Ethiopia Redux: An Extraordinary Month of Teaching

by Richard Sherman (Adigrat 1968–70)

I want to share with my fellow Returned Peace Corps Volunteers in Ethiopia a recent extraordinary experience of teaching in Ethiopia.  My involvement in teaching a specialized course for a group of students at the Defense Engineering College was one of the most rewarding of my life.

I believe that we all grew by leaps and bounds through our teaching of young, usually eager, Ethiopian students years ago. We Peace Corps Volunteers likely benefited as much as our students did — and maybe more.  Some of my former students from Adigrat, Tigre now sit in positions of authority in the Ethiopian government. When the opportunity to teach this most recent course was presented to me, I had no idea how it would fulfill my best dreams as a teacher.

I have probably been back to Ethiopia ten times since my Peace Corps stint ended. Logistics and technology did not work well for me in Addis during my month there in February 2014 — some things don’t change any too quickly. However, the people component of the trip was fantastic.

In addition to the lectures and readings I gave to the 49 army engineers in my class, I assigned a term paper to be generated by teams of five students each. The assignment was to develop a business plan for a new or existing business. I had few assumptions or expectations as to the results I would receive — but this was to be the sole basis for evaluation in the course.

As fate would have it, these students were simply waiting for this opportunity. They all manage quasi-government factories for an organization known as METEC and had been working without the benefit of business plans in their respective areas. These were bright, ambitious young people who wanted to see their industries and the country move forward in positive ways. They could have been the sons and daughters of our former students.

About half way through the course, some of the students sat down with me and emphasized that these projects were not just an exercise for them, they expected — with the proper guidance — that some of the plans being developed would actually be funded by METEC and/or other government and private sources.

This came as great news to me as I anxiously awaited the final papers to be submitted. I worked closely with many of the teams over the remaining weeks and began to anticipate what I finally received: an absolutely outstanding group of plans that are indeed fundable in selected cases. The plans were for industries manufacturing such items as lathe cutters, wire and cables, machinery cutting tools and irrigation pumps. All the papers were in the A to B range. If realized, these plans will add an industrial component to Ethiopia’s development that was unimaginable in the past.

I have requested that the students keep in touch to let me know of any practical results that might be implemented. The plans have price tags of between one and ten million USD for the most part, and my fondest dream is that one or more of these business plans will be implemented. What a bonus for teaching a short course in Ethiopia, after 46 years.

Richard Sherman, Ethiopia X, earned his doctorate in Politics at Brandeis University. Later in his career, he consulted on fund raising, loan sourcing and marketing and is still involved in the later two on a part time basis.

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