NAME ::: Mitslal Kifleyesus-Matschie COUNTRY ::: Ethiopia
My name is Mitslal and I was born in Ethiopia. And because there was a war, my mother could not go to the hospital. Mitzlal is the name for umbrella or protection. They gave me the name because I saved the family when they could not go out that day. I was born in Eritrea, but I’m Ethiopian. I live both in Ethiopia and Germany. That is also because I wanted to build a company in Ethiopia with the poorest of the poor. I created a company called Ecopia and we work with farmers and HIV positives. I’m 42 years old, I’m an old lady.
Actually I come from a very privileged family. My father was a judge and my mother was housewife. They had a business beside their jobs. We lived a very good life and we were a very close family. My father had beside us, he also had other kids that he adopted. But the most important things that my father also always says, was that I grew up very very free. For two reasons: One is because we believe in our culture and traditional healer and the traditional healers say, when everyone has a special power and you have to train that. So I got raised with having a huge social responsibility and because of that I was also given the opportunity to be free and exercise. So I grew up in a big family, but very very free. And I grew up in a very difficult time politically and economically in Ethiopia and that had a big influence on me. Also today I still fight against poverty. Poverty for me is not only when you have no money, but when you even if you have some money you don’t have access to opportunities to raise your standard. When you can’t do anything to change your life.
My father was the president of the supreme court, so we never had problems with hunger or anything. We went to the best schools one could go. Education was very important for my dad and for my mum hygiene and all that. So I come from a privileged family. I went early to Europe when I was 17 because my sister was a diplomat. I started studying and I only had one aim to learn. I knew that the roman empire was able to give water to it’s people 2000 years ago, so I wanted to learn to be able to do that in Ethiopia. So I went to Europe because I wanted to learn techniques to fight poverty. And after that I came back again.
I studied in Addis Ababa at a girls school. After that I started at university in Addis to become a teacher, but I was very young still. Then I went to Europe and studied political science, but got specialized in political science. I needed to know the military against the war and I needed to know how to fight poverty, so I thought the European Union would be a good example to study. So I studied European studies. After my studies I worked with the UN and got my PhD for “Arms Control and disarmament”.
I think I got this awareness for poverty and the social responsibility through my mother. My mother was the most social democrat I know. So my mother would give us books and food, but then she told us to share it with our neighbors. So exercise books or cloth we were not supposed to spoil, because we should share them. So she had this policy that every saturday we would slaughter a sheep and on sunday the neighborhood children would come and help a bit in the household and after that we all ate together. She used to say, first you have to feed the poor when you want to have peace. Even when we travelled, she always brought food not only for us, but also for others. So my mother would make a picknick and share it with the community.
My grandfather also taught me a lot about war and how to avoid it. And this also had an impact on me. Another things I guess that was important to me were dreams. I saw in my dreams what I want to be and what I’m supposed to be. And those dreams followed me. The first time I had one of those dreams was when I was seven. I dreamt that I was climbing up a mountain, but everyone was going another way, but when I reached the mountain others started following my path. And my grandfather told me: “Keep that in mind.” It happened like that often in my life and still today I have dreams that influence my decisions in life. And otherwise people had a big influence on me. I also experienced a lot of support from people. They believed that one day I will get into politics and become the president of Ethiopia, so they helped me a lot and gave me many opportunities. I had a german boyfriend who taught me how to be precise, so I think there I got a bit german in my approach to things.
When I was 26/27 I also got the desire to have a family and at that time I met my husband. I think at that time I lost a bit my own goals and dreams and that led to an actual crisis and I got sick. That was the time when I started Ecopia as the result of this crisis and I’m proud of that.
What is most important to you?
At that time of my life are my kids. They are my family around me. My friends are also very important to me as well as my company Ecopia. I think when it comes to my kids, they are important for me, because they mirror my own self. I needed a platform to enlighten and flourish. And my group for that is my family. I really invested a lot of time, love and energy into my family. They are my source of energy now, that makes me happy. Friends have been very important in my life always, because I’m a nomad. I move from one place to the other. I never felt that having a specific place is a source of a stable life for me, but friends, they always have. It is important for me to have friends and to work on the relationships with them. The third part is my company. This is where I put in, how I see life. It’s my place where I put my energy and passion into. It brings together my values and goals. This is so important. And today we reach thousands of farmers with Ecopia and this is just such a good way to release your energy. You see people moving from the 16th century to the 21st century and that is just amazing to see.
What has influenced you the most in your life?
As I said the things that influenced me the most are on different layers. The first big influence were the people. When I was six years old I had a neighbor, she was a white little girl and I had two weeks before she let me into her house. When I came into her house, I could not believe that this little italian girl, she was the same age like me, she had her own bedroom and another room for her toys. And each of her toys had a bed. And I never had my own bedroom. In one bed we sometimes slept with three persons. And I went back home and said, when I grow up, I want to have this for my children, their own bedrooms. It was a visualization that there is another world out there. Something else was that I was a very open person and people often had a projection on me. And I had to learn to be myself and focus on myself. I guess that was also a big influence, experiencing that. And also big events had big influence on me. I remember when the Berlin wall fell and how big that felt. And I think a big influence was also the german boyfriend I had. He was called Paul and he taught me to learn to organize, because he said you need to be able to do that, when you want to keep things running. You have to understand the system. I guess I’m half german when it comes to that and I’m proud of that.
