Category Archives: Fiftieth Anniversary

Fiftieth Anniversary

Finding Nasser

by Alma Toroian Raymond (Dabat, Addis Ababa, Asmara 67–69)

We started looking for Nasser, our former student in Ethiopia, in July 2008 after we discovered on the Ethiopia & Eritrea RPCVs’ website a listing of other Volunteers in Dabat, the town where we served. We located one of those Volunteers in Columbus, Ohio after entering his name in a Google search and finding a church bulletin announcing that he and his wife would be addressing the congregation regarding their work in Dabat, Ethiopia, our teaching site.

Bill Hershey (Dabat 68–70) answered my first email and put us in touch with one of his former Dabat students, Abraham Dere Beyene, who was living in Atlanta. Abraham remembered us from our days in Dabat and said he would attempt to find Nasser.

On Christmas Eve of 2008, we received a letter from Abraham with an email address for a Nasser M. Kutabish. To ensure that this was indeed our former student, I sent Nasser a photo of the girls in his 8th grade class on December 26th, and asked him to tell me their names and how they were at the time he last saw them.  The following morning, I went to my email as usual and was astounded to find an email from Nasser. He was elated to have heard from us, had all the right answers about the girls, and remembered the words to the songs my husband, Doug, had taught in music class. Nasser also included a photo of himself along with his excellent 8th grade final exam scores. It was the best Christmas present that we had ever received. We were all overjoyed at finding each other.

Arriving in Ethiopia 

The first time Doug and I flew into Ethiopia was in 1967 on a Pan Am plane loaded with fresh Peace Corps recruits. This time it was 2012 with an Ethiopian Airlines plane loaded with 100 Returned Volunteers who were returning to Ethiopia in commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the arrival of the first Volunteers in Ethiopia. I recall having seen the Nile from my window seat in 1967. I didn’t see the Nile on this trip, but it was obvious that we were flying over Ethiopia — the view of the countryside revealed cultivated fields, green land, villages with some farm buildings and an occasional mud and stick tukul.

We passed over the Simien Mountains of Northern Ethiopia. There were farms on every plateau, each separated from others by thousands of feet of rugged canyons. I could only imagine how difficult it would be to take crops to market or to visit anyone from the next plateau. I recalled that Ethiopians call across great distances to greet neighbors or share information.

Upon landing in Addis Ababa in the daytime, we were met by Peace Corps/Ethiopia Country Director Greg Engle, the press and diplomats.  Ethiopian coffee was served along with other refreshments as speeches were made welcoming our arrival. I was in a daze.


2012 – Alma, Doug and Nasser

Anxious to find Nasser and his wife Zekia, who had traveled together from Yemen to meet us and to spend the next two weeks with us, we left the reception and walked to the front of the airport to see if they were waiting for us inside near the ticketing and arrivals desks. The front doors of the airport were locked and nobody was allowed to enter despite it being in the middle of the day. We rattled doors until it was confirmed that we could not go inside.  Then we saw a couple in the distance with bouquets of yellow Meskal flowers hurrying from the parking lot toward the airport. We hadn’t seen Nasser in 45 years, but he was totally recognizable. We had a wonderful reunion and met his beautiful wife Zekia for the first time.

From that moment, our Ethiopian adventure began.

Our first days in Ethiopia 

It was 45 years ago when we said farewell to Nasser as we boarded a bus and left Dabat. During the Red Terror — that began in the mid-’70s — his father moved the family for their safety to Sana’a, Yemen from which their ancestors had emigrated. Now Nasser is a successful businessman, has a wonderful wife, and is the patriarch of a large family.

Nasser had hired a van with a driver named Hailu who always kept the van nearby where he waited, cell phone in hand, for a call from Nasser. Hailu drove us from the airport to the very impressive Radisson Blu Hotel in Addis. The lobby of the Radisson was resonant with the joy of newly arrived former Peace Corps Volunteers visiting with their former students — mere teenagers the last time we had seen them.

We had arrived in Addis at the beginning of the major holiday called Meskerem, and thousands of Ethiopians were out wearing their very best for to celebrate the holiday, and carrying yellow Meskal flowers and tapers to light against the dark. The crowd made its way to Meskal Square not far from where we were staying.  There were groups in colorful dress, singing and marching to the beat of large drums as they proceeded to the square where a giant bonfire had been erected and would be set aflame at the climax of the ceremony.

Nasser took us to lunch at the home of Semunesh Demetros. She remembered being in my English class when she was a young girl. Now she is a diplomat who was about to leave for Geneva to work on getting Ethiopia into the World Trade Organization. In addition to Nasser and Zekia, others in attendance at the lunch were:  Nasser’s brother Hussein, Bizu Ayane, Fasil Assefa, Senat Assefa and Getanet Berhane. These were among the many of our former students who have become successful in business as adults. They attributed their success to having met us all those years ago. When questioned about this, they said it was because our presence in Ethiopia showed them something different, and they realized that they could do something different, too.  Some of them are diplomats; many of them such as Nasser are wealthy businessmen and women.  One student had been a jet pilot for the Ethiopian Air Force. During the Red Terror, he was assigned to fly over and bomb the region that contained Dabat. Rather than bomb his hometown, he flew on to Saudi Arabia where he landed and announced his defection.

There is a general sense  of upward mobility in Addis Ababa, with high-rise buildings being erected all around the city, as in other large cities we visited.  Everything had changed so much that it was difficult if not impossible to find the two houses that we lived in when we were there in the ’60s. We were able to find the building where the Peace Corps office had been located, and across the street, we found the former International Hotel where Peace Corps Volunteers stationed outside Addis often stayed when in the city.

Travel to Gondar & Beyond      

As we traveled, we witnessed Chinese road workers widening and rebuilding the road that goes north from Gondar to the border with Eritrea.  The difficult terrain made progress slow. The pavement disappeared a short way out of Gondar and was replaced by rocks that looked like they were destined to serve as a base that later would be covered with asphalt. The countryside was green, and droves of people were walking with donkeys and sometimes horses or mules on their way to or from markets and churches. These multitudes were not in existence when we lived there.  In those days, we would see only a handful of people along the road. The rocky ride was jolting at times, and such it was as we rolled into Dabat after so many years.

