Fulfilling a Mission

 A trip back to Ethiopia with his son, reminds an RPCV of his time as a Volunteer

by John Grap (Dabat [Begemdir], Tulu Bolo, Addis Ababa 73-77)

IN MAY I HAD THE PRIVILEGE of returning to Ethiopia for the third time since serving as a PCV in the mid-1970s. All three times I’ve accompanied humanitarian mission teams working with ICA — International Crisis Aid.

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON: Matt and John Grap in Ethiopia

What made this third trip so special is that my 21-year old son, Matt, went with me. Matt is making his way through college while working at our local Target store. In January we explored the possibility of  a mission to Guatemala when we learned of the opportunity to go to Ethiopia. Of course, we chose Ethiopia!

During my Peace Corps service I taught at middle schools in Dabat, north of Gonder, and in Tulu Bolo, about 100 miles southwest of Addis, on the Jimma Road. Additionally, I co-managed a school repair project for six months.

Positive Changes
Much has changed in Ethiopia since the ’70s. Gone is the dreadful Derg and almost every Ethiopian we met was warm and receptive to Americans. Electricity is more pervasive, there are more wells providing clean water, and Internet cafes (albeit with dial-up service) have sprung up in the most unlikely locations. And, everyone in the cities and towns seems to have a cell phone.

On the Negative Side
Too many subsistence farm families are susceptible to drought and famine. HIV/AIDS continues to ravage large segments of the population. The sex trade is alive and continues to decimate thousands of lives. Unemployment seems high in Michigan where I now live, but it seems significantly higher in Ethiopia. However, more Ethiopians than ever are working to alleviate the suffering of their countrymen.

Four years ago ICA established the first full-time health center in Angatcha, about 7 hours south, southwest of Addis, past Butajira and Hosanna where we work. Historically the area of between 250,000–500,000 people has been extremely under-served. The majority of the people are Kambata or Hadia.

ICA also has a children’s center in Sebeta for young girls whose parents have died from AIDS, and it runs a large rescue and rehabilitation program for women involved in the sex trade in Addis. The work and energy of the ICA’s staff is incredible.

Our Time There
Matt fit in right away, working in the pharmacy of the two clinics we established. He has always loved Ethiopian food – even if he’s not a big fan of injera — so he need no adjustment there. He did have a hard time understanding how the pace of change in Ethiopia can be so slow. Fortunately some of ICA’s Ethiopian staff helped put some things into perspective for him.

CHECKING OUT THE FERENJ: Children in Angatcha

Matt turned 22 while in Ethiopia and the chef at our hotel in Addis, the Kaleb, made him a birthday cake. Later in the evening he spent several hours in the red light district as part of the attempted rescue of a sex trade worker. He’ll never forget this birthday.

Again, I cannot say enough about all the great work that ICA does.

My Amharic came in very handy, on many occasions – from working in the field to ordering multiple machiatos. That I remembered as much as I did was a minor miracle.

All three times I’ve been back to Ethiopia I’ve felt like I was returning home. I can’t wait to go back. Neither can Matt.

 Editor’s note: John Grap is an editor and photojournalist with the Battle Creek Enquirer in Michigan. To read more about his trip go to

One response to “Journeys

  1. emmett garbett

    Great article – you haven’t changed a bit! I have a 19 year old daughter and a 17 year old son who someday I want to take back to Ethiopia. Your story is encouraging.

    Emmett Garbett

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