March 6, 2013
"Focus on People" is an Uphams Corner News Series dedicated to the
people who have contributed to UC News content or who have made
significant contributions to the Greater Uphams Corner area.
G. Michael Tzerai has worked as an architect in the Boston area for over twenty years. He recently contributed to the 2013 Black History Month issue of UC News with his article: "Awakening the Conscience of America." He is also active in efforts to resolve a humanitarian crisis affecting the youth of his country of origin, Eritrea.
Architectural Studies - Ethiopia and Cornell
G. Michael Tzerai is a naturalized citizen of the United States having
emigrated here from his native country of Eritrea. His view of the
world has been heavily influenced by his country's history and by his
dramatically different experiences here in the United States.
50 years of colonial rule under Italy, Eritrea expected to gain its
independence shortly after the close of World War II.
Instead, it was under British rule for an additional of 10 years.
Eritrea was then federated with Ethiopia, and annexed in 1961. A thirty
year war ensued and that ended in 1991 with independence.
Michael first came to the United States as an American Field Services
(AFS) exchange student in Sherman, New York for his senior year of high
school in 1963-64 and returned to Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia,
to continue his education. He graduated with a degree in architecture.
1975, he had an option to join the 30 years war along with his brother
or to come to the United States for graduate studies in architecture.
He chose to come for graduate studies, and later on did not
regret the decision since educated Eritreans, especially those who
joined from Addis Ababa, where treated as security risk by the
leadership of the Front.
Michael did his graduate studies at Cornell in urban design and city
and regional planning. By then, his brother had passed away in the war.
" To lose one brother is significant," he said, " but it is nothing
compared to the losses suffered by many families in Eritrea. Some lost
most of their brothers or most of their children. It was a brutal,
Michael has had a long and rewarding career as an architect. And after
leaving Houston Texas, he moved to Boston and opened his firm, GMT
Architects. He has worked on such projects as the Big Dig ( 1993-2004),
participated in BSA’s Urban Design Focus Team on Harbor Point
(1994) and assisted various CDC's in the Boston area (1990-96) .
He currently lives in the Ashmont area of Dorchester.
GMT Architects Website
Active Involvement in the "Eritrean Youth" Problem
Michael married and raised two boys and two girls who have gone on to
college and graduate studies. In addition to his architectural work and
participation in community development activities, He is deeply
involved in the "Eritrean Youth" problem which represents a distressing
violation of human rights, especially for the youth of Eritrea.
Persistent news of Eritrean youth facing serious problems that include
deaths to escape the brutal rule of the current government in Eritrea
is of a major concern to Michael. "It is hard to believe for
Americans," he said, "including some here in Boston who supported the
independece of Eritrea, to imagine that the war for independence which
ended in 1991 had lead to a condition of very bad governance there."
In speaking about his country with a great deal of love and devotion,
he often compares Eritrea's struggles with what he saw happen right in
the United States history - a history he has come to love and know well
since naturalizing here.
"What happened," he says, "is akin to George Washington waking up one
morning in the euphoria of independence, then announcing: "I ran
this war as I saw it fit and now it is time for me to protect and run
this young union as I see fit” - in other words, autocratically or
worse. For President Washington to have taken the reins in that manner
"would have put the union in great turmoil."
Michael emphasizes that the world at large may not be aware of what has
taken place in Eritrea since 1991 and the tremendous suffering it has
He continues: "What happened in Eritrea is this: Issayas
Afuwerki, the revolutionary leader, put in place a social engineering
with total disregard to law and order. He has destroyed the
Eritrean family, stripped Eritrean society to the core and promoted the
exodus of the Eritrean youth as a mechanism of self-survival.
"Deaths," he said, "occur at several places: If the youth did not die
in one of the wars that Issayas instigated or under torture in one of
the countless jails then death happens as part of the migration out of
Michael emphasizes that the
worst suffering and death of the youth is when they are the in the
hands of Bedouin Human traffickers in the Sinai.
- At the boarder crossing due to the shoot to kill policy of the government
- In the deserts of Sudan and Egypt
- In the Mediterranean Sea (hundreds at a time)
"These traffickers attempt to exact
ransom from relatives in the sum of $20,000 to $40,000. A ransom
unpaid leads to death and the use of the body for organ sale.
Thousands have perished and
thousands more are in the hands of these traffickers.
President Obama raised the issue as a serious problem in an address at the United Nations.
Michael is part of a group of Eritreans who reside in the Boston area
who are actively involved in efforts to aid the Eritrean youth so at
risk. Last month, for example, he attended a conference at the
Eritrean Community Center at 590 Shawmut AVE to discuss and increase
public awareness of the issues.
The two keynote speakers were:
- Professor Dan Connell of Simmons College – a long time expert on Eritrea
- Ms. Yelsa Chirum from the United Kingdom, a dedicated Eritrean who is intimately involved with addressing the problem
More from the BBC - Escape from Sinai
"Escape from Sinai" was produced by Nina Manwaring as part of the BBC
World Assignment Series. This episode was first broadcast on
Thursday 07 March 2013 and runs for 25 minutes.
From the BBC Website:
Every year thousands of
young men and women make the treacherous journey from Eritrea to Egypt
via Sudan in search of a better life. Along the route many fall victim
to unscrupulous people traffickers who kidnap them and demand ransom
money from their families. Some are able to pay and their loved ones
are released. Others are not so lucky. Mike Thomson talks to the people
caught up in this brutal trade and travels to Sinai to meet those who
are trying to help them.
Click here to listen - (be patient - may load slowly)
Michael welcomes your questions and comments. You may contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org