Visiting Dabat  

It is hard to describe the emotion we felt as we entered the town. Our house was the first thing we recognized, but it was much altered and there were people teeming around it reading postings on a bulletin board on the exposed wall. It seemed that the Chinese road project had claimed the front half of the house, exposing what had previously been an interior wall.


1967 – Alma with a student in a field of Meskal flowers

When we had come to Dabat in 1967, the house had been a roadhouse with a bar and rooms in back that were sublet. As Volunteers, we slept in a back room and the “bar” was our kitchen and living room.  Some of our fellow teachers lived behind the big house and three teachers from the university in Asmara lived in another room adjacent to ours.

Doug starting a model plane engine - Nasser in blue stripes - 1968

Doug starting a model plane engine – Nasser in blue, 6th from the left – 1968

A round mud tukul with a grass roof in the back corner of our compound had housed the zebanya and his family.  I felt sorry for the old guy. He was supposed to sit on the cold front porch all night with his gun. In the daytime, he would take a long-horned cow out to plow fields.  When we left Dabat, Doug gave him a pair of shoes.  Doug’s shoes were big enough to fit the fellow, and he was obviously delighted with the gift.  We had never seen him wearing shoes before.

During this return visit, we found Dabat in many ways changed for the better, and in other ways not changed at all. There has been a population explosion all over the country [the current population in Ethiopia is 4 times what it was in the ’60s] and Dabat was not excluded from this startling growth. Technology had blossomed as well. Most adults in Ethiopia now have cell phones, including the citizens of the remote towns like Dabat. In addition to that, many have electricity for lights and widescreen TVs in their homes regardless of whether the homes are of modern construction or if they are roughly built of mud and stones.

We rolled slowly through town with children running alongside our van smiling and waving.  Stopping near the old City Hall, we were amazed to see that it was still standing.  The mayor and his entourage greeted us, shooed the children away and led us to his office in one end of the building.  Apparently, the rest of the building was too dilapidated to be used.  It was built by the Italians during their occupation in the 1930s. A small group of people anticipating our arrival greeted us, and then the Mayor and the Executive Director of the vocational school led us up a flight of stairs to his office and meeting room.

Walking Tour of the Schools  

Nasser and Alma in old 8th grade room - 2012

Nasser and Alma in old 8th grade room – 2012

The mayor had a list of needs and was seeking associates to help with financing the projects.  They needed school supplies, books and desks, and latrines.  After the meeting, they took us on a tour of the schools.  The old buildings that we taught in are still in use and it was hard to believe that we actually taught in those miserable little rooms that were more like small stables. I recall that some of the classrooms had dirt floors and the children sat on rocks or on the dirt.  The Swedish Peace Corps came to Dabat while we were still teaching there and built a new school building.  That building is still standing and is in use.

There are seven school buildings in the town now including the ones that we used in the 1960s.  One of the new school buildings is a vocational school.  We peered through the windows and saw desks in that building.  The mayor is hoping for a library and books, for a staff room, and for more desks for some of the other buildings.  In my opinion, what the Dabat schools most sorely lack is latrines for boys, girls and the staff.  Studies have shown that girls, especially adolescent girls reaching puberty, stay in school longer if separate latrines are available to them, and I would like to help remedy this problem.  Members of the Dabat Alumni Club (all former students of ours) are making a visit to Dabat to explore possible solutions, and will report back to all of us. They are brilliant and hardworking people who can always find something to laugh about. They were fun when they were our students and they are fun and hard working now.   Perhaps I will be able to get some ideas of where to start when I learn from them what the costs might be. (See postscript for update).

Nasser’s Relatives  

While we were in Dabat, we made some house calls. The first was to visit Nasser’s relatives who hadn’t seen him since he was a boy. The relatives who remained in Ethiopia live in a mud and brick house in town. They were happy to see Nasser and to meet his wife.  A cousin who grew up with Nasser arrived and collapsed in tears of joy at the sight of him. It was a sweet reunion and we were privileged to bear witness. A beautiful young woman made fresh coffee while squatting over a small brazier in a dimly lit corner of the living room. The fragrance was wonderful and her lovely, almond- shaped eyes were all we could see of her in the dark corner.  We noted the presence of a widescreen color TV on the wall silently flashing color.  There were electrical lighting fixtures and most everyone one had a cell phone.

In Retrospect

Nasser and his friends have credited their success to having met us all those years ago. We would like to think that we did have a small role, but truth be known, it was Nasser himself who actually made the wise decisions and did the hard work. He is responsible not only for his success, but also for his very survival during those turbulent times. Many of his friends were killed and others survived by denouncing others. We are very proud to call this former student one of our dearest friends.


Through a referral from Greg Engle, we connected with Patrick Wozny of the American Embassy in Addis, who gave us hope for potential funding for the latrine project, and the Dabat Alumni Club prepared and submitted a proposal for the latrine project to the Embassy. We have just received notice from the American Embassy that our latrine project has been funded. This is a wonderful result of our return to Dabat.

Fiftieth Anniversary

Education & Population Update

A Presentation at the 50th Anniversary Reunion

September 24, 2011
by Nancy E. Horn, Ph.D. (Addis 66–68)

NOTE:  The data presented in this report were extrapolated from UNDP, UNICEF, World Bank, Government of Ethiopia and USAID documents.

Ethiopia Then and “Now”
When we all responded to President Kennedy’s call to join the Peace Corps, Ethiopia was very different from what it is today.  In 1966, when the VIIs landed, the population was estimated to be 25 million; when the census was conducted in 2010, the population was estimated at 88 million.  Of this population, only 16% is estimated to be urban.  The population continues to increase at 3.2% per year, despite a life expectancy of just 55.8 years, and a healthy life expectancy of only 42 years.  The fertility rate has dropped from 7 to 5.9 over the past 15 years, while the maternal mortality rate remains high at 720 per 100,000 births.  The HIV/AIDS adult infection rate ranges between 2.1% and 9%, depending on the source of the statistics.  This pandemic has left an estimated 92,000 children under the age of 15 years (Est. 10.5%) as orphans. Child mortality rates have declined from 216 to 179 per 1,000 live births over the past 15 years.  The estimated population of children under the age of 15 is 46.1% or 40.5 million.

