axum-mapby Dwight Sullivan (Yergalem, Dodola 70-72)

IN DECEMBER 2011, I had an opportunity to return to Ethiopia to provide engineering and architectural advice for a project being spearheaded by my former Peace Corps language/culture trainer, Tsehaye Teferra, with whom my good friend and fellow RPCV Bob Gausman (Bodditti 70-72) had reconnected me.

Dr. Tsehaye is the President and Founder of the Ethiopian Community Development Council (ECDC) in Washington, DC, which was established primarily to provide refugee services and micro-lending in DC, Denver, Chicago, and Las Vegas.

5-palace-libA “project of the heart” for Dr. Tsehaye was to refurbish the dilapidated  former Governor’s Palace in Axum that was being used as the town library. It contained about 2,000 books, and had seating and study tables for about 70 people. Although the building had served its purpose well for many years, with Axum’s current population of over 40,000 the library was  too small and had become inadequate in many ways. I concluded that the time had come to build a more modern library and recommended the construction of a new library that could provide expanded services to the community. Although this initial visit was only two weeks, I was hooked, and I hope to hook the reader into joining me on a great adventure and a great project. Since 2011 a new library and community center, adjacent to the existing library, has been under construction, and I have been fortunate to have been part of this project, nearly from the ground up. This building is a 3-story, 24,000-square-foot, multi-function facility. It will contain:

  • Reading rooms including the Grand Reading Room with a 28 feet high ceiling.
The Great Reading Room looking toward the entrance.

The Great Reading Room looking toward the entrance.

  • A computer room (In the last year I have noticed a significant improvement in Internet service. Of course there are days on end when the it is down, and then times when the power is out.)
  • A 125-seat auditorium with stepped seating.
  • A separate 2,000-square-foot section for a Children’s Library with proportional furniture.
  • An Ethiopia and Africa book room.
  • Several study rooms. (The existing adjacent small library is primarily used by high school students for group study.)
  • Four classrooms for adult education.
  • Small and large meeting rooms or additional study rooms.
  • An Exhibition Room for local artists and craftsmen to display and sell their objects on a rotating basis.
  • Internal handicap ramps and an elevator.

Project funding, for construction and operation of the new library has been provided mostly by contributions from ex-patriate Ethiopians living in the US. This is positive for the project in that there is significant buy-in from the Ethiopian community. However it is also negative in that funding is sporadic with no consistent source of support. The building is now 50% constructed.

Entrance area looking up to the Great Reading Room. Note the female hod carriers.

Entrance area looking up to the Great Reading Room. Note the female hod carriers.

Already completed are:

  • Rough concrete floors,
  • the roof,
  • exterior concrete block walls (blocks made on-site),
Newly installed façade, June 2015

Newly installed façade, June 2015

  • 60% of the interior walls,
  • some wiring, and some plumbing,
  • the front exterior facade cladding of  stone from a local quarry

and the building’s 105 windows have been manufactured, and are ready to be shipped from Dubai. We have a considerable amount of material on site to fit out the library portion of the building in addition to the existing library materials: a considerable number of illustrated books (in English) for the children’s library; 2½ sea containers of books, tables, chairs, and shelving; and over 3,000 additional books in the ECDC building that will be shipped to Axum, perhaps early next year. However, at present, we do not have material to furnish the classrooms, the auditorium, the children’s library, or the exhibit room.

Art Display Program One element of the project that I am leading is an art display program. This will consist of:

  •   A display of various stand-alone paintings (or carvings, painted pots, etc.) depicting significant events in Ethiopia’s history. This could begin at “Lucy”! stretch to the latest revolution.
  • Large scale photos from the Smithsonian.
  • A painting of the 1868 Battle of Magdala with the British. This is painted on a 1.2 meter linen covered wood frame and is now temporarily hung in the existing library.
A painting tentatively placed on the parapet wall. CLICK for detail

A painting tentatively placed on the parapet wall. CLICK for detail

  • A second painting, by the same artist  of the Italian WW II period in Axum. This is painted on goat skin and is also temporarily hanging in the existing library.

Painting of historical scene on goat skin temporarily hanging in existing library. CLICK for detail.

  •  A third object-de-art, by a different artist will soon be completed. It will be a 1.0 meter square stone carving of the two brother Axumite period kings.
  • I am in preliminary discussions with yet another artist for a painting of the more recent Derg Red Terror and Revolution period. This will be painted on a very large cow skin for dramatic impact.
  • Another art element will be a mural painted onto the just completed parapet/railing wall circulating around the Great Reading Room, sort of a WPA concept. This painting would be contained within a space some 10 feet to 14 feet above the floor level. The painting theme would be of everyday modern life in and around Axum, covering both indoor and outdoor activity. The painted faces will be recognizable by the people of Axum.
  • Adopt-A-Painting program: With photos of the completed art, I plan, with ECDC, to start an Adopt-A-Painting program.
  • There would then be an Axum Art Committee primarily of Axumites established to oversee the art aspects of the program. Ethiopia has many talented artisans and a great history to explore.

My travels back to Ethiopia have been extraordinary and rewarding. This project has been a labor of love (with a few bumps in the road .  .  . Ah, Ethiopia). I know that I am part of something that will truly make a difference. Please contact me if you are interested in being part of something grand:

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