What has been an important turning point in your life?
As I said, when I was six and we went to the countryside because of war, that was a big turning point. Also when I met some Europeans at the university in Addis. And then, when I went to Europe. But I think the actual biggest turning point was a downside of my life, that was the first time when I knew that how things were were not the idea of my life, but I still said to myself, let’s try and see if that also works for me. And that actually turned into a big downside of my life. That had quite some negative impact on me. I got married and I was always independent, but then for the first time I had to give up on my own goals as my husband became a high politician in Germany and there was conflict of interest. At that time it was not possible to find a common ground. He needed to develop at my cost. And this went one and when you have to sacrifice and that goes on, it leads to big frustrations and at the end it led to a very sad end. I lost the contact with myself. And it took me a long time to get out of it. And it still has a big capacity to pull you back in and bring this shadow back.
But there were also a lot of positive turning points in my life. Going to Europe or working with the UN. And the biggest turning point was when I was 23 and I gave my first speech in South Africa in front of presidents and prime ministers of Africa. And I was only 23 and I had to make a speech. In that moment I felt I’m meant to take a certain responsibility.
What makes you happy?
Many things make me feel happy. What makes me happy are my children. They give me this source of happiness, like, when you have new years. Kids have this capacity to give you this feeling of excitement and happiness. And I love when I see that my kids taken a lot of my principles and values in and they live by that. That they went to this heavy time of the divorce and that they survived that and we did not end up being negative or being the reflection is others. We kept ourselves in this family crisis. That was one thing. The other thing is the value that my friends give me and the source of happiness they give me. And also I think the communities that we work with with Ecopia, seeing that growing and interacting with them makes me very happy.
Sometimes I meet people whom I can positively influence and that also makes me happy. I had this example of a woman that I met in Brussels that I did not know and we talked. And she told me how depressed she was and that she wanted to kill herself and I got to change her mind. Years later she wrote a book and she got in touch with me to tell me how I saved her in this moment and how grateful she is now for her life.
What are you personally proud of?
One of the things I’m very proud of is that I learnt to be within myself and not be a reflection of the others. I’m a very emotional person, so I’m always very tempted to be influenced and affected by others. But I learned in my personal development how to stay inside of myself and to develop a positive character.
The second thing I’m personally proud of is my own family and my friends. I have a platform of richness. I feel like one of the richest persons in the world because of my family and friends.I never feel lonely because of that.
I think I’m also proud that I was able to live my own dreams and follow it. That I did not lose that. And I feel now with Ecopia now, I develop something that gives people the opportunity to develop themselves and when they reach certain excellence they can step out and can follow their own dreams. I’m very proud that I can give them this platform.
What have been the biggest struggles in your life?
The most difficult struggle in my life has been in my marriage. I think as long as you have a positive feeling, you can repair anything, but in a marriage it not only depends on your own positive wishes and desires, but also on the other ones. And to see yourself in such situation of pressure and divorce and feeling so helpless to change the circumstances, and experiencing yourself and the other person in such negative way, was maybe the most challenging thing in my live. I tried every minute to put a positive energy into it, but I never thought it would be impossible. But here I had to learn that I had to give up. There are things in life that you can’t change and that you have to let go at some point, even if you don’t want to. To accept that it will not belong to your own future and your way of life. I think this was so difficult for me to experience. Even when it was so clear. It was tough, especially also because of the kids. It was hard. I never thought such pain would exist.
What would you change in your life, if you could change something?
I think that is very difficult to answer, because if you change something in your past, you would not have the experience you have now. And this experience you have now is necessary for all the beautiful things that you will have in the future. So this is very difficult to say what I would change, even when I would know what I would change, what would be not to have the war and not to have the poverty in Ethiopia. But I’m here as the result of that. Trying to change it. What I would wish is, what I said, in this challenge I did not have the understanding and it is a development to get the knowledge and understanding. You grow in your struggles and learn. I think every step in my life has been nessacary to get where I am now. Thinking about going in politics ten years ago, I would have been a dictator. I was very active and maybe had the right intention, but I was not wise. I was able to do things, but not with the depth and understanding that it requires. So I have no regret.
What do you wish for your own future?
Well, I tell my kids, when I’ very old, I will have a beautiful dress and I will become a lady, dancing with them, eating ethiopian food, appreciating the culture. I think my future, I would like it to be more intense and to have my children always close to me. I hope to see them grow and see them getting children. That my friends and my children’s friends are around me. And that I can still go on with the things that I do. That I stay healthy. Simple things. Just simple things.