Education Then and “Now”
With this huge school-age population, how has the Government of Ethiopia responded to the children’s need for education?  Since 1967, enrollment numbers have been as follows:
1967 – 523,024 (Primary 496,334; Secondary 26,690)
1980 – 2.6 mil. (Primary 2.35 million; Secondary 216,876)
2003 – 10.07 mil (Primary 9.3 million; Secondary 725,059)

The Government spending on education in 1980 constituted 10% of the national budget, and by 2002 increased to 14.3%.  Interestingly, Afar spent only 1.4% of its regional budget on education, while Oromiya spent 30%.  In terms of birr spent per student, primary grades 1-4 received 86 billion birr, in primary grades 5-8, 160 billion birr, and in secondary grades, 283 birr is spent.  In the year 2000, household expenditure on children’s education was estimated at 68 billion birr.

Since these numbers were reported, the Government of Ethiopia signed the Education for All (EFA) agreement, abolished primary school fees, and accepted the “avalanche” of children into schools for the first time, a disproportionate percentage of who were females.  Although the abolishment of school fees was a direct incentive to send girls to school, the steady increase of girls becoming literate, attending school, marrying and becoming mothers also had an influence.

School attendance is difficult for many with urban children walking up to 2 kms. to school, but rural children (61%) walking between 3 and 5+ kms. each way.  While the quality of education continues to improve, the primary completion rate (grade 8) in 2000 was 62.1% for males and 52.1% for females (or 57.1% total).  The repetition rate for 1992/93 for primary grades was 11.6%, junior secondary (grades 9-10) was 19.3%, and for senior secondary/preparatory (grades 11 and 12) was 8.5%.  In 2001/2002, primary repetition percentages increased to 16.4%, junior secondary increased to 20.8%, but senior secondary decreased to 0.4%.  Examination pass rates may be related to repetition rates.  In 2001/2, 66.9% passed the 8th grade leaving exam; 58.5% passed the 10th grade exam; and 54.1% passed the 12th grade exam, opening the doors to university for those who passed.

Key to understanding the quality of instruction is the student/teacher ratio.  Prior to EFA, each primary teacher was responsible for teaching an average of 72.3 students per class, and secondary teachers an average of 54.2 students.  After EFA, these numbers increased significantly, in some cases at the primary level to more than 150 students per class.  When EFA was passed, there was an insufficient number of classrooms and teachers to accommodate the “avalanche.”  EFA increased the demand for two-shift schools from 44.3% of primary schools and 78.6% of schools to an indeterminate percentage as statistics were not available at the time this report was written.  Before EFA, teachers at the primary level taught 24 hours a week, and at the secondary level, 16 hours, but this has also changed.

Educational Structure
If a child were fortunate enough to participate in the total length of the educational process, over the years s/he would attend:

  • Pre-School for 2 years (K1 and K2)
  • Lower Primary for 4 years, after which s/he would sit a national exam that requires a mark of  50% to pass and continue
  • Senior Primary for 4 years, after which s/he would sit the Primary School Certificate Exam
  • First Cycle, Secondary for 2 years, after which s/he would sit the  General Secondary Education Certificate Exam, which is in English
  • Second Cycle/Preparatory for 2 years, after which s/he would sit the Higher Education Entrance Examination
  • Higher Education/Diploma  for 1-3 years (after 10th or 12th grade exams) (training programs/certificates)
  • Higher Education/Undergraduate for 4-5 years

Passing grades differ with each examination.

Issues in Education
Since the Dergue, Ethiopia has been divided into regional states, each of which uses a chosen “mother tongue” as the language of instruction.  However, national tests have not caught up with these teaching practices totally.  The grade 4 exam is in both Amharic and the mother tongue, the grade 8 exam is in Amharic, and the grades 10 and 12 exams are in English.  It was determined that the language of instruction in grades 1-4 would be the mother tongue, after which English would be the language of instruction.  However, not all regional states adopted these practices, and in some English becomes the language of instruction only in the 9th grade.  A mixture of the mother tongue and Amharic are used up until that time.

While the decision to teach reading, math and other subjects using the mother tongue was based on sound research on learning, the reality of some Ethiopian regional states is that one language may predominate but it is not the “mother tongue” for all.  Hence, when non-dominant language speakers come to school, they may still be acquiring math and reading skills through the medium of a foreign language.  Moreover, the decision by some regional states to delay switching to English as the medium of instruction creates a significant problem for young people desirous of passing the 10th grade exam, the gateway to a number of professional training programs (such as teaching and nursing).

USAID-funded Projects to Strengthen Education
After the fall of the Dergue in 1991 and the resumption of the United States interest in supporting educational development through USAID projects, USAID launched the Basic Education System Overhaul I and II (BESO) project.  Attention was deliberately focused on the following concerns:

  • Teacher Training (Pre-Service Training at Teacher Training Colleges):  Focus was on:  Increasing Subject Matter Knowledge through Self-Paced Computer-Based Learning; Creating Instructional AIDS Centers at TTCs to learn how to create Learning Aids from Local Materials; support of women through leadership and networking skill development; Administrative Strengthening through the provision of training to school administrators; and Curriculum Development Skills.
  • Teacher Training (In-Service Training held at Cluster Centers):  BESO created the system of cluster schools – schools in adjacent neighborhoods to TTCs – to bring teachers to a resource center, a Cluster Center, for in-service training on all of the topics addressed above and others.  Workshops were facilitated,  in general, by faculty of the TTC.  Lead teachers of cluster schools came to the Center periodically to be trained in various topics, and then were to return to their schools to cascade what they had learned to their colleagues.
  • Textbook Development (Textbook and Learning Materials Project):  In an effort to address the range of primary education English language needs, this project worked with the Ministry of Education to develop English language textbooks for use in grades 1-8.
  • Girls’ Scholarship Program:  Because so many girls discontinued their education after 8th grade, a scholarship program was established for girls from rural areas to come to more urban areas to attend high school. 
  • Community-Government Partnership Program (CGPP):  Under this project, implementers provided a maximum of three grants to primary schools.  The schools, in applying, had to state how they were to use their funds; and at the end of the year, they were to write a report and, if they so desired, submit a second application with a plan for the use of the funds.  Once a school was designated as a recipient, the first two grants were somewhat “automatic,” but to obtain the third grant, which was up to three times the amount of the first and second, a more detailed plan had to be submitted.  With the funds, schools built classrooms, provided furniture for teachers and students, built separate latrines for girls, created a teacher workroom, brought water into the school campus, and improved the school environment.  A key, hugely successful, component was the establishment of Girls’ Advisory Committees, convened to consider how girls can be successful students and stay in school until graduation.  In evaluating this project, respondents said:  “the grant gave us a teaspoonful, but we gave back a shovel-full.”  Because large numbers of parents and community members were involved, the lessons learned were continued and many communities are still supporting schools, though the project ended.
  • Community-School Partnership Program (CSPP):  This project was, essentially, a continuation of CGPP, with some additions:  focus on orphans and vulnerable children (OVC), sanitation and health (provision of water for drinking and washing up), and other related activities to improve the school experience for primary school children.

