Sunday, December 15, 2013

What Happens When People Make the Most of Today Instead of Waiting for Heaven

It's easy to find examples of religion directly causing harm to people and communities - xian freakazoids are oppressing women and gays wherever you look. It's a little more difficult to find examples of atheism bringing positive good into lives, mostly because non-believers don't proselytize.  

Rarer still is the place where both phenomena are happening at the same time.

It's happening in Ethiopia:

Northern Ethiopia is rugged and poor. It is a place where people mostly get by as subsistence farmers. The government and international organizations like the World Bank have tried and failed for years to improve the well-being of locals. But then, one village went and did it all on its own.

The community is called Awra Amba. About 500 people live here in simple wattle and daub houses, and they keep busy in a variety of money-making activities.

The village has a mill, where grain is crushed into flour. There is a textile factory, where villagers make clothes for themselves and to sell. You will also find a café, a tourist hostel, and two stores that cater to people from outside the village.

With all of these businesses, Awra Amba has managed to pull itself out of poverty. Compared with the rest of the region, the average income here is more than twice as high. Literacy rates are higher than in neighboring villages. Mortality rates are lower.

“Everyone here dreams of becoming more prosperous — that’s a big reason why our economy has grown faster than others,” says Zumra Nuru, who founded the village 40 years ago as a kind of utopian community. 
He says at the time, he was dissatisfied by the injustice he perceived in traditional Ethiopian culture and wanted to organize a society along more egalitarian lines. He also saw the community as a way to increase wealth.

“We use all our time for work and to improve our village,” he says.

One reason the people of Awra Amba are able to work so hard is that they do not follow organized religion.

In neighboring Christian and Muslim villages, residents respect the Sabbath and holidays. “They have quite frequent religious days, so on those days, they don’t go to [do] farming work,” says sociologist Ashenafi Alemu of Ethiopia’s University of Gondar. “But for Awra Amba, this is not the case. They work every day.”

The lack of religion is not the only competitive advantage for Awra Amba. The village invests a lot of energy in educating its children and diversifying its economy. It also embraces gender equality.  
You will see women here doing what is traditionally considered “men’s work,” like plowing, which effectively doubles the workforce.

But by ignoring the region’s customs, Awra Amba has found itself under attack. Neighboring communities view the residents as heretics.

“They threw a grenade right into the center of the village once, but luckily, no one was hurt,” says village founder Zumra Nuru. “They’ve tried shooting members of our village. They’ve sabotaged our harvest on occasion.”
Via Divine Irony

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