RPCV Projects

Old Adwa Cultural Museum

by Elizabeth Ambaye and Rick Stoner (Addis Alem 68-70; Training 72-75)

adwaTwelve years ago my wife Elizabeth and I set out to build a cultural museum on the site where her father was born. Her grandfather’s house was one of those lovely stone and mud/plaster homes built around Medhane Alem Church in Adwa. Sadly it had fallen into ruins after nationalization and neglect. The compound adjacent to the beautiful stone church walls and above the River Assem has magnificent views of Mt. Soloda and the mountains of Adwa; however, with walls and outbuildings mostly fallen, the upper half of the compound had served as the neighborhood dump for thirty years. Our ambition was to rebuild the old home into a museum to highlight the rich social, political and cultural history of Adwa and help preserve some of the crumbling old stone buildings and walls of the neighborhood of MedhaneAlem.

We teamed up with Professor Fasil Giorghis. Ethiopia’s foremost preservation/renovation architect, and pulled together a vision and master plan for the museum, cafe, amphitheater, public toilets and small resident bedrooms within the compound – all surrounded by traditional stone walls.

Old Adwa Cultural Museum rebuilt on site of grandfather's home

Old Adwa Cultural Museum rebuilt on site of grandfather’s home

The steep slopes surrounding the area  and the three decades of garbage within the compound have presented us with numerous challenges. Several times we have been set back by landslides and collapsing walls during the rainy season.  However, with patience, resilience and perseverance (all good Peace Corps traits) we’ve made enough progress to now turn our attention to the contents of the museum and the eventual use of the compound.

Original focus

Our current thinking is for the museum to highlight the rich history of Adwa in the 19th & early 20th centuries. Initial themes are:

  • Old Adwa as seen by early travelers and painters ;
  • 19th Century local history and personalities;
  • Local church history and missionary presence; and
  • Italian presence and influence.
Broadening our goals
Ribbon cutting at opening of kindergarten from left: Elizabeth, Rick, and a member of the school organizing committee.

Ribbon cutting at opening of kindergarten from left: Elizabeth, Rick, and a member of the school organizing committee.

Although we began with preservation in mind, we have broadened our focus to include education and sanitation.

We have helped renew a local kindergarten near our compound and have built public toilets near the church square in an effort to help address the sanitation issues in the area.

The River Assem during the dry season, and the steps up to Medhane Alem Church. The beginning of the lower Museum compound is on the right.

The River Assem during the dry season, and the steps up to Medhane Alem Church. The beginning of the lower Museum compound is on the right.

Recently we have begun to work with the City Administration to clean up the River Assem which separates much of the old town from the new. Hundreds of people use the path that comes down from the Adigrat road, across the river and up the hill past our compound to MedhaneAlem Church and neighborhood. Sadly despite its beauty, walking paths and its use for washing and bathing, much of the riverside area serves as an open toilet.

The City has designated the riverside from the Italian Bridge to the Stadium Bridge as Assem Park. We have committed to partner with the City to develop the section of the park below the museum’s compound as a pilot to show what can be done, and hopefully our efforts will attract other donors and support for the overall effort.

The plan calls for a clean and green landscape with public toilets, all weather paths and a pedestrian bridge over the river (usually a trickle, but at times a raging torrent in the rainy season).

Project partners and their commitments to the plan are —

  • Save the Children is developing a fundraising proposal for the toilets and a “zero defecation” campaign,
  • Green Ethiopia is doing the landscaping and tree planting.
  • We are supporting the bridge building and all weather paths.
  • The City is providing part of the material and labor and leads the overall effort through its Park implementation Committee.

The project will begin in October.

Much has been done, but there is lots to do! Frustrating at times, but personally very rewarding. RPCVs, does this sound familiar?

For the last few years we have been working on site in February, May and October. If you visit Adwa, please stop by. If you miss us, just sign the guest book and send us your comments and suggestions via email.



2 responses to “RPCV Projects

  1. Harold Shapiro

    Enjoyed reading your article particularly since I served in Adwa from 1964-66.

    If you have any other recent pictures to share of Adwa, I’d love to view them.

    A lot of changes since when I lived there.

    Harold Shapiro

  2. Congratulations on your Adwa museum project…. I last saw you and Elizabeth in Wash. DC in ’76 on my way to South America. You may like my “Travels of an American Backpacker during the 1970’s,” 19 short, travel stories starting in Ethiopia as a PCV that I published in April. You appear in my “Trekking in Nepal” story where we met by chance on a Katmandu street, and then went into a pie shop together to catch up. Saludos!!

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