Thousands of Americans are being introduced to Ethiopia for the first time by an unlikely Ethiopian tourist--a 3.2 million-year-old skeleton named Lucy.
Lucy, one of the world's oldest and most well-preserved adult fossils, is currently on display at Seattle's Pacific Science Center. This is Lucy's second stop on a tour of America, which began last year in Houston and is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of visitors.
"We have been the custodians of Lucy,"- said Ethiopian Ambassador to the United States Samuel Assefa at the Seattle exhibit's opening ceremony. "But she belongs to the world."-
Lucy does, in fact, reveal much about the origins of our modern world. Her species name is Australopithecus, which is Latin for "southern ape,"- and her species name A. Afarensis refers to her origins in Afar, the region in Ethiopia where scientists discovered her. Lucy was among the first group of mammals that walked upright like modern man and its predecessors including Homo erectus and Neanderthals.
The discovery of Lucy and other ancient fossils in Ethiopia cements the nation's claim to being the cradle of humanity and the birthplace of mankind. It is altogether fitting that the Lucy exhibit making its way around the country also devotes great attention to the country in which she was discovered--Ethiopia.
Ethiopia is an amazing land of tolerance that sets an example for the rest of the world. For centuries, members of the world's three main Abrahamic religions--Christianity, Judaism and Islam have coexisted in mutual respect and peaceful coexistence.
Ethiopia is a country which is proud of its unique and rich history, but is far from being locked in the past. Since its transition to a democracy in the early 1990s, Ethiopia has been striving to shake off the image of famine that it gained during the food crises of the 1980s and to establish itself as one of the leading countries in Africa.
Ethiopia's gains have been seen in the education of its next generation. While just 22 percent of children went to elementary school in 1991, today more than 97 percent of Ethiopian children attend. Only two universities existed in Ethiopia in 1991, but today there are more than 21 universities and 90 colleges and vocational schools providing education to more than 100,000 students a year.
Ethiopia has also made remarkable progress in providing social services and improved health care. Over the past 15 years the child mortality rate has been reduced by more than 40 percent and the number of deaths caused by malaria has been cut in half thanks in part to the distribution of 18 million insecticide treated bednets in the last three years alone.Ethiopia has also demonstrated remarkable economic development as evidence by an average double-digit percent annual growth rate since 2003. This rate is among the fastest in the world, is double the African average and is projected to continue for at least two more decades.
As Lucy continues her journey across the United States, she will continue to serve as a goodwill ambassador from Ethiopia. Hopefully Lucy will play an important role in showcasing Ethiopia--both the ancient land that is inextricably linked to the lives of all men and women, and the modern-day country which is striving to provide a better future for its people.