Friends

Berhane Daba Recipient of the 2015 Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award

Like A Dream

Editor’s note:

On June 6, 2015, Ethiopian Berhane Daba was awarded National Peace Corps Association’s Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award at the  NPCA conference in Berkeley, CA. The Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award “honors an outstanding global leader who grew up in a country where Peace Corps Volunteers served, whose life was influenced by the Peace Corps, and whose career contributed significantly to their nation and the world in ways that reflect shared values in human dignity and economic, social, and political development. It is the highest honor bestowed upon a global leader by the National Peace Corps Association.”

Berhane Daba is president and founder of Ethiopian Women with Disabilities National Association (EWDNA). At a young age she was stricken with polio, left to fend for herself, and ultimately placed at the Princess Tsehaye Hospital in Addis Ababa where she was cared for by Peace Corps Volunteer and nurse, Mary Myers-Bruckenstein. These two formed a bond that has lasted a lifetime and Mary was by Berhane’s side when she received this prestigious award. The award was first granted in 2011 on the 50th anniversary celebration of the Peace Corps. It is named in honor of the Harris Wofford, former U.S. Senator, special assistant to U.S. President John F. Kennedy, and first Peace Corps Country Director in Ethiopia.

Mary Bruckenstein (Addis Ababa, 1968-70)  has graciously submitted the following reflection on the events in Berkeley.

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Berhane Daba in California: Like a Dream

by Mary Bruckenstein (Addis Ababa 1968–70)

I arrived in San Francisco after flying from JFK with Bette Bass (Assella 1966–69). As soon as we were ensconced in our taxi and making our way to Berkeley, the cell phone began to play. NPCA (National Peace Corps Association) was on schedule, checking on us. We were quickly registered  for the conference and met with NPCA staff. After a brief tour of the Berkeley campus, we ducked into an open-air roadside restaurant for dinner while planning our trip back to the airport to meet Berhane Daba, the honoree of the 2015 Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award, later that evening.

NPCA staff drove Bette and me to the airport to await the arrival of Berhane’s plane, with traditional yellow Meskal Daisies, (Meskal, the finding of the True Cross) in hand. Berhane was last to deplane. After many hugs and kisses, we settled in to await the arrival of her luggage — NO LUGGAGE. We returned to The Durant Hotel in Berkeley with thoughts of wardrobe rearrangements in our heads as our habashaw libs (Ethiopian National dresses) were in the luggage that was now promised to arrive on tomorrow’s flight. We were exhausted having come from different time zones and went off to bed with Friday’s itinerary in hand.

Berhane with David Arnold. Bette and Mary wait in the background.

Berhane with David Arnold.
Bette and Mary wait in the background.

Friday was beautiful day. Everyone we met was both gracious and accommodating. The weather could not have been more beautiful. We were met by NPCA staff and taken to Berkeley to attend meetings, to be filmed for the documentary, “Towering Task: a Peace Corps Documentary,” and for Berhane to be interviewed by David Arnold (Asbe Tefari 1964–66) of Voice of America.

Following a quick bite in the cafeteria, we proceeded to the Ethiopian Update run by Ethiopia & Eritrea Returned Peace Corps Volunteers President Marian Haley Beil (Debre Berhan 1962–64). As part of the program Berhane and I had the opportunity to talk informally to the assembled RPCVs. Later in the program Lee Gallery (Dire Dawa 1964–66), volunteer coordinator of the Gratis Books program at the non-profit Hesperian Health Guides, spoke about the guides and presented a copy of their A Health Handbook for Women with Disabilities to Berhane — with a promise to ship an entire carton of the books to Berhane’s organization in Addis Ababa.

Following the meeting, we secured transportation and went off to an Ethiopian restaurant in Oakland for a meal of doro wat with the Ethiopian and Eritrean RPCVs.

We returned to the Durant Hotel to await the arrival of the luggage containing the dresses that Berhane had made for Bette and me in Addis when she was informed that she was the winner of the Global Citizen Award, way back in February. The luggage did arrive very late that night. Everyone retired to their beds as tomorrow would be a busy day with an early arousal time.

berhane-mary-sm

Berhane and Mary in their habashaw libs. Click for larger photo.

Saturday dawned warm and dry. We had breakfast brought up to Berhane’s room and pried open the suitcases to see our habashaw libs. We nervously tried them on and they fit each of us like a glove. We were so filled with excitement and expectations. It was like getting a bride ready for her wedding.

We took a taxi to the Assembly Hall, where we met Patti Garamendi (Metu 1966-68) and Carrie Hessler-Radelet, Peace Corps Director. After the General Assembly meeting, we had lunch with other honored guests, and then proceeded to Woodley Hall.

The three of us sat in the back of the auditorium, where there was seating for wheelchair-bound people. Surreal feelings filled us as we waited in solidarity with all the attendees, everyone having the same philosophy, to help others.

The Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service was presented to Ralph Bolton (Peru 1962 —1965) and then they announced the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award. We rose and Bette pushed Berhane upward towards the stage. You could hear a pin drop, the audience was so silent. Then as we neared the stage the entire audience rose to honor Berhane.

The Award was presented and Berhane stood at the podium and  delivered her wonderful speech to all gathered before her about her work and journey to this moment. The auditorium filled with the sound of the African trill. Marian presented Meskal daisies to Berhane (sign of joy) on behalf of Ethiopia & Eritrea RPCVs; and all too quickly we were out on the lawn enjoying a reception with the bell tower witnessing this special time.

Berhane with her award, flowers from E&E RPCVs and the bell tower behind her.

Berhane with her award, flowers from E&E RPCVs and the bell tower behind her.

We took a moment to take a breath and then prepared for a whirl-wind week in Washington, DC to visit NGOs and Congressional offices, and attend a special luncheon with Harris Wofford, and a reception hosted by E&E RPCVs at the home of a friend of two of our Volunteers that was attended again by Harris as well as Ethiopia and Eritrea RPCVs who live in the Washington area.

Berhane and Harris

Berhane and Harris at the E&E RPCVs reception

Like a Dream

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Acknowledgements

It seems a dream. When you reach the top of the mountain, all the work and angst you put into it melts away.

This special time in our lives was a blur of activity and beautiful people to guide us every step of the way.

Firstly, it was only with the help of Bette Bass, a dear friend to both Berhane and me and an RPCV from Ethiopia, that all the daily details of this busy time were accomplished in a timely manner.

There were support and guidance from all the NPCA department Heads, from Glen Blumhorst and Anne Baker who were always present, to Jayne Booker and Jonathan Pearson, and Erica Bauman, who physically transported us and put up with our confusion and sometimes lagging behind, to friends and family who came together to rejoice in everything, we were able to make it from June 4th to June 12th.

The days of NGO visits and Congressional tours opened doors for us to inspire us further in goal accomplishments.

Even now, Berhane and I, each back in our respective homes, continue to marvel at how far reaching her work is now recognized.

Berhane and I are so honored by NPCA and the world. We smile with our hearts as she continues onward in her work to make Ethiopian Women with Disabilities an internationally recognized Association and to lift all women with disabilities.


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