PCVs in Ethiopia

Welcome to Reading!

Outcome: Ethiopian primary school students excited to read!

by Deborah Massey (Injibara, Amhara Region 2012–14)

[click on each photo to view a larger version]

MANY PROGRAMS I have started during my service in Injibara have tapered out to nothing due in part to the excessive number of school holidays that lower attendance, teachers who lose interest or become busy, or my own personal schedule. But “Welcome to Reading” is one activity that has been easy to run and has yet to fail!

Remember all those little kids who always met you on the street running? Either calling your name, which made you smile, or calling you other things, which didn’t.


Inviting all these kids to  “Welcome to Reading” has made the terrorizers my friends, and all my friends excited to come to the Injibara Public Library!

Thanks to the Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Injibara before me, the project started with 20 children’s books in English and 6 in Amharic. That number rapidly increased in both languages as I found books online to purchase, bought books in Addis, and called out to Facebook friends to send books they had at home. Now our bi-weekly reading programs include 150 books in both languages,


math flashcards,


a table where students can draw, card games like Uno and Go Fish and an educational video program in Amharic.


Each program begins with 45 minutes of free reading and flashcards, then two students are invited to read a story in front of the group.


Then students are invited to tell their own stories.

At the end of the program we set up the projector and show 20 minutes of an educational video like Abebe and Abeba or Tsehay Loves to Learn. Before the students leave they line up to get a sticker and a high five!


Deborah with one of the happy readers

Despite all the difficulties I have faced in Injibara over the past two year, the kids are where the difference is made. I know I’ve done something good when students are lined up outside the library compound before I even arrive and when simply telling 10 children the time and day of the program brings over 50 participants. These children will always think reading is fun and that makes for a successful program that I feel proud about.


Oh, the Places You'll Go!

The more that you read, The more things you know. The more that you learn, The more places you go!

(Dr. Seuss.  Oh, the Places You’ll Go)

The Transitional Hive: A Quiha Story

by Evan Craig (Quiha 2014– )

[click on each photo to view a larger version]

IT ALL STARTED in Holetta with my fellow environment/agriculture Volunteers during In-Service Training (IST).

We learned about beekeeping in Ethiopia and the current methods and technologies commonly used. The two common types of beehives found in Ethiopia are the traditional (fixed comb) hive and the modern (moveable frame) hive. The traditional hive cannot be properly inspected, and produces a quite limited amount of poor-quality honey. Modern hives on the other hand can be inspected, maintained, and allow for “true beekeeping” with high yields of quality honey, but they are too expensive, require extra tools and equipment, and are therefore out of the reach of the typical rural farmer.

Researchers at the Holetta Honeybee Research Facility introduced us to the transitional (moveable comb) hive. The transitional hive design is basically akin to a DIY modern hive that produces exponentially more honey than traditional hives, and allows for quality inspections and advanced beekeeping techniques. The real value of these hives, however, is that they can be made from a variety of readily available materials like eucalyptus, shambako (in Tigrigna) — a bamboo-like plant, animal dung, a pocket full of nails, and some string.

After returning to my site from IST, I found the beekeeping expert in my office and asked how many transitional hives were in-use in the woreda. To this question, she answered “zero.” She added that there were some modern hives being used, but the majority of hives in the woreda were of the traditional variety.

I had found a gap!

I TOOK MY GAP to the next level and found a beekeeper in town who has built transitional hives in the past and was very willing to work with me. I set up a time for him and me to meet just to make sure that he and I were on the same page with this transitional hive business. Before I knew it, one thing led to another, and we were building a transitional hive together. Later, after a healthy portion of reminding and follow-ups, I convinced my woreda office to spill per-diem for transitional hive training for the development agents (DAs) of my woreda. I chose to pitch the DA training first (instead of a rural farmer/beekeeper training) for two reasons:

  1. craig-1-sm

    Hive-building demonstration

    The DAs are the go-to people for questions regarding beekeeping from folks in the rural communities. If the DAs aren’t hip to transitional hives, the rural folks definitely won’t be hip.

  2. Since there are only 17 DAs in my woreda, the training would be more affordable for the office and therefore more feasible (keep in mind this was the first time the office pulled the trigger by spending money and paying per-diem on one of my trainings).
The DAs and their 3 hives (click)

The DAs and their 3 hives

The training consisted of a short presentation on the benefits of adopting and promoting transitional hives, and was followed by the construction of three hives by the DAs.

THE FOLLOWING NIGHT I took the DAs to a model farmer’s property in a rural kebele for training on how to transfer bee colonies from traditional hives to transitional hives. I believe this farmer’s participation played a key role in the success of the training, and ultimately the acceptance of the transitional hive technology, because he volunteered one of his own colonies (valued at ≥ 1,000 birr in the Enderta Woreda) to be transferred to a transitional hive. He demonstrated to the woreda office workers, the DAs, and friends and farmers nearby, that he was willing to take a leap of faith on this new technology, which paid off in spades in the end.

The training was a success and the transitional hive technology seemed to be well accepted by the DAs.

SIX WEEKS LATER my office counterparts and I revisited the model farmer to follow-up on his new transitional hive colony. We met the farmer at his home where he shared some homemade beverages with us. While we were talking about unrelated topics I noticed that he had a transitional hive against the far wall of his compound. He told us that he was so pleased with the productivity of his new hive, and the strength of the colony since the transfer that he made another one by himself (he wasn’t even at the construction portion of the DA training; he figured out how to do it on his own!). This made me feel exuberant and full of cheer! After dark we traveled to his apiary and taught him how to inspect and manage transitional hives. Before we departed the village, he filled a container with fresh honey comb and sent it home with me, just to say thanks.

I FOLLOWED UP with the office and urged them to hold training for farmers and interested beekeepers in the woreda. I was told by the animal sciences supervisor that he would call to the farmer training centers (FTCs) in the rural kebeles, and if enough farmers were willing to attend a training (without per-diem) about the transitional hive, then we could do it. It turns out, however, that the DAs had promoted and pitched the transitional hive technology in their kebeles after having returned from the training, and now many rural farmers and beekeepers were ready and interested in hearing more about the technology.

This is where they took it all away from me.

The farmers build the beehives (Click)

The farmers build the beehives

Upon hearing the interest from the DAs and farmers to introduce this transitional hive to the kebeles, they took the initiative and planned a training for 150 farmers and beekeepers in the Enderta Woreda to attend. This time (unlike the first) they collected all the necessary materials, they planned the presentation timeline, they gave the presentation, and they were the maestros of the hive construction.

The farmers with their hives (Click)

The farmers with their hives (Click)

This time around I only helped some of the farmers with the hive construction. I wasn’t needed, I was wanted, but they didn’t need me. The feeling was odd at first, like I just gave away my hypothetical daughter in a hypothetical wedding. To be honest, something was upsetting me; maybe it was a feeling like they had taken advantage of me and elbowed me out of the transitional hive scene. I talked about this with my wife, Kristen, and she reminded me that what just happened, no matter how it felt, is what was supposed to happen. She was right, I just didn’t realize I really had worked myself out of a job.

I am very thankful to the Enderta Woreda Agricultural Office for welcoming me to their community and workplace. It wasn’t always easy, and at times I had to be persistent, but in the end, I’m grateful that they took a chance by supporting and supplying me with what I needed to introduce this technology. I’m happy to announce that the Enderta Woreda Office has formed an agreement with SNV, a not-for-profit international development organization that will further fund their transitional hive training for the next five years.

English Only

The Youth Solidarity and English Language (YSEL) Summer Camp

by Forrest Copeland (Abi Adi [Tigray] 2012–14, Addis Ababa 2014–16)

In August last summer, I attended the Youth Solidarity and English Language (YSEL) summer camp for a few days in Debre Zeyit and was blown away by how American this camp was. This camp transformed a little piece of Ethiopia into a real American summer camp. The camp was held on a beautiful compound that had nice dorm rooms, excellent food, friendly staff, immaculate landscaping, and even a functional computer lab. However what really made this feel so American was the English only rule: All students were required to speak English ALL THE TIME. This meant I could once again eavesdrop on student conversations, classes didn’t waste time with translations, and I had to bite my tongue over and over again when I instinctively responded in Amharic or Tigrinya. I felt American again.

The reason for this English-only rule was to enable students to improve their English language abilities, obviously, but also because English may be their best form of communication. Ethiopia is home to more than 80 local languages and although Amharic is the official language, many people don’t speak it well. All of the 44 students attending the YSEL summer camp were interviewed for their English abilities and were pretty impressive English speakers. Since those students came from all 11 regions in Ethiopia, and represented a huge variety of peoples and cultures, it made as more sense to use English as the lingua franca rather than Amharic.

This was the second annual YSEL camp held in Ethiopia. The camp was organized by the NGO American Councils for International Education and was fully funded by the US Embassy in Addis Ababa. It’s a pretty interesting program that developed from the American Councils’ international exchange program. The American Councils for International Education facilitates exchange students around the world and Tom Toomey, the YSEL Ethiopia Camp Director, has been working with youth from Afghanistan for years doing similar camps.

These camps offer a great way for students from all over diverse countries to come together and work as one group. According to their press release, “the goals of the YSEL-Ethiopia program are to improve English language skills, develop critical thinking, build leadership skills and create solidarity among the 44 students from the diverse areas of Ethiopia.” These high school students rarely have a chance to interact with students from other regions and this camp provided a forum to create new friendships and share ideas among the leaders of tomorrow’s Ethiopia.

In order to attend this program, students had to submit a comprehensive written application. Over 300 students submitted an application and around 100 were selected for interviews with Camp Director Tom Toomey and Assistant Director Endalkachew Tesera. These students represent the best of the best and aspire to become astronauts, doctors, engineers, and pilots. Ultimately 22 female and 22 male students from all 11 regions in Ethiopia were selected to attend the month-long summer camp.


The students were taught by Peace Corps Volunteers from the Education sector. Paul, one of the teachers, mentioned how exciting it was to be teaching students with such a voracious appetite for knowledge. “They want to learn!” I was lucky enough to be invited along to facilitate a few sessions about “burning issues” in Ethiopia and how it’s up to youth to make changes and improve the current state of this country. Over the course of three days we brainstormed, rehearsed, and filmed eight different public-service-announcement videos that the students could bring back to share with their communities after leaving camp. The idea for this session originally came from Shayna’s session at the 2014 Mekele Camp Glow where we filmed seven dramas with great results. The YSEL-Ethiopia students loved it and they all participated in creating messages about drug abuse, corruption, work ethic, cleaning the environment, and immigration.

While at camp I sat in on some classes held by Education Sector Peace Corps Volunteers Paul, Jennifer, Pete, and Merre. On Friday night there was a talent show and on Saturday we visited a local factory where they build everything from bicycles to buses to tanks. It was a fun few days to spend with these great kids in this little American summer camp, which just happened to be in Ethiopia.

Hats off to the talented PCV teachers, the camp staff (Tom, Endalk and Birhan) and the four amazing Ethiopian student counselors for making this camp possible! And thank you, American taxpayers, for funding it!

You can read more about the camp by reading the camp blog.

Update in March 2015: Most of the students have kept up the YSEL spirit and have created clubs in their local schools. In fact, last weekend I went to visit two students who started a mini-YSEL club in their high school in Addis Ababa. We talked about goal setting and planning for the future. It’s incredibly inspiring to see the recurring effects of this month-long summer camp on community service projects, life skill trainings, and English language study sessions. I follow along with most of the students on Facebook and over the past months most posted pictures of their successes back in their hometowns spread across all 11 regions in Ethiopia.


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