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Oromo language gets an advocate

(A4O, 20 October 2013) A Melbourne Oromo activist, Toltu Tufa, is driving an ambitious push to revitalise learning in her native African language. Social media is buzzing with positive responses to her efforts in reviving education in the once-doomed Oromo tongue.

According to SBS Tv reporter, Luke Waters, Toltu Tufa is a young lady with abundant energy and a clear objective. “My aim is to create Oromo educational resources for every child in every family in every home,” she says.

Frustrated at a lack of resources for Oromo language and culture classes, she created her own.

Not one to do things by halve, Toltu first visited and consulted nine Oromo communities around the world before devising the package comprising flash cards, posters and books.

She says community input ensured images and information are culturally appropriate, relevant and effective

An internet presence is critical in reaching more of the estimated 40-million Oromo people globally, but Toltu says there are practicalities to consider.

“I think with on-line technology there is a real potential for this to catapult into something viral… something massive,” Toltu says.

“I also think there’s still room for the hard copy books because there are so many countries where people don’t have access to technology and don’t have access to internet and wi-fi.

A website spruiking the program was launched last week and the hits are already in the thousands.

But for Toltu it’s all about the classroom.

“More than the verbal response…it’s the physical response that I see in children when they see the products,” she says.

“Their eyes light up and they say, ‘wow this is something I’ve never seen before’.

“And looking at the parents, some of the parents have been quite emotional saying I’ve never seen anything like this in my life.”

But one response means more than most.

“I think one person that who reacted like that who touched me most deeply was my dad.”

And she says he’s played a key role.

“When it came to the Oromo language, the only person I had was my Dad,” Toltu says.

“The way he taught me was literally verbally.

“This is how we do things, this is how we speak, this is what the Oromo language is about.

“He taught me with pen and paper and growing up that’s what everybody else seemed to be doing.”

In broken English, Abdul-Wahab Tufa describes his pride for his daughter’s work, and memories of a time when the Oromo language was banned in Ethiopia.

Yes, punishment…put in the jail make some problem some people death,” he says, describing the punishments that speaking the banned language could exact.

Toltu Tufa says it’s a privilege to have ensured the survival of a language for her father and community.

“I feel really lucky that I’ve got a tool that I can use to help grow what my Dad actually planted a very long time ago.

“I feel really, really privileged to be able to do that and to be able to do that with my community. (It’s) not just me saying, ‘Hey this is what I’ve got, how we going to make this work?’

“But everybody is giving me feedback and suggestions and (we’re) creating something together. That’s been the most special part for me.”

Now, Toltu’s seeking funding to roll the program out globally – but there are no flash cards or posters involved in this appeal.

She has taken to YouTube to send her message.

“Regardless of where you are in the world, let me know if you have what it takes and together lets pledge to preserve a language whose story needs to be told.”


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