The word “tibeb” means “wisdom” in Amharic, the official language of Ethiopia. And it’s wisdom, along with self-reliance and self-worth, that Bruktawit Tigabu wants to impart on young Ethiopian girls through her animated series Tibeb Girls. Putting real-life girls’ issues and taboo subjects at the center of each story line, the education-meets-entertainment cartoon features a trio of Ethiopian girls who combine their individual superpowers and “transform into an unstoppable force” of change-makers that swoop in to help other girls.
Bruktawit is the founder of Whiz Kids Workshop, an Ethiopian company she started out of her living room in 2005 that produces educational materials and programming, including the internationally acclaimed children’s television show Tsehai Loves Learning. Working with mostly other women creators, Bruktawit and her team first developed Tibeb Girls as an action-drama radio show, which quickly evolved into the new animated TV series of the same name.
“It was very important to have girls who look like me and who look like my child to be on the screen playing very good role models,” Bruktawit shared in an interview with TV2Africa. And each of her three Tibeb Girl heroines has a special and unique super power: Power Girl has super-human strength and speed; Whiz Kid Girl can see the future; and Empathy Girl can feel others feelings. When they come together, their individual powers are amplified, creating one superheroic force on a mission “to fight against injustice and the many harmful practices Ethiopian girls routinely face,” while fending off villains and making Ethiopia a safer place for girls.
For perspective on the lives of girls in this part of the world, the Whiz Kids Workshop site notes the following statistics from Girl Up, a campaign of the United Nations foundation. “Only 38% of girls and young women between the ages of 15-24 in Ethiopia are literate, one in five girls is married before the age of 15, and girls ages 15-19 are seven times more likely to be HIV positive than their male peers. Furthermore, 12% of girls between the ages of fifteen and nineteen are mothers or pregnant with their first child.”
On a mission to educate and empower, Tibeb Girls weaves entertainment with education by discussing these very series issues as well as breaking taboo topics like menstruation. It also shows positive examples of girls “asserting themselves, problem-solving, and implementing solutions.”
As for why her work is critically important, Bruktawit references the limited resources of the Ethiopian government. They “cannot provide learning materials to preschools or kindergartens that would help prepare young children for life and success in primary school.” She adds, “Mass-media can be the most cost-effective and immediate way to make an impact on large educational gaps.”
This is precisely why the Tibeb Girls series tackles the issues it does, which Bruktawit explains “are not well discussed in the community, in the school or in the house.” It’s what drives her to give Ethiopian girls “a very entertaining but also engaging way to talk about serious subjects.”
Currently, Bruktawit screens Tibeb Girls in schools and events around Ethiopia, but she’s working to raise funds to further develop the series with the hope of selling it to broadcasters in Ethiopia and other African countries. In the meantime, to extend the reach and impact of its message, Tibeb Girls is also published and distributed as a printed comic.