Leah Oliver, a Park Hill mother of three, is dedicated to her children’s education—and also to the education of children in Ethiopia.
Oliver is helping to coordinate “An Ethiopian Odyssey,” a showing of work by four artists who traveled to Ethiopia in January. Sales of the paintings and photographs, as well as donations at the event, will benefit Ethiopia Reads, a nonprofit organization. Ethiopia Reads collaborates with Ethiopian communities to build schools and libraries, teach teachers and boost literacy. The event is Wednesday, Oct. 22 at the Blair-Caldwell African American Research Library, 2401 Welton St., from 5 to 7:30pm. Hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar will be available; the suggested donation is $15.
Subtitled “a celebration of landscape, culture and art,” the approximately 40 pieces by the traveling artists are the work of two Americans and two Ethiopians. Local Denver artists will also participate in the event.
One of the traveling artists was Elaine Tucci, a Lafayette, Colorado painter and photographer. “I was captured by the beauty of the people and the country,” Tucci said. “We hear about the famines and the poverty but our intention was to show the beauty of the landscape and the culture.
“Traditions are woven into everyday life there. I did a painting of a woman in a lovely embroidered dress, performing a coffee ceremony. Ethiopia is the birthplace of coffee. Small cups are passed from a big platter. It’s special and communal.”
The other three traveling artists were Stephanie Schlatter, a Michigan-based painter; and Ethiopian-born artists Hele Zeru and Aklilu Temesgen. Denver artists who will show their work are Greg Cradick, Denise Livingston, Mahlet Samuel, Melat Tariku and Yaphet Woubishet.
Oliver and her husband, Scott, adopted their two-year-old son, Beniyam, from Ethiopia. She said Denver’s Ethiopian-American community is strong and supportive. “A wonderful part of our journey has been meeting other adoptive families. In Stapleton and Park Hill there are about 20 Ethiopian-American adoptive families and we get together several times a year for dinner. Our children range from very young to elementary-school age.”
Ethiopia Reads, founded in 1998, has planted 65 libraries in Ethiopia, as well as eight schools and five more schools in the planning stages. The organization has served approximately 120,000 children. Mobile “horseback libraries” reach rural children with no access to schools. Ethiopia Reads’ programs are managed and run by Ethiopians who live and work in Addis Ababa and the regional capital of Awassa. The staff of Ethiopians receives training and mentoring in library science and teaching.
The need is great, with a literacy rate of 44.6 percent of youth and 42 percent of adults. Ethiopia Reads’ mission is to provide youth and families with the tools to improve their lives.
Oliver, who is on the board of Ethiopia Reads, said the nonprofit is the perfect fit for her family. “We are dedicated to honoring our son’s Ethiopian heritage, and believe that supporting Ethiopia Reads is one way to do that,” she said. “We love supporting an organization that promotes books and learning—something that we believe should be accessible to all children.”
“An Ethiopian Odyssey” runs Oct. 1–31. After its Denver run, the show will open in Chicago and Seattle. For more information, see www.ethiopiareads.org and click on “events” where an online catalog of the artwork will be posted.