Books For Africa Ships Art Books to Ethiopian Dance Center

Ron Aminzade, a retired sociology professor at the Universities of Wisconsin and Minnesota, met Melaku Belay, an Ethiopian dancer and director of the Fendika Cultural Center in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2020 when Belay was performing at the Cedar Cultural Center in Minneapolis. It was the beginning of an impactful friendship that is making a difference for children and adults in Ethiopia.

The two were introduced by Hui Wilcox, a former student of Aminzade’s at the U of M. She is now the Dean of the Kofi Annan Institute for Global Citizenship at Macalester College.

“And she studies Ethiopian dance and she had been working with Melaku on a project about Ethiopian dance,” Aminzade recalled. “So, she introduced me to him. He had the idea that the cultural center could really use a library. And so, the three of us decided we would try to raise funds, send books, and help Melaku create this library.”

Two years later Aminzade and Wilcox, working with Books For Africa, sent a shipment of 1,000 books to the Fendika Cultural Center.

“I can attest, from being there myself recently, that children and adults alike, and folks from all walks of life, would just walk into Fendika, read and chill at any time during the day,” Wilcox said. “Having a quiet library in the noisy center of Addis Ababa is beautiful. Folks affiliated with Fendika including musicians, dancers, and visual artists are immensely proud of this feature of their artistic home.”

Now Aminzade and Wilcox and BFA are shipping another 3,300 books to Fendika.

“Melaku really wanted books about dance because they didn't have many books about dance,” Aminzade said. “And so, in the new shipment that we just sent the focus was on collecting and sending books about dance and music and art and culture, because that's what the center focuses on, inviting artists and musicians and dancers.”

Aminzade is pleased by the results of the project so far.

“It means that people who haven't had access to books can gain access to books,” he said. “I'm especially interested in children and getting books to children. And the center does have a bunch of children's books about art and culture and music and a monthly event where children and their families come to the center and use the books. So, it gives me just a lot of pleasure to see books in the hands of children who otherwise wouldn't have books. Performing and creative artists now have an opportunity to learn about dance, music, and art from around the globe. I think that this helps bring a more global perspective to their work.”