In most recent years, USAID is implementing an extension to the BESO I and II projects, a  project to develop reading materials in the regional states’  mother tongues, and development of English textbooks using an English as a Second Language Approach.

USAID has also partnered with Peace Corps to support PCVs in teaching English as TTCs and Cluster Centers.  The first tranche included 35 teachers in 2011, and the second, this year, will include 70 teachers.

Overcoming Educational Obstacles
EFA created havoc for TTCs as teachers were being trained in learner-centered methods.  When the number of students doubled or tripled in primary school classrooms, teachers found it extremely difficult to implement the new methods as there were insufficient facilities and textbooks.

Teacher Training requirements are changing.  When BESO I began, students who had passed the 12th grade leaving exam could attend a TTC for one year and earn a teaching certificate.  This policy changed as fewer students were joining TTCs.  The new policy allowed students with a 10th grade exam pass to attend a TTC for one year and earn a teaching certificate.  When it was found that too much subject matter learning needed to be acquired, the MOE determined that teachers had to attend more classes (offered during school holidays) to achieve the equivalent of two more years of training for an active teaching certificate.  Moreover, those with 10th grade passes would have to attend TTC for three years to be prepared adequately.

The health of teachers, parents and students also created problems.  With a rising number of OVC, teachers were hard pressed to address the needs of the children.  Hence, projects had to include an element of how to help these orphans and vulnerable children become successful students.  This meant helping them with basic necessities – food, clothing, and housing – so that they could attend school regularly until completion.

Last, the issue of language continues to be a problem, not only for teaching and learning, but also for acquiring basic skills and testing for children to be able to continue their education.

With the current USAID portfolio, and working in partnership with Peace Corps, the US Government is pursuing educational excellence in Ethiopia with the Government of Ethiopia as a full partner in these endeavors.

Fiftieth Anniversary

It’s Nearly Time

Preparations for Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary Party are all but finished. Have you signed up for all the events?

by Barry Hillenbrand (Debre Marcos 63-65)

It’s September. This is the month. It’s less than two weeks until Peace Corps’ big 50th anniversary party in Washington. We’d like to bring you up to date on preparations and remind you that if you have not purchased tickets for the E&E RPCVs events for the September 23–25 weekend, TODAY is the day to do it.

The folks organizing the events need to confirm the numbers of people attending so they can order enough injera-and-wat for the dinner and secure plenty of chairs and breakfast fixings for the Saturday morning meeting. Also those organizing reunions of training group or towns need a head count for caterers and restaurants. SO TICKET SALES FOR EVENTS WILL CLOSE ON SEPTEMBER 16. You MUST sign up by the 16th or you risk missing the programs in Washington.

Here’s where you can purchase your tickets for the main events:

READY TO PARTY The Ethiopian Embassy in Washington

SOLD OUT The reception/buffet dinner at the Ethiopian Embassy, Friday, September 23, 6 to 9 p.m. No tickets will be sold at the door.

SOLD OUT The Saturday morning E&E RPCVs Program, at the Marriott on Saturday, September 24, from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.  will include a continental breakfast and a long and varied group of speakers, presentations.  See below for a detailed updated schedule.

The good and exciting news is that lots of RPCVs  who served in Ethiopia and Eritrea are heading to Washington for the anniversary celebration. We are expecting a full house for the special Ethiopia and Eritrea RPCV events at the Crystal City Marriott and the Ethiopian Embassy. (We tried to get an Eritrean event scheduled, but never got beyond polite conversations with some Eritrean embassy officials.) So far more than 260 RPCVs and their guests have signed up for the Ethiopian Embassy reception/buffet dinner on Friday, September 23rd.  At last count nearly 200 people will be attending the Saturday morning program at the Marriott. While we tried to get big venues for these events, space is limited and we will have to close registration, so sign up TODAY.

E&E RPCV president Marian Beil (Debre Berhan 62–64) is ankle deep into the preparation of the programs and events.  It’s all coming together nicely. In Washington Judy Smith (Asmara 63–65) and Gigi Ott Wietecha (Makele; Dessie 63–65) — who negotiated out great arrangements with the hotel — are working with the Embassy on setting up the Friday dinner and reception.  Marian, from her base in Oakland, arranged a spiffy sound system for the Ethiopian music program that evening that will feature RPCV musician Charlie Sutton (Addis 66–68). LaDena Schnapper (Dessie, Awassa 63–66) will be using that system as she demonstrates an Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony.

