Bogaletch Gebre (Boge) was born in the mid-1950s in Kembatta (no hospitals, no birth registration, no birth certificate), a Southern Ethiopia that is today one of the most densely populated rural areas of Ethiopia. Her name means “Brilliant Light” in Amharic, the main language of Ethiopia.
Life for girls in Kembatta was – and still is – comprised largely of hauling water and carrying out tedious household chores. Boge grew up in the village of Zato, near the township of Durame, in a round, thatched house divided into two areas. Women and children lived in back with the milking cows, while the front was for men, their guests, and the animals they valued most: horses, mules and oxen. Village elders – men, never women – sat in front part of the house and under a large tree to debate issues of common concern and resolve conflicts.
As a child, Boge stayed overnight with a cousin, where she first saw the Amharic alphabet. She carefully memorized its 268 characters, afraid that when she returned home she would not be permitted to see them again. Determined to learn to read, refusing to accept a fate of remaining non-literate and marrying a local farmer, Gebre decided to go to school. But, with girls expected to look after the household rather than be educated, these were illicit "hide and seek" trips. On the pretext of collecting water, or grass for her father’s horse & mule, oxen, she would sneak off to church school, making sure she returned home with a pot of water or heavy load of grass on her back, to maintain her cover. She ran six KM each way to a missionary school and became the first girl from her village to be educated beyond the fourth grade.
After escaping from four attempted forced child marriages by abduction, Boge accomplished the extraordinary feat of passing eighth grade matriculation within five years; receiving government scholarship to attend high school in Addis Ababa, the only girls’ boarding school and then Israeli government scholarship to Hebrew University in Jerusalem; studied Microbiology and Physiology, Fulbright scholarship to University of Massachusetts, MSc in Parasitology/protozoology, and scholarship to at UCLA attended PhD program in epidemiology, in the USA. At the University of Massachusetts, where her work proved to be the first to successfully cultivating Trypanosomes (the parasite that causes African sleeping sickness), in physiological temperatures, in attempt to develop vacancies. She has worked as a researcher, lecture, assistant professor in Ethiopia as well as in USA. While working in California, she set up a charity called "Parents International Ethiopia- Development through Education, where she helped to collect over 375,000 text books and sent to Ethiopia.
In 1997, Boge returned to Ethiopia and founded Kembatti Mentti Gezzimma -Tope (KMG Ethiopia), to nurture the intelligence and wisdom of women, girls, marginalized and their communities; and to eliminate harmful customary practices and other gender based violence against women and girls.
Before it began its interventions, KMG conducted a baseline study in 1998 in its operational area that showed that gender-based discrimination and violence, including FGM, bridal abduction, widow inheritances, and domestic violence were endemic, impacting virtually 100% of all girls and women. 10 years after KMG’s interventions, in 2008, the UNICEF survey in a community of 1.5 million showed an amazing reduction of FGM from nearly 100% to only 3%. Hundreds of thousands of girls had been spared genital mutilation, bride abduction; early marriages are no longer threat to girls.
The 2014 Impact Assessment (199-2014) determined 85-89% of all the girls sixteen and under are uncut in the study area. The 2016 Final Evaluation by Comic Relief (2007-2015) attested to the complete abandonment of FGM, child, early, forced marriages, and bride abduction in many areas. Some examples of the profound changes taking place are: over 50,000 girls are organized in Uncut Girls Clubs, becoming a social force in their communities; women are serving at all levels of government and Union leadership positions. Such a spectacular result, in such a complex, difficult and sensitive field, confounded all the ‘experts’. It was nothing short of miraculous!
With virtually no resources, but driven by a deep desire to transform the lives of very vulnerable women and girls, they initiated a process that now, 16 years later, has liberated and given life to almost 9 million people in their operating areas. Fighting against deep cultural divides and vested Government interests, KMG has achieved iconic status through its unique ability to use existing community’s social capital for change, and to mobilize and energize local communities. For the first time in the communities where KMG works, special attention is given to women’s education, training, capacity-building, entrepreneurship, management, and leadership. Currently, women are appointed and elected to local, regional and federal government positions. KMG had also taken on the extremely complex issue of the Fuga people– the “untouchables “- skilled artisans who have lived in abject poverty, without any human dignity, all their lives, but who now, with KMG’s support, can for the first time ‘feel human’ and are reclaiming their basic rights.