Category Archives: Friends

Friends

A Towering Task in Ethiopia

by Alana DeJoseph  (Mali 1992–94)

I am in the midst of directing a documentary entitled A Towering Task* that will tell the important story of the Peace Corps, both as a peacemaking agency with a rich and complicated history, and as a container for the intimate personal stories of individuals impacted worldwide. The film will use these different angles to evaluate how the Peace Corps is relevant in today’s context, and where it might go moving forward. Our story is that of an agency founded on grand ideals such as world peace and friendship, and the struggles that it faces as those ideals fade not just for the Peace Corps, but also for our society as a whole. The film will chronicle the agency through the captivating stories of those who lived it — then open a dialogue with historians, journalists and international experts about how to translate the past into a map for future success.

President Jimmy Carter with Director, Alana DeJoseph

President Jimmy Carter talking with Director, Alana DeJoseph

It is through powerful voices that we will tell the story of the Peace Corps and the parallel challenges that face the entire global community. We will combine a variety of interviews with host country nationals, Peace Corps Volunteers and staff, and scholars and journalists who put the story of the Peace Corps into context. Voices from all over the world will share not only the work and impact, but also the complications and mistakes of the Peace Corps. This diverse set of stories will come together to explore the lessons learned by half a century of peace building and diplomacy.

Alana DeJoseph, Director, A Towering Task

Alana DeJoseph, Director, A Towering Task

Producing a documentary about the Peace Corps is in itself a towering task. 55 years of history and 220,000 returned Volunteers could fill a library with stories and insights. So it is challenging, but crucial to decide which stories and which angles to pick to provide the big-picture understanding of this complex topic. With 141 countries the Peace Corps has been in, there could easily be 141 documentaries each telling the history of the agency in that particular part of the world.

Why have we decided to travel to Ethiopia and feature it as one of the four countries to explain the Peace Corps and its history to America?

Since we first embarked on our journey to tell this important and urgent story, Ethiopia has continuously popped up, beckoning us to follow the threads of its enticing tale.

Haskell Ward, Ethiopia II, 1963-65, Nazareth

Talking with Haskell Ward, Ethiopia II, 1963-65, Nazareth

When RPCV Haskell Ward told us in our interview with him about what it was like to be an African American Volunteer serving in this mesmerizing country while back home civil rights protests were gripping the nation, when RPCV Chic Dambach told us about the peace negotiations between Ethiopia and Eritrea aided by RPCVs, when Ethiopian activist Berhane Daba told us of her

Berhane Daba, recipient of the 2015 Harris Woffard Global Citizen Award.

Talking with Berhane Daba, recipient of the 2015 Harris Woffard Global Citizen Award.

efforts to help handicapped women in Ethiopia and “her” Peace Corps Volunteer Mary Myers-Bruckenstein explained what it was like to get a new family far from home, and when John Coyne, the Peace Corps’ unofficial historian, tied together those threads that weave this tapestry of a bold tale, it became clear that Ethiopia demanded attention. We are thrilled to be planning a production trip to Ethiopia this year.

The puzzle piece that is the RPCV ripple effect is one of the most overlooked parts of the Peace Corps – and how better to illustrate that than through the voices of these thoughtful “Ethies.”

And through the lens of Ethiopia, the Dominican Republic, the Ukraine, the Philippines, and our own country, the American public will learn of the immeasurable ripple effect that is the Peace Corps.

Our Peace Corps community has never effectively come together as a constituency of 220,000 strong. However, now, for the first time we will tell this big-picture story to American and to the world, and we will bring back the Peace Corps into the national discourse.

The crowd funding endeavor was highly success and has ended, but further donations are welcome. Please visit web page and add your donation to our story.

* A Towering Task: Warren Wiggins’ Architecture for the Peace Corps  was a memo drafted by Warren Wigeons and Bill Josephson that became the  blueprint for the Peace Corps.

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.

*

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

*

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.


Friends

A daughter is looking for her parents’ friends

A letter from Lea Setegn

My mother was Diane Campbell. She was a PCV in Ethiopia from summer 1972 until early 1973 [probably Ethiopia XVIII]. My father is Eshetu Setegn, an Ethiopia native from Debre Berhan who worked for the Peace Corps while he was a student at Haile Selassie I University. He worked for the Peace Corps during the summer. I think he started in 1969; I know that his last summer was 1973.