Saturday Program — Potomac Ballroom

Nancy Horn (Addis 66–68) has rounded up speakers, experts and even a telephone link from Addis to allow us to hear directly from Peace Corps/Ethiopia Country Director Diallo Nwando, who will update us on what Peace Corps is doing in Ethiopia.  Nancy has lined up an impressive program. It’s still being fine-tuned and may change a bit, but here’s the present engaging line-up:

  • 8:00-8:15 – Welcome,  E&E RPCVs president Marian Haley Beil
  • 8:15-8:45 – Update on Health and Education in Ethiopia by Sean Tate (Kombolcha  66–68), Nancy Horn, and a recently returned PCV who has worked in health/HIV/AIDS.
  • 8:45-9:30 – Live Update on Peace Corps activities in Ethiopia from Diallo Nwando, current Peace Corps Director in Addis
  • 9:30 – 10:30 – Current involvement of E&E Projects:  Randy Marcus (Asella 66–68), Karen Blanchard (Asella 66–68), et al.; Neal Sobania (Addis 68–72); Haskell Ward (Nazareth 63–65); Gwen Williams (Makele 63–65) – 12 minutes each; Janet Lee (Emdeber  74–76), John Stauffer (Adi  Caieh 66–68), Lee Plate (Addis 66–69) and  Nancy Horn – 2 minutes each. Comments and reports will be welcomed from the floor during an open mike segment.
  • 10:30-10:45 – BREAK
  • 10:45 – 11:00 –  Mike McCaskey (Fiche 65-67) will show and comment on recent pictures taken in Ethiopia
  • 11:00 – 11:30 – Country Update on politics and economy, former U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia,  David Shinn
  • 11:30 – 12:00 – Country Update, Congressman (D- CA) and RPCV  John Garamendi (Metu 66-68) who recently visited Ethiopia.
  • 12:00-1:00 – Legacy Program Update, Leo Cecchini
  • 1:00-2:00 – Peace Corps  Authors talk about their books:  Dan Close (Bekoji 66–68), Ron Peterson (Nekempte, Dessie 73–75), Ted Vestal (Ethiopia staff 64–66) and Rob Albritton (Harar, Asmara 63–65)

Training Group Reunions

A series of reunions of training groups have been firmly scheduled. They include:

Ethiopia I will have a get together in the hotel pub — BELL20 Tavern — for food and drink right after the Morning Session ends, about 1 pm. Arranged by Leo Cecchini. This event will include the sharing of fond memories of staff member Ed Corboy who died recently.

Ethiopia II will have a pool side reunion, Saturday 3-5 p.m,  at the Marriott. About 50 people have already signed up so far. You can purchase tickets and view the names of those already signed up at

The Ethiopia II group is also planning a dinner Saturday evening  at 6:30 p.m. at Haar Mesob, an Ethiopian restaurant near the Marriott for those passing on the NPCA Gala. For those Ethie IIs interested in attending, please send an email to: by September 20th to sign up. Space is limited, so sign up now.

Ethiopia III will get together on Saturday after the Morning Session of E&E RPCVs. Dianne & Al Brandhorsts plus Betty McLaughlin Hagberg are organizing a lunch meeting ($30.00) of fellow Ethiopia III’s and guests at Cucina Vivace.  See details and payment information at our web site: or email us at:

For those of you who may have missed it, a full schedule of events during the 50th Anniversary weekend  can be found by clicking on “50th Schedule” in the menu bar at the top of the page of the HERALD.

NEW Tour of Museum of African Art

Judy Smith (Asmara 1963–65) is conducting a tour of the Smithsonian’s Museum of African Art — where she is a docent — for E&E RPCVs on Friday morning at 10 a.m. Please take the Metro from the Marriott to the Smithsonian stop. Judy will meet you in the entrance. The tour will be one hour. There is a small Ethiopian display with two paintings, but the main exhibit is a newly opened show of art from Central Nigeria.

Hospitality Room

The Virginia Room on the 2nd floor of the hotel will be our Hospitality Room. It will open on Thursday afternoon. Name tags can be picked up there — then at the Embassy event and the Saturday Program. If you have photos to show, there will be a TV with DVD player available. Bring snacks, drinks to share.

And there will be the Silent Auction!

Silent Auction

There are more than 100 items up for bid in the silent auction. Because all items have been donated, all proceeds from the auction will go to  supporting the current RPCV Legacy Program projects.  You can view the items and learn how to make bids now by clicking on “AUCTION”  at the top of this page in the menu bar.

The real life silent auction will be set up in the Hospitality Room of the hotel. Bidding ends Saturday evening, and winning bids will be announced.

Bid early, bid often, and bring your checkbook.

More Details

For other details about the 50th, click on “Fiftieth Anniversary” in the right column under “Categories” on any page and read all articles we’ve published on this topic.

Fiftieth Anniversary

The Countdown to the Big Weekend

 Plans for the September celebration marking Peace Corps’ 50th Anniversary in Washington are falling into place. Buy your tickets now to take part in all the drama, excitement and fun of this historic event

by Barry Hillenbrand (Debre Marcos 63-65)

Thousands of returned Peace Corps Volunteers are coming to Washington in September for a long weekend of celebrations marking Peace Corps’ 50th birthday. Beginning Wednesday, September 21st,  and continuing on through Sunday, the 25th, dozens of events, big and small, are planned to bring together RPCVs who answered the call made by President John F. Kennedy 50 years ago to provide technical assistance to countries asking for it, to help people understand the U.S. and to bring better understanding for foreign peoples back to the U.S.

E&E RPCVs events and other offerings
Ethiopia and Eritrea Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, E&E RPVCs, have scheduled two big events for the weekend. The first is a big buffet-reception at the Ethiopian Embassy. Washigton’s U & 18th Street area restaurant Axum will serve up an ingeria and wat  meal with all the trimmings. Two bars will serve Ethiopian beers, as well as California wines and tej. Live Ethiopian music will make for a lively evening. (See “The Schedule” below for more details.)

E&E RPCVs is also organizing a morning of talks, panels, and video links with Ethiopia to bring us up to date on what is happening in Ethiopia and Eritrea, as well as hearing about what people are doing to continue projects in Ethiopia. (See “The Schedule” below for more details.)

And then there will be various small reunions of training groups.  The Big Weekend is a chance to reconnect with old friends. If your training group or town of service is getting together during the time provided on Saturday afternoon, the 24th, from 2:00 – 5:00, please let me know so we can include it in our listing of activities. Please note where you will be so that all those interested can get in touch, and include the name of the contact person and email or telephone number. When we post the activities at the hotel, we will then ask for a local contact so that all those who wish to participate can get in touch for any details.  Please respond to Nancy Horn, at (See “The Schedule” below for more details.)

