Scholar Spotlight: Betelhem Tewodros (MSU ’22) Discusses Police Body Camera Project and Fund to Support Elder Community in Jijiga, Ethiopia During COVID-19 Crisis.

“Scholar Spotlight” features current Puksta Scholars sharing updates about their work, discussing their unique perspectives on important issues, and engaging the community in ongoing efforts to make the world a better, more equitable place. Recently, we were grateful to have the opportunity to shine the spotlight on Betelhem Tewodros (MSU ’22). Through a virtual interview with Puksta Summer Intern Sarah Thomas, Betelhem (who also goes by Betty) generously shared her story, discussing the issues and community initiatives closest to her heart.

Betty will be beginning her Junior year as a Computer Science Major at Metropolitan State University of Denver this Fall. In addition to being a Puksta Scholar and studying to prepare for a future career in software development, Betty is actively involved in an effort to connect much-needed financial support to the elder community impacted by the COVID-19 Pandemic is the Jijiga region of Ethiopia.

Betty’s initial Puksta project focused on issues of police brutality prevention and police accountability. When Betty moved to the United States from Ethiopia with her family at age 11, there were certain things she didn’t expect or fully realize prior to living in the U.S. She explains, “The American dream was like a perfect thing and that’s what I imagined when I first came here. And then as I grew older, I realized how people of color were being treated, not just socially, but also government-wise—how they’re not getting justice and equal rights same as a white person.” She further added that, while she has never personally experienced police violence, people that she knows have, and she’s seen it continue to affect people her own age. With that in mind, Betty is exploring how making use of body cameras a requirement for police officers and directly connecting live feeds of footage to third-party monitoring groups for review and secure storage can prevent evidence tampering and protect the safety of civilians, specifically minorities who are often the targets of police brutality.

 She explained that this is an idea she has had since she was a senior in high school, however project’s journey has been difficult due to the legal and budget complexities connected to requiring police departments to use body cameras. Betty has completed extensive research to understand how these laws and regulations relate to her project, but the outbreak of COVID-19 has made it difficult to connect with community organizations that she’d like to engage in this work and collaborate with. Her hope is that the use of body cams, as well as the use of secure third-party footage monitoring groups, will promote greater responsibility and accountability relating to the issue of police brutality within police departments. 

The outbreak of COVID-19 and its immediate impact on communities across the globe also led Betty to shift her focus in response to the urgent need for aid back in her home city of Jijiga, Ethiopia. The elder community in Jijiga, who rely on support from family members or income from rent collection, are particularly in need of assistance right now.

In response to this crisis, members of the diaspora community in the United States, like Betty and her father, are partnering with individuals and organizations back in Jijiga to raise and deliver funds to elders in need. These funds are being used to provide elders with food, water, hand sanitizer, and other supplies required to fulfill basic human needs during this difficult time. Through this partnership between organizers in the US and in Ethiopia, all donations will go directly where they are needed most. Betty emphasizes the collective power of people combining their aid with others through this fund, saying “If we come together as one and put our money together, than we can have a much better effect in the community.”

In addition to sharing details about how the COVID-19 pandemic is impacting Ethiopia and how this group effort is helping Jijiga’s elder community meet their basic human needs, Betty also shared a bit about why our elders are so valuable. She reflected on two important elders in her own life: her grandmother, and her grandmother’s friend who provided Betty with guidance, wisdom, love, and support from a young age. She remembers how her grandmother’s friend bought her candy, but she also remembers advice from this elder about choosing positivity over negativity and always being nice to others. This elder also helped inspire Betty to pursue computer science by teaching her that doing something hard or challenging now will make your life better in the future, as opposed to taking the path that may seem less challenging or easier in the present moment. “That’s something I’ll never forget,” Betty remarked, adding, “If anybody can do it, I can do it!” Reflecting on the loss of that elder, Betty shared, “They had a big impact on my life, even my dad talks about them… They helped me get where I am today. Betty is also grateful for her grandmother who helped raise her and Betty cherishes the time she spent both learning from these elders, as well as giving back to them by helping them with little things around the house. Emphasizing the need to value our elders in the present, Betty explains, “You realize things once they’re gone. Because when they were alive I never really thought of the words they said to me up until they passed away and I got older and came here.” Betty and her dad also hope to launch a program for Jijiga’s youth so that they can live and work in the city and achieve financial stability that will also benefit the elders they support.

To learn more about the current need for support among elders in Jijiga, as well as the positive impact Betty and the organizers of this fund hope to have, we invite you to watch this video of highlights from our interview with Betty. We are truly inspired by her commitment to supporting this valuable community, and the initiative she’s taken by participating in this collective, grassroots effort to engage and connect people near and far during as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact communities across the globe.

We hope that you will consider supporting this fund by making a donation. As Betty shared, every dollar matters in providing aid to the elders. The fund has currently raised about $6,000, and your donation will help them get closer to meeting their goal of $20,000.

Thank you, Betty for sharing your powerful words, encouraging us to consider the valuable impact of elders in our lives, and inviting us to join in supporting this fund.