My Dad was my Mom’s Peace Corps group leader in the summer of 1972. They were in a small village near the rain forest, but I don’t know which one. My Mom was sent to the village to learn the language and culture before being sent to her Volunteer job of teaching English in a village school. I never did get the name of the village where she was sent.

campbell-spouse

Diane Campbell and Eshetu Setegn in early 2000s

My parents married in November 1972 at City Hall in Addis Ababa. My Mom left the Peace Corps early because she was pregnant with me and came home to Rochester, NY. My Dad finished college and worked for the Peace Corps in the summer of 1973. He joined me and my Mom in October 1973.

My Mom passed away in May 2008. My parents were married over 35 years, and Dad misses her every day. I would love to find people who knew them both and help my Dad connect with them.

I do remember meeting one of my parents’ friends from the Peace Corps. Sadly, I don’t remember anything but her first name, which is Chris. She had twin boys who were toddlers in 1980 when I met them.

I’ve attached a photo of my parents from the early 2000s. They both look pretty similar to how they looked in the early 1970s.

Lea Setegn

Do you remember Diane and Eshetu?
Lea and her father would be so pleased to hear from you.

Send a note with your contact information to

eerpcv@gmail.com

and E&E RPCVs will forward it to Lea.


A PC Trainer would like to reconnect with his Trainees

Hi there! This is Tewodros Sahlemariam. I was a trainer of those volunteers at PST ’98. I don’t know what I can do, but if there is anything that I can do for this group, I would be very glad. We had a great training time at Ambo then. I remember everyone of the trainees. Anyways, if here is anything I could help, let me know.                   —Teddy

To reconnect with Teddy send a note with your contact information to

eerpcv@gmail.com

and E&E RPCVs will forward it to Teddy.



.

Friends

Phil Lilienthal receives Sargent Shriver Award

Phil Lilienthal with campers

Phil Lilienthal with campers

Ethiopia and Eritrea Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and The Herald are pleased to celebrate one of our own as the recipient of the 2013 Sargent Shriver Award for Distinguished Humanitarian Service: Phil Lilienthal (Addis Ababa, 1965–67). Lilienthal is the founder and president of Global Camps Africa , an organization that strives to change the lives of South Africa’s vulnerable children and youth by providing HIV/AIDS prevention education and training through high-impact residential and day camp experiences.

The award, named to recognize the first Peace Corps Director, Sargent Shriver, is bestowed annually by the National Peace Corps Association to a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who continues to make a substantial and distinguished contribution to society. Lilienthal joins a host of distinguished humanitarians, including the late Senator Paul Tsongas (Ghion 62–64), to receive the Shriver Award. Tsongas was among five recipients in 1986, the inaugural year of the award. The award was presented to Lilienthal at the NPCA’s Peace Corps Connect—Boston held June 28–29, 2013.

As a native of New York, Lilienthal spent much of his youth at his father’s camp, Camp Winnebago, in Fayette, Maine, both as a camper and later as a counselor. Upon graduation from law school at the University of Virginia, he and his wife, Lynn, were selected to join the Peace Corps in Ethiopia where he worked in Addis Ababa with various ministries within the Ethiopian government on legal projects. Seble Desta, granddaughter of Emperor Haile Selassie, expressed interest in setting up a residential camp for Ethiopian youth. Not surprisingly, Lilienthal’s experience with camps caught the attention of John Coyne (Addis Ababa 62–64; PC/Ethiopia staff 65–67) who was serving as the Associate Director of Peace Corps in Ethiopia. Coyne mentioned Seble’s interest to Lilienthal and asked him if he was interested in taking on the project. In the two years that Lilienthal oversaw the project, he masterminded the formation and operation of the camp, which included arranging the use of land from a member of the royal family, locating equipment and supplies, acquiring arts and craft supplies, and arranging for medical assistance. A significant achievement was melding together youth from different tribal and ethnic backgrounds into groups that were cohesive and worked well together. In the two years that Lilienthal supervised Camp Langano, there were four two-week long camps serving 285 youth. Camp Langano remained in existence until 1974 when the Derg came into power and the Emperor was overthrown.