E&E RPCVs will have a 2-room Hospitality Room at our hotel beginning on Thursday afternoon, September 22nd. It will not only be a place to meet-and-greet but will have other activities as well.

  • Silent Auction: To raise  money for our RPCV Legacy Program projects we will hold a silent auction. We have several  items already that were purchased recently in Ethiopia whose bids will start at between $5 and $100. If you have any items you would like to contribute, please contact Nancy Horn ( to let her know what you have and what you suggest the “start price” should be.
  • Opportunity to share digital photos via DVD player on a TV: Is  anyone in the DC area able to loan us a DVD player from Friday afternoon through Sunday morning? It would be great if you could. To rent one from the hotel would be VERY expensive. Contact  Nancy Horn ( if you can help the group out.
  • E&ERPCV Authors: Nancy is assembling a list of authors among us who would like to share their writings on Saturday, September 24, from 1:00-2:00.  We are trying to plan how many would like to share something about their books and perhaps sell and sign a few. Please let me – Nancy Horn,  – who you are, the name of your book, and if you would like space and time to say something about your book.  The book need not necessarily be about Peace Corps, but something you would like to share with us about what you have been doing in your after-PC life.
  • Snacks and drinks – bring some to share: plus cups, serving ware & napkins.

Other events
The National Peace Corps Association, the NPCA, is going glitzy with a black tie gala. The NPCA is also sponsoring some panel discussions and advocacy work.  A counter party has been organized by those who would rather take a pass on black tie affairs. And naturally  there will be ceremony at JFK’s grave at Arlington Cemetery and a march of RPCVs across the Memorial Bridge to the National Mall. Street parties. Seminars. Photo and art exhibitions. And, as they say on TV, much, much more. A very full weekend.

Who is coming
Click on “Attending the 50th” at the top of each page on this site to see whom we know is coming. If you are and your name isn’t on the list, send a note to Marian and Contact your friends who aren’t on the list and urge them to join in the celebration.

So here’s what you need to do to join the celebrations.

In order to participate in those events specifically for Ethiopia & Eritrea RPCVs —namely the Injera-and-Wat Buffet Reception at the Ethiopian Embassy, the Saturday morning Breakfast Form, and one of the Training Group reunions—you need to purchase tickets. We made that easy. Do it on line.

Please click on  the links below which will allow you to register — and pay for — for the three main events for E&E RPCVs.  Registering will not only assure you a place at the table (and drinks to boot) but also allow us to plan properly for these events.

  • Click here to purchase tickets for the Injera-and-wot buffet reception at the Ethiopian Embassy on Friday, September 23.
  • Click here to purchase tickets for the Saturday morning breakfast meeting of all E&E RPCV at the Marriott Hotel.
  • Click here to purchase your ticket for the poolside Happy Hour reunion of the Ethiopia II (1963–1965) training group on Saturday afternoon.

The headquarters hotel for E&E RPCVs is “Crystal City Marriott at Reagan National Airport,” address: 1999 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington, VA 22202. Special discounted group rates still available for our group during the reunion period.

The Crystal City Marriott will continue to honor the special rate of $109 a night (a real bargain for D.C.) until September 2 when the rate will revert to its normal high rate. Be forewarned: The weekend  of our reunion Washington hotels will be jammed with meetings of the World Bank/IMF, the Congressional Black caucus, etc. Book now for a good rate and a good hotel.  The Crystal City Marriott at 1999 Jefferson Davis Highway, Arlington VA 22202 (703) 413-5500 is located steps from hip restaurants, iconic theaters & Pentagon City shopping. It is just a few stops on the Yellow line of the Metro to  downtown D.C. including the Mall, the Smithsonian and other attractions. The Metro station is right under the hotel. In addition, the hotel offers a free shuttle to and from National Airport

E&E RPCVs will have a hospitality suite at the hotel, and, of course, people will be meeting around the hotel’s newly remodeled bar.

Book by phone: 800-228-9290. Ask for discount reservation for: Ethiopia and Eritrea 50, group code: PECPECA. Be persistent. The reservation operators  sometimes can’t find our reservation – or get the specific hotel name confused. But if you are persistent or hang up and redial, you’ll get the special rate.

You can also book on line by going to If you need them, detailed instructions on how to work your way through the on line reservations site are at the end of this story.

There is no central organizer of the 50th Anniversary Celebrations. Peace Corps is putting on a few small events and an open house at PC Headquarters.  But that’s about it. The National Peace Corps Association is sponsoring one big event and several smaller ones. Several ad hoc groups, including our E&E RPCVs, the Peace Corps Fund and Peace Corps Worldwide, are organizing things. With no real central all-inclusive calendar, it  is difficult to figure out what is happening and when. A number of events are scheduled concurrently, you may have to make a choice of which event you will attend.

You will find other calendars at Peace Corps The National Peace Crops Association,  Peace Corps Worldwide

The Schedule

This is a rough guide to the main events.
E&E RPCVs events are indented and titled in red.

• Wednesday, September 21

35 pm at Peace Crops Headquarters
Panel discussion of the early Peace Corps years. Details are yet to be worked out.

68 pm  Training at NPCA for those who will take part in Thursday’s  NPCA’s Advocacy Day, when RPCVs will lobby members of Congress on behalf of Peace Corps funding.

• Thursday, September  22

All day: NPCA Advocacy Day on Capital Hill

10 amnoon at Peace Corps Headquarters
Panel Discussion on relations with host countries. Speakers have yet to be announced.

• Friday September 23

All Day Locations around the city.
Day of service organized by the NCPA. For details see NPCA.

14 pm  at the Smithsonian Museum of American History.
The Smithsonian National Museum of American History and the Peace Corps will display a sampling of a collection they have developed that represents the historical role of the Peace Corps. This will be informally displayed at the Museum between 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

••• 6 – 9 pm E&E RPCVs at the Ethiopian Embassy
Injeria-and-Wat Buffet Reception sponsored by E&E RPCVs and the Ethiopian Embassy. All PCVs who served in Ethiopia or Eritrea and guests are invited. Plenty of injera and doro wot plus tibs, keke alicha, shero wot and so on catered by the Axum Restaurant. Two drinks are included in the price. The bar will be serving Meta and Harare beer, tej, California red and white wines and soft drinks.

