Promoting Peace Through Art: Abubeker Salih’s Journey from Eritrea to Addis Ababa

16 January 2024|Paula Casado Aguirregabiria

In the heart of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Abubeker Salih, a 29-year-old Eritrean artist, weaves his story of resilience, creativity, and the pursuit of peace through his craft. Abubeker’s journey, marked by hardship and determination, underscores the transformative power of art in overcoming life’s challenges.

Abubeker’s narrative unfolds in stages, each chapter a testament to his indomitable spirit. Having fled Eritrea in 2018, he shared his harrowing experience of attempting to escape the military’s clutches. After a period of forced labor, Abubeker found solace in teaching art, music, and sports at an elementary school. Recognizing his talent, he was appointed as the school’s art teacher.

A brief border opening in 2019 between Eritrea and Ethiopia allowed Abubeker to make his way to Ethiopia, where he faced new challenges. With the support of JRS (Jesuit Refugee Service), he attended English and computer classes and received cooking training. Despite economic hardships and language barriers, Abubeker persevered, eventually starting his own business in 2021.

Specializing in wall painting and handcrafted artwork, Abubeker’s studio became a haven for his creative expressions. He recounted the challenges of adapting to a new language and the economic struggles he faced in covering basic needs. Nevertheless, art emerged as his lifeline, contributing not only to his well-being but also as a means of sustaining himself financially.

Abubeker’s connection with JRS evolved beyond training programs. He engaged in various events, exhibited his artwork, and even served as an art therapy teacher at JRS CPC until the onset of COVID. His art reflects a commitment to peace, evident in projects like the mural with UNHCR, discouraging refugees from dangerous journeys to Europe.

Looking to the future, Abubeker aspires to establish his own art shop, where he can sell his creations and impart his skills to others. For him, peace is not just a theme in his art but a personal quest—one that could have allowed him to grow as an artist in his homeland if only peace had prevailed.

Abubeker’s dream extends beyond personal success; he envisions sharing his story with fellow refugees, emphasizing the role of NGOs like JRS in transforming lives. His ultimate goal is to teach others, especially those who have experienced the ravages of war, drought, or famine, that perseverance can turn dreams into reality.

As Abubeker strives to achieve his dreams, he carries within him the hope for a brighter future—one where peace reigns, not only in his art but in the lives of those he inspires.