Following a successful career as a lawyer and business owner, and having taken over the ownership of the family-owned Camp Winnebago, Phil felt drawn back to those camp experiences he had fostered as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia and his vision to help children in Africa in a way that he knew best. However, unlike Camp Langano, which was fashioned heavily on an American model, he wanted these camps to be truly African. To do this, he had to find the right local partner, one that shared his vision and one that would be self-sufficient and sustainable. After visiting a number of African countries, he found a most suitable match in South Africa, and in 2004 Camp Sizanani, appropriately named after a Zulu word “helping one another,” was born.

Camp Sizanani is located in a rural area north of Johannesburg. It is a camp like no other, catering to the needs of children from the toughest parts of South Africa. Some have experienced unspeakable horrors. Many of the children have tested positive for HIV, a disease that is prevalent in South Africa. The eight-day camp sets about to empower the children and provide them with skills to make a difference in their lives and the lives of those whom they encounter. The discussion of sexuality and HIV are taboo subjects in South Africa, as in many parts of the world. The camps provide the campers with knowledge and the skills to confront the disease in order to better manage their own lives once they leave the camps.

Importantly, the experience does not stop there. The children are encouraged to join one of the five clubs established by Global Camps Africa that meet twice a month. In these clubs — in effect day camps — the children have a safe place to gather, take enhanced life skills courses, and continue the dialogue with their camp counselors.

The results have been remarkable: more than 5,200 children have attended the camps since Camp Sizanani opened in 2004. Participants of the camps have been able to stay out of trouble in greater numbers, have delayed or had fewer pregnancies, avoided joining gangs, and learned they have choices and opportunities. Many of the participants later return to the camps as counselors. Nine South African counselors are in the U.S. this summer as camp counselors in U.S. camps, widening their experiences and enhancing their skills.

Lilienthal has fond memories of his experiences in Ethiopia and has travelled back twice since he was a Volunteer. He is encouraged by recent Peace Corps Volunteer experiences with Camp GLOW (See Paul Voigt’s article in The Herald about Camp Glow.) Lilienthal was also a major contributor to the recent Peace Corps manual: Youth Camps Manual: GLOW and other Leadership Camps published in January 2013.

In reflecting on the Sargent Shriver award, Lilienthal states: “This project would not have come into being without my Peace Corps Ethiopia experience. I believe that the greatest praise that I can receive is when my family recognizes the work that I have accomplished and acknowledges that achievement. Receiving this award from an organization that has been such an integral part of my life is as significant to me as receiving recognition from my family and closest friends.”

Congratulations, Phil, on an honor well deserved from all of us who served with you in Ethiopia in time or in spirit.

Friends

A Peacemaker Who Inspired Goodwill in All

A Tribute to Fisseha Haileselassie 1957–2012

by Karen D. Speicher (Wukro, Bonga 1973-1975)

As a teenager, he seemed wise beyond his years  .  .  .

In 1973, when my Ethiopian colleagues in Wukro, Tigray, were filled with paranoia and begging me to help them get visas to the United States, Fisseha maintained a calm innocence and a quiet equanimity. Amidst the charged atmosphere of hushed denunciations of His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie, that confused me as a newly arrived, 23 year-old Peace Corps Volunteer, Fisseha became a dear counselor and friend. Against the backdrop of hatred toward the U. S. for supporting the Emperor, who was responsible for a political famine creating starvation in the north, Fisseha became my cultural liaison and interpreter, protecting this firenje from the taunts of out-of-towners and advising me on local customs and taboos. Following the hasty departure of my Peace Corps site-mate — leaving me as the only foreigner in the area — I don’t think I would have survived my first year in Ethiopia without Fisseha.

One of at least ten children, Fisseha told me that his name meant “happy”: “My mother was happy that I was born,” although the exact year of his birth was uncertain. He had come from a remote village to attend school in Wukro and needed a place to stay. I was the local English teacher with an extra room in my house. So Fisseha moved in, and along with Ukwar, who came daily to cook and clean, our little compound became a place of refuge during that storied year of student strikes and political intrigue.

Fisseha & Karen

Fisseha & Karen

The local people were always very kind to me. However, there was an occasion when older university students returned to Wukro for a visit. Upon seeing me riding a bicycle on the main road, they began throwing rocks, calling out, “Bloodsucker! Bloodsucker!” When I arrived home in tears, Fisseha sought out these offenders, telling them how I had helped the villagers with medical needs beyond my school duties, and he brought them around for tea. Typically, Fisseha was a peacemaker who inspired goodwill in all.

During the summer before the coup of September 1974, I was relocated to Bonga, Kaffa. I left Ethiopia the following year, and Fisseha and I subsequently lost contact. Yet my heart remained with the people of Tigray, whose suffering I had witnessed firsthand. I especially wondered about Fisseha: Was he dead or alive? Was he imprisoned by the Dergue? What kind of life was he living? Did he join his sister, Tadelech, in Addis? Sometime in the late 1980s, when I was a Montessori teacher in Arlington, Virginia, I received an out-of-the-blue phone call from someone in California stating that he was Fisseha’s brother: If Fisseha came to the U.S.A., would I meet him? “Of course!” But aside from that isolated phone call, I had no evidence of Fisseha’s existence for 37 years.

On the recent RETURN TO ETHIOPIA trip, my innermost wish was to have a reunion with Fisseha. I took a few old photos along, intending to show them to some of the folks in Wukro who might remember him.

It is uncanny how fate intervenes to bring closure to our innermost questions. On the evening of our arrival in Addis Ababa, while we were being entertained at the lovely Hiber restaurant, a young news reporter asked if he could interview me. It turned out that he was from Wukro. I showed Alem my photos of Fisseha, and he confidently asserted, “Don’t worry! I will find him for you!”

On our second day in Addis, while we were attending a reception at the presidential palace, Alem approached me with some grim news: “I called my uncle who lives in Wukro. Ato Fisseha died two weeks ago  .  .  .” This was stunning! After 37 years, how strange it was to miss someone by two weeks?! “Are you sure it was the same person?” I protested. Alem assured me that he had described Fisseha’s unique features and hair, and he gave me the phone number of his Uncle Berhane so that I could arrange to meet him personally in Wukro where I was scheduled to be on Saturday.

On Saturday, my nephew Jared,who had travelled to Ethiopia with me, and I flew to Makele. We were greeted at the airport by Kidane, a driver, who would take us to Wukro where we had arranged to meet current PCVs Kevin and Rashad.

I was mindblown upon arriving in Makele, but words cannot begin to describe how I felt upon entering Wukro. Growth and development have brought such enormous changes to the area that I barely recognized the village where I once lived. In fact, an entirely new town has been annexed to that old village. (Credit for this progress is no doubt due to Tigray-born Meles Zenawe, Prime Minister of Ethiopia from 1991 until his death this past summer.) I sought out the ancient, fixed features: “Gut Bahari” — the river where I used to go swimming until Fisseha advised me not to, reporting that the townspeople had been gossiping about my impropriety; “Cherkos” — the ancient rock-hewn church carved in the shape of a cross containing religious cave art. Seeing those landmarks gave me some comfort, but the juxtaposition of the old village with the new town was unsettling: How had I managed to live in that simple, remote place so many years ago, before computers, cell phones, etc? Yet a part of me longed to see that very spot again just as it was in my memory.

We met Kevin and Rashad as planned and were chatting gaily at a sidewalk table when I turned my head and screamed in surprise and delight: “G’relassie!” Gebreselassie was another student whom I remembered fondly, and I happened to have with me an old photo of him playing his harmonica. He had heard that “Miss Karen” might be coming to town, so he showed up at the hotel with his son, Tesfay. Gebreselassie confirmed the news I had received about Fisseha’s death, which added poignancy to our joyful reunion, even more so when, during lunch, Gebreselassie conveyed the news of the passing of another former student who had been killed fighting the Dergue.

Gebreselassie currently works as the registrar in the same school where I used to teach, so he led us there and even pointed out my former classroom. In fact, he was able to guide us to the houses where I used to live, one on top of a hill near the church that I vacated due to termites, the other in the village where I rented from Wzro. Hewot, a native of Eritrea who has since returned there.