LaDena Robichaud-Schnapper (Dessie, Awassa 63–66) will perform a coffee ceremony. Famed Ethiopian musician Melaku Gelaw and our own Charlie Sutton (66-68 Addis) will play Ethiopian music.

Tickets are required and should be purchased before September 15th. The cost of the evening is $50 for adults, or $25 for kids. You can purchase tickets click on this link:
(We strongly urge you buy your tickets now so that we will have cash to pay deposits.)

710 pm at the National Building Museum
Peace Corps staff and RPCVs are invited to enjoy a special evening with former Peace Corps Directors and  RPCV Members of Congress, and other guests. Cost: $60 including buffet, drinks. For more information click  on

Saturday September 24

••• 8 am – 1 pm  E&E RPCVs at the Crystal City Marriott
Continental breakfast and General Meeting and forum for all Ethiopia and Eritrea RPCVs. A full program of speakers and panels including a live Skype link conversation with the Peace Corps director in Ethiopia, an update on Peace Corps activities by the PC desk officer, a political update on Ethiopia and Eritrea by Shlomo Bachrach, a talk by U.S. Representative (D-Cal) and RPCV John Garamendi (Metu 66–68), and others.

To purchase tickets ($30) for this morning-long meeting and continental breakfast, please click on:
(We strongly urge you buy your tickets now so that we will have cash to pay deposits.)

8 am9:30 am at the Mayflower Hotel
“Mad Men & Women at the Mayflower”
Breakfast sponsored by the Peace Corps Fund at the Mayflower Hotel. A panel will discuss how the Peace Corps was created in 30 days during meetings at the hotel.
Mark Gearan, former Peace Corps Director, will emcee this morning event.
Purchase tickets for breakfast  ($30) at Peace Corps Fund.

••• Afternoon E&E RPCVs training groups
Various Training Group reunions will be holding reunions and meetings. (If your group is having a gathering and is not listed here, please let me know at

• 2 – 5 pm Ethiopia I vets and their guests will gather in the Crystal City Marriott Hotel’s pub for an informal lunch after the morning presentations. Participants will order off the pub’s menu.  And in the immortal words of Sean Fitzgerald after having ordered drinks for all in the pub saying, “When Sean  Fitzgerald drinks, everyone drinks,” he then explained to the bar tender on presenting him the bill, “When Sean Fitzgerald pays, everybody pays.”

If coming to this part of the event please inform Leo Cecchini (62-64 Asmara)   at,

• 3 – 5 pm Happy Hour for Ethie II’s will be a multi-hour event held around the pool at the Crystal City Marriot. The reunion will be, says organizer Gigi Ott Wietecha (Makela, Dessie 63-65) “a time to reconnect, reminisce & share memories of our time in Ethiopia.  As Haskell Ward  (Nazareth 63-65) recently wrote:  ‘John Edward’s passing, reminded me of our mortality’   So this grand  get-together should be a great source of satisfaction for those of us who are still eager and able  to travel.”  Spouses/partners/friends/children all welcome. There will be an open bar. Cost of the party: $25.  Check this link to purchase tickets:

• CJ Smith Castagnaro (Harar, Debre Zeit 64-69) is working on organizing a gather of  Volunteers who served in Harar. Contact CJ for more details at

• Don Schlenger (66-68) is putting together an event for the Utah VII training group. Contact Don at for more details.

Saturday night
There are several dinner/party options. Among them are:

Option 1:  Many training groups and friends are thinking of organizing dinners. The area around the Marriott is loaded with restaurants awaiting business. The Ethie II group, for example,  is considering booking  the Harar Mesob Ethiopian Restaurant near the Marriott to continue our get-together over dinner.  Those interested please  send a message to:

Option 2: The NPCA is sponsoring a black tie dinner at the Reagan Office Building. The cost is $250 for members and $300 for non-members. Chris Mathews is MC.  More details at NPCA.

Option 3: 6 midnight The Peace Corps Fund will hold the Third Goal Bash — a party & dance to live and recorded ethnic music at the Smith Athletic Center  at George Washington University. No black ties required. Raffle. Come before or after other events. To purchase tickets ($33) and for more info go to Peace Corps Fund.


10amnoon at Arlington National Cemetery
RPCVs from all countries will assemble at the Amphitheater at Arlington for a program honoring JFK and Sargent Shriver, as well as fallen PCVs.

Noon:  RPCVs will march behind the flag of their Country of Service  over Memorial Bridge to the National Mall and Lincoln Memorial. (Gather at the Eritrea and Ethiopia flags.)

1pm – 5pm NPCA is planning a  block party, either on the Mall or on the street outside Peace Corps Headquarters. Plans have not yet be finalized.

The Big Weekend marking Peace Corps 50th Anniversary promises to be a memorable  event. So you should register soon not to miss out. See you in Washington in September.

Detailed Instructions for making a reservation at the Marriott online:

  • Go to where you will find the home page for the Crystal City Marriott.
  • On the right side of the page is “Check Rates & Availability” (It should have a – in a small box in front of that text. If there is a – inside the box, click on it to get the +.)
  • Enter the dates, number of rooms and number of guests you would like to reserve.
  • Several lines below is “Special Rates & Awards” with a + inside a box in front of this text. Click on the + to get a – in the box.
  • Find “Group code” in the list below.
  • Enter PECPECA for our group code.
  • Click the red button “Check Availability”
  • On the new page you will see under the “Special Rates” tab “ETHIOPIA ERITREA 50″
  • Click on the circle in front of “109.00 per night” to select it and more options will appear from which to choose.
  • Once you’ve mad e these selections, click on the red button “Continue.”
  • Fill in your personal and billing information.
  • Click on the red button “Continue.”
  • Review your registration information.
  • Click on the red button “Complete Reservation.”
  • In about 30 seconds you will receive a “Confirmation Number.” Write it down.
  • You will also receive an email confirmation of your registration.

