By Janet Lee (Emdeber 1974–76)
The Herald welcomes back the RPCVs who journeyed to Ethiopia in The Return to Ethiopia this past September. Apparently everyone made it to and from in one piece. We are grateful. Joe Bell (Alamata 1969–71) graciously volunteered to collect anecdotes and memories from willing travelers and compile them into one coherent piece. What struck me most about this compilation was that although nearly 100 RPCVs traveled together on the same journey, they had vastly different experiences — reminiscent of our varying experiences at our sites. Thank you Joe Bell for rounding up these stories and setting them to print, even if it is electronic!
Although I was unable to attend The Return to Ethiopia due to work commitments, I, too, followed the progression of the trip through the many posts on Facebook, and posts on E&ERPCV’s The Herald site. I was aware of the functions planned for the embassies, the Meskal celebration, and possible excursions to the various RPCV work sites. It also came to my attention that an Ethiopian-American filmmaker, Mel Tewahade, would be chronicling many of these events and debuting his film about Peace Corps in Ethiopia.
In late September, a colleague from the University of Denver sent me a link to an interview with filmmaker Mel in an Ethiopian publication. To my great surprise, I discovered that he was based in metropolitan Denver where I work. I followed the link to his website, found a phone number and gave his office a call. He, himself, answered the phone from the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington D.C., where he was making last minute preparations for the trip to Ethiopia. We promised to get together when he returned to Denver.
Mel, his videographer Cameron Terry, and I met at the Tattered Cover bookstore for an interview. It is evident that he is quite passionate about the relationship between Americans and Ethiopians, both past and present, as shown in his two primary projects: “Point Four, Part Two” a documentary about the collaboration between Oklahoma State University and Alemaya University near Harar; and a documentary about the Peace Corps in Ethiopia. In addition to the interview, a review of “Point Four, Part Two” is included in the review section of The Herald.
As the travelers crisscrossed across the country to historical sites and their placements, many had the opportunity to visit with current volunteers. Current volunteer Chuck Adams (Bonga 2011–13) wrote about his encounter with RPCV Karen Dawn Speicher (Bonga 1973–75) in a blog. Yes, most current Volunteers blog! With permission, I have included his posting, The Spot in the Cow Field, about Karen’s return to her site after so many years.
London was the site of the XXX Olympics this past summer. Based on the Facebook posts from both current and returned Ethiopia PCVs, much attention was focused on the Ethiopian runners. I discovered that many of the Ethiopian runners trained in the small town of Bekoji, also the site of a current PCV. Joe Whelan, himself a runner, reflects on his experiences with the elite runners of Ethiopia in Bekoji: the Town of Runners.
While in Ethiopia, E&E RPCV President, Marian Haley Beil, met with two current health Volunteers in Debre Berhan, Tony and Erin Portillo. The Portillos are actually assigned to the small town of Zanjera, just outside of Debre Berhan, where they have embarked upon a project of building a track for local youth. They have applied for and have been approved for a Peace Corps Partnership Program grant, allowing them to solicit funds from family and friends. This grant is the 34th such grant approved for Ethiopia Volunteers since Peace Corps has returned to Ethiopia. It is one of two grants posted on the current Peace Corps Partnership Program web site. I have worked with a number of Volunteers over the past few years with these grants and have seen the effect that the grants have had on the Volunteers and the communities in which they served. Check out the Projects article for links and more information. Perhaps, support of the Peace Corps Partnership Program could be a potential Legacy Project?
Another direct result of The Return is the opportunity for collaboration between Ethiopia and the RPCVs. As reported by Marian Haley Beil in the Group News, Steve Cristofar (Addis 62-64) is in communication with the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington D.C. One such idea for collaboration is to encourage partnerships between U.S. colleges and universities and Ethiopian universities. RPCVs with connections to universities, either as faculty or alums, are invited to explore potential partnerships. For nearly a decade my place of employment, Regis University (Denver), has been sending nursing and physical therapy students to Ethiopia for Service Projects. It has also collaborated with a nursing school in Hosanna by sending books and supplies. I will be eternally grateful for the release time Regis gave me for a sabbatical for a library project in Mekelle. I am sure that other places of higher education have had both formal and informal arrangements with institutions in Ethiopia. Let’s let Steve know of these projects to inform and perhaps compile a directory of possibilities.
Finally, my favorite: Book reviews! I do not believe that videos have been reviewed in The Herald in the past. The Reviews section of this issue contains two videos that relate to articles in this issue of The Herald: runners and the Point Four program. Perhaps this is a format that we can think about more in the future as they become available.
Now a plea from the Editor. I am open to ideas about future stories, current books and videos by PCVS or about Ethiopia and Eritrea, and willing reviewers. We are in great need of someone who will edit the news section for both Ethiopia and Eritrea. Please consider volunteering. I can be contacted at email@example.com.