08/10/2016 05:24 EDT | Updated 08/10/2016 05:59 EDT

How Selamawit Dejen Woretaw Is Challenging Perceptions In Ethiopia

Tiksa Negeri / Reuters
A part of the evening skyline of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa November 16, 2015. In Ethiopia, where state spending rather than private enterprise has been the driving force behind double-digit economic growth, tech entrepreneurs like Araya Lakew feel stuck in the slow lane. Picture taken November 16, 2015 REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

The favourite words of Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation hosts, Selamawit Dejen Woretaw, are "Smile, as it is the world's most powerful gesture." It is no wonder; she has been smiling, as she hosts a daily sports segment, right after EBC's most watched news program and makes history and shatters the glass ceilings for women broadcasters all over Ethiopia.

I had a chance to interview the elegant 25-year-old recently at her favourite restaurant -- Hibr YeBahil Adarash -- In the sought after neighbourhood of Bole. I was an hour late and was apologetic as I walked in. She was gracious and did not want to hear my excuses. She seemed like a young woman on the move, looking confidently to the future and not to the past.

The Gonder native's unlikely path to broadcasting started by chance three years ago. The then ETV -- Ethiopia's lone public broadcasting corporation -- was on the lookout for a new host with a fresh look and style. She loved sports, which she barely played it in her adolescent years, but had a passing interest in it in her 20s. Her friends were persistent and encouraged her to explore the opportunity.

She was then a busy new graduate of Bahir Dar University in Chemical and Processing Engineering, and lecturing at Addis Ababa University's prestigious Addis Ababa Science and Technology (ASTU) part-time, all before her 22nd birthday. She had skipped several grades and graduated from high school a few years in advance.

Her family wanted her to go far. Medical school, perhaps graduate school or even become a full fledged professor. They knew she had what it takes to pursue and achieve anything she wanted to. She was determined to fulfill their ambition for her.

The competition for the spot to be host on ETV was stiff; and as a young woman, her chance was like a lottery. Among the hundreds that applied, only four were woman. It was a shock, as she explained to me, when she was chosen as one of four hosts hired. Among the four, she was one of the two women chosen. Her family was not enthusiastic and disappointed. She was more determined to prove them wrong, and live the old words of feminism: "A woman's place is not necessary in the kitchen, but wherever she wants to be."

She wanted to be in broadcasting and pursue it with passion and determination. She knew and understood the path was less travelled by such a person and she would be an instant role-model for young girls. Her ultimate destination rested where her childhood heroes, such as artists Mulualem Tadesse and Serawit Fikre, became pioneers in the making of quality TV commercials.

For an ambitious, youthful and determined person, EBC proved to be rich yet exhausting.

Her typical day starts early morning and often ends in the wee hours of the night. At the station, while her official title is that of a TV host, she also produces, directs and chases stories on location without the help of a personal assistant. I ask her what she does in her spare time. "I donate blood at the Ethiopian National Blood Bank Services and volunteer for few local organizations." Then she adds, "I also like to spend time with my circle of friends at a local café and talk sports."

Taking a quick glimpse of her social media page, I asked her some of the very typical questions she often receives from her fans. "I am often asked about marriage, relationships as much as I get inquiries and questions about sports," she told me. I asked her, if she thinks her male colleagues also receive same types of inquires. She tells me that she really doesn't know.

This is when she sips her first glass of water in our 45 minutes long conversation and explained how she really does not mind the inquiries and respects their right to ask, as long as they also respect her right not to answer some of them.

"I will just block them," she said, if they become intrusive, rude or waste her time. This determined, ambitious and strong-willed person is certainly not wasting her time as she pursues her passion and makes a profound impact and impression on a new generation of young girls in Ethiopia.

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