Fiftieth Anniversary I

Seven months and counting down to the 50th Anniversary Celebrations in Washington

Lots of work has been done. More is awaiting. And it all adds up to a promise of a great time in Washington

Planning for the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps continues. Big events will be taking place in Washington the weekend of September 22th through 24th. For those wanting to come to Washington to join with RPCVs from all over the country who served in many nations, reservations are still available for rooms at the Crystal City Marriott for our group. This is the Marriott (and, as we said before, be careful because there are many other Marriotts in the Washington area)  that will be the headquarters hotel for Ethiopia&Eritrea RPCVs. For details on how to get reservations see:

Please notify us that you are coming
If you are planning to come in September and want to join in the Ethiopia/Eritrea festivities — and who wouldn’t? — do send an email to C.J. Smith Castagnaro (Harar; Debre Zeit; Addis 65-66) telling her of your plans so that we can make our plans. She has received about 70 R.S.V.P.’s so far. She is acting as registrar for our events. When the time comes she will collect the fees necessary to get the programs going. That probably makes her Registrar/Treasurer.  Her email is: She’s waiting to hear from you so she can put your name on the list to make sure you included in all the interesting (and fun!) events.

Other colleagues, under the direction of E&E RPCV President Marian Beil (Debre Berhan 62-65), are hard at work planning events for the meeting. Nancy Horn (Addis Ababa 66-68), program chair, is working with Shlomo Bachrach (Staff 65 to 67) to plan the grand Saturday Morning Program which will be held at the Marriott. At this program some speakers will bring us up-to-date on Ethiopia and Eritrea. We’ll have other talks and presentations about Peace Corps and our RPCVs. Nancy has looked at the suggestions made in the comments section of the last issue of the HERALD. She and Shlomo are eager to hear more suggestions about what sort of presentations you would like to have that morning. Music, Art, readings? Please send a message with your ideas to Nancy at or post them as a comment on this story. She is eager to hear from you.

Programming for hospitality room presentations
We are looking of a volunteer to help organize some programs for the Hospitality Room. Lots of people would like to give talks, make presentations, show slides, and who knows what else. There will not be time for them all during the Saturday Morning Program, but some of these can be made in the Hospitality room at other times.  If you want to help organize this, please send a message to Marian Beil at:

Help with the dinner
Judy Smith
(Asmara 63-65) is working on organizing a dinner for us at the Ethiopian Embassy on Friday night. She could use some volunteers to help out as the event gets closer and, of course, will need assistance the night of the dinner. Please contact her at

Training Group Reunions
Planning is also proceeding on reunions for individual Training Groups during the 50th Anniversary weekend. For example, Don Schlenger (Waldia 66–68) is interested in getting his group — Group VII Utah 1966-1968 — together that weekend.  Recently he received an email list of members of Group VII from Marian to help him with organizing the reunion. She is happy to share email lists with the contact information we have for RPCVs from the training groups with anyone interested in organizing a Training Group reunion.  Please contact her for those.

Also if anyone is planning a Training Group reunion, please  let us at the HERALD know and we would be delighted to share that information with everyone. Ultimately we will publish a schedule of events and would want to include a list of the Training Group reunions.

Based on the scheduling so far by us, the Peace Corps and the NPCA, we are strongly recommending that all training group reunions be scheduled for Saturday afternoon — September 24th.

Fiftieth Anniversary II

Memories of Eritrea

The U.S. Embassy in Asmara is looking for RPCVs to record some recollections of their time in Eritrea

The HERALD recently heard from Scott Rasmussen, the Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Asmara. He would like to put together a project which would record the recollections of PCVs who served in Eritrea. Says Scott:

Asmara: as we remember it

As you may know, the current relationship between Eritrea and the United States is stressed. Despite this, of course, many everyday Eritreans still like the U.S. So the  purpose behind this project is to show that the relationship between the people of the United States and the people of Eritrea runs long and deep. Many Eritreans I’ve met still speak fondly about their great memories of PCVs. My hope is that by showing PCVs talking about their experiences here we can show that the feeling is mutual.

Eritrean roads: a driving thrill

Scott is not entirely clear about how he would do this project. He says that he thought about “somehow having the RPCVs record a short video, perhaps 3–5 minutes long, of themselves describing their time in Eritrea: what they remember, what they enjoyed, people who were important to them, projects they thought were particularly important, etc.” Perhaps RPCVs could find some old pictures to illustrate their memories and they could be used in the video. Scott would show the videos in Eritrea and even perhaps provide copies to people who would be interested. Think of it as a version of YouTube. If you are interested in the project, contact Scott directly at: and he will take it from there.

Fiftieth Anniversary III

Two Anniversary Events in March

UCLA and the University of Wisconsin will host discussions, music, dance, parties, all as part of the 50th Anniversary celebrations

LOTS OF ANNIVERSARY EVENTS AND PROJECTS are already underway in cities across the U.S. Many of these events are being planned by local RPCV groups, such as the one in Seattle. Everybody wants to celebrate even if they can’t get to Washington. And it seems some folks are not even willing to wait for  September to celebrate. They are partying now.

Two very notable events are taking place in March.

Chris Matthews

On March 2–5, UCLA will be sponsoring a commemoration of Peace Corps’ 50th anniversary. UCLA trained a number of Peace Corps groups including a fair number of groups that went to Ethiopia. The commemoration will include a panel discussion mc-ed by MSNBC host and former PCV Chris Mathews who served in Swaziland from 1968 to 1970. There will be exhibitions, films, and other festivities as well. For more information check out: Or send an email to Kate Kuykendall at

Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams

On March 24 to 26 the African Studies Program at the University of Wisconsin at Madison is hosting an event to honor Wisconsin’s 50-year involvement in Peace Corps.  UW has put together a very impressive three-day program that will bring musicians, artists, story-tellers and thinkers to campus to celebrate and reflect on the legacy of Peace Corps in Africa. Several fascinating panel discussion programs are scheduled. Both former Volunteers from all over the country and a wide spectrum of participants with ties to Africa are scheduled to attend. Events will include panels, discussions, StoryCorps interviews, art exhibits, dance and a keynote speech by current Peace Corps Director Aaron Williams (Dominican Republic 1967–70). Check out the ambitious schedule on their web site.  This looks like a winning event. You can find that information and register to attend at: