To model, activist and filmmaker Gelila Bekele, a powerful woman is kind and marches to her own rhythm. That is perhaps why dropping out of medical school and dedicating her career to the advancement of her native Ethiopia was a no-brainer for her. Bekele spent her formative years in Europe and the United States. Now based in New York, her allegiance to Ethiopia has never wavered. “I had the opportunity to live and work in different parts of the world, but Ethiopia is my inspiration,” she tells us. Her work there began with ensuring access to clean water and education. Bekele’s 2015 documentary, “Mai: Life is not Honey” raised awareness on both. According to Bekele, providing these essential resources is “the only way to create a long term sustainability” in her country. The long term sustainability she dreams of will lead to turning Africa into a destination the West can look to for work and opportunity.
Her 2016 photography book, Guzo!, is a day in the world of six tribes of her native country; the Hamar, Tigray, Afar, Raya, Harrar, and Lasta Lalibela peoples, highlighting the beauty of their everyday lives that has not been widely publicized. Guzo! presents Ethiopia to the viewer in candid images as seen through the lens of not only Bekele’s camera, but her love for the country. It provides an up close and personal look at their culture, traditions, agriculture and landscape—the things that Bekele is ardent about preserving. Citing two of her mentors as power couple Stanley Lumax and Asmeret Berhe-Lumax, she reflects on the example they’ve set. “...to keep it short, they taught me what "made in Africa" really means. Supporting our African community in NYC and the responsibility we have in helping each other shine.” In addition to community building, Bekele plans to continue building schools, encouraging other Africans to do the work of uplifting the continent, (“No more foreign aid, it ruined us,”) and leaving a legacy to grow, for her children and the world’s. Her motto? “Power in numbers, and supporting one another...to inspire the next generation.”