gelila has modeled for big names such as Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Pantene, Diesel, Levi’s, Anna Sui, Mikimoto, H&M, Pinko, Nespresso, Pantene and L’oreal, and has appeared in leading magazines as well as numerous other publications."

"She got into modeling a little later than some of her peers, but she insists that it helped her make better financial decisions. She didn’t finish her education at UC Berkeley, but she believes that getting an education is key to maintaining success.

Gelila’s upbringing in Addis Ababa inspired her to start charity work. She has first-hand knowledge of the living conditions in some parts of her country. One of the biggest problems in Ethiopia is water shortage.

Bekele is part of the Charity: Water organization that provides water to places where there is scarcity. Gelila also works to ensure that women’s rights in Ethiopia are upheld. The information on her website reads;

Gelila Bekele“Gelila is a devoted advocate for young girls’ right to equal opportunities in her homeland of Ethiopia, as well as globally.

In her advocacy, she focuses mainly on the issues of fundamental rights, particularly access to clean water, education, and girls/women rights.”

Gelila is also an author and a photographer. She combined these traits when she made the book titled Guzo. The purpose of the book is to expose Ethiopian tribes and cultures to the world. Gelila wrote the following on the book’s website;

“On the pages of Guzo you will view a day in the intimate lives of six tribes – the Hamar, Tigray, Afar, Raya, Harrar, and Lasta Lalibela peoples. Hopefully through these images you’ll also feel the deep and essential beauty of my ancient peoples.

Despite the revelatory grace and allure of the images, for the most part, they are unposed moments caught be the camera’s lens.”

She is married to the American actor, writer, producer, and director, Tyler Perry and they have a three year old son named Aman who was born November 30th, 2014.

Gelila Bekele


Guzo - the book

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