We made our way back to the Luam where two Berhanes awaited us: Berhane M., Alem’s uncle, and khaki-clad Berhane Woldeyesus, a friend of Gebreselassie who had also been a close friend of Fisseha. Berhane W. explained in Tigrinya that Fisseha had died of cancer, placing his hand on his head to indicate a brain tumor. His passing had actually occurred three months ago. Fisseha’s widow, Tsion, was an Amhara woman, and they had a son, Miserak, who had graduated from Gondar University and a daughter, Muluberhan, 20, who was studying to be a pharmacist in Addis Ababa.

Jared and I traveled north to Axum through the dramatic mountainous scenery of Tigray. There we met up with sixteen others for a four-day historic tour which included Axum, Gondar, Bahar Dar, Lake Tana, and the Blue Nile Falls. Throughout, I was quietly grieving for Fisseha and making phone calls to his daughter to arrange our meeting in Addis.

Tsion and Muluberhan

Tsion and Muluberhan

Tsion, Muluberhan and I met at a hotel in Addis Ababa. We embraced. We cried. We sat. We sipped our sodas. We shared a few photos. I gave Muluberhan two pictures of her father as a teen, and Tsion showed me her husband’s ID photo as a man of 50+. I did not recognize that short-haired, sober-faced fellow in the business suit.

Fisseha must have been proud of his lovely family. The Tigray native who did not want to visit Bonga ended up marrying an Amhara and settling down in Mizan Tefari, a town even further southwest than Bonga! There he worked with the Department of Public Works and raised his children.

When we parted, we agreed to meet again in the afternoon when Muluberhan would bring more photos to share. She arrived with a friend and we three ladies went to the Habesha restaurant to share a vegetarian beyanetu meal. Muluberhan gave me a few more photos of her father. One which I particularly like shows him in his thirties, smiling, a happy family man. Was he truly happy? Muluberhan indicated that his life had not been easy, but her lack of fluency in English and my lack of fluency in Amharic limited the sharing of details. Leaving the restaurant after dark, we shared a taxi part way back to my hotel. Then we bid each other farewell on the eve of my departure from Ethiopia.

Fisseha Haileselassie has always been a vivid memory of my Peace Corps experience. To return to Ethiopia and find him gone punctuated the finality and the finite context of my stay there. Our lives had touched during a particular intersection of time and space at a unique point in Ethiopia’s history. I shall always feel grateful for having known that kind and gentle young man, and I am grateful for the opportunity to meet his daughter, Muluberhan, whose name means “full of light” and who represents the bright future of Ethiopia.

Rest in peace, Fisseha!

Friends

Ethiopian Film Producer Discusses Peace Corps in Ethiopia and Truman’s Point Four Program

I would like to express my great appreciation to Mel Tewahade for granting me the following interview— Janet Lee, editor.

The Herald: Briefly describe your journey from Ethiopia to the U.S. How did you ultimately end up in Colorado?

Mel Tewahade (right) talks with Peace Corps Africa Regional Director Dick Day in front of the Jubilee Palace.

Mel Tewahade (right) talks with Peace Corps Africa Regional Director Dick Day in front of the Jubilee Palace.

Mel Tewahade: My journey started in December 1977 from Massaw, Eritrea, where civil war took place between Ethiopian forces and Eritrean fighters. I walked to Port Sudan [314 miles] where I was a refugee for four months. I ultimately found a job as a sailor on a Greek ship and made it to Europe. I lived in Germany for two and half years and moved to Canada. I married and lived in Canada for fourteen years before moving to Colorado in 1993. I am founder and CEO of Infinity Wealth Management, Inc.

The Herald: As a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia, I recall an agricultural extension agent, a graduate of Alemaya University (the current Haramaya University) conducting training and research at my site. I knew there was some type of connection to Oklahoma State University. What was the relationship between the universities and what motivated you to produce the documentary film “Point Four?”

Mel Tewahade: I was motivated to produce the “Point Four” movie because I grew up in Harer where my father was the Regional Governor from 1962 to 1969. I traveled to Alemaya (renamed Harmaya) with my father and the university left a lasting impression on me.

President Harry Truman appointed Dr. Henry G. Bennett to be the Assistant Secretary of State in charge of the Point Four Program (named after the fourth point in Truman’s inaugural address). In 1952, an agreement was put in place between the Ethiopian government and Point Four (predecessor to USAID). Point Four in turn contracted with Oklahoma State University (then Oklahoma A&M) to build and run the agricultural school at Alemaya. Emperor Haile Sellasie provided funds; the school was designed by Oklahoman engineers. Italian contractors and Ethiopian laborers worked together to open the school in 1956. OSU ran Alemaya until 1968 and then handed over the operations of the school to Ethiopians.

The Herald: You recently produced a video about the history of Peace Corps in Ethiopia. Did you have an early connection with Peace Corps Volunteers in your youth? What influence do you feel the early Volunteers had on the people of Ethiopia and what influence did Ethiopia have on those same Volunteers?

Mel Tewahade: Yes, I had a connection to Peace Corps in my youth. My eighth grade English teacher was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Addis at Menelik High School. I was always impressed with how nice most of the Peace Corps teachers were and not threatening like our Ethiopian teachers. They always had kind words for us even though we sometimes behaved badly. The Volunteers were tactful and showed us that we can solve problems without losing our temper.

Peace Corps Volunteers also loved Ethiopia for its people. Ethiopians left a lasting impression on the Peace Corps Volunteers. They witnessed that Ethiopians are close to one another and have strong love for their families. Ethiopian children are very much loved by Peace Corps Volunteers. We Ethiopians are grateful to all the Peace Corps Volunteers who helped countless Ethiopians in time of need. When we fled our country from communist persecution, many Returned Peace Corps Volunteers sponsored, lobbied, opened their doors and helped us to integrate into American society. We will never forget that.

The Herald: As you accompanied the group of Returned Peace Corps Volunteers on their “Return to Ethiopia”/5oth anniversary celebration of Peace Corps in Ethiopia this past September, what surprised you most about this journey? What would you hope that these Volunteers take back home?

Mel Tewahade: I was surprised to witness the love Peace Corps Volunteers have for Ethiopia and its people. They truly cherish the time they spent teaching Ethiopian children. I was also surprised to witness the feelings that Peace Corps Volunteers had for their former students and how they worked hard to locate and meet them.

I was astonished to know how many Peace Corps Volunteers are in some kind of projects in Ethiopia. Some send books, help run orphanages, build libraries, and send medicine to Ethiopia. What I want the Peace Corps Volunteers to take back home is the knowledge that their work was not in vain and to let them know that they have transformed the lives of countless Ethiopians.

The Herald: The Third Goal of the Peace Corps encourages RPCVs to help Americans understand the people and cultures of other countries. Do you have specific suggestions to these travelers on how they may fulfill this Third Goal in respect to Ethiopia?

Mel Tewahade: As most RPCVs know, Ethiopia is an ancient country with ancient customs and practices. Some of these customs are good, like love of country and family. Others are not so good. For those who are not happy with the level of progress in Ethiopia, just remember that the country went through a very difficult time during the communist occupation. The country is just starting to recover from it. If Ethiopia keeps up with this growth rate, it will become a pleasant place to live and work.

Please help the current generation of Ethiopians learn more English so they may be able to succeed in business. English as language was literally destroyed in Ethiopia during the Russian time. Any help in that regard will be a great contribution, making English the language of commerce in Ethiopia.

The Herald: Peace Corps Ethiopia was reinstated a few years ago after many years of non-service. Any advice to these new Volunteers?

Mel Tewahade: I am happy that Peace Corps is reinstated in Ethiopia. I would like to see the number of Volunteers grow to the 1962 level.

During the 50th reunion, the new Volunteers came to Addis to watch my movie, attend a panel discussion on Education in Ethiopia, and also to enjoy the evening ceremony at the American Ambassador’s residence. They are a bunch of great young people and are having great success in Ethiopia. I also learned from them that they stayed with Ethiopian host families in the villages during their training. That was unthinkable for us, even though I am Ethiopian.

The advice I have for the current Volunteers is to keep on doing what they are doing. You are the best and you keep changing lives. Stay with it, even when it looks that the problem is insurmountable.

The Herald: What new projects do you have on the horizon? Are there any roles that RPCV Ethiopia can play in these projects?

Mel Tewahade: People in Ethiopia went through hell for a long time. The communists traumatized the population in its entirety. The people need to build their confidence and feel good about themselves. Peace Corps Volunteers can go back to Ethiopia to participate in their fields of specialization.

I will be going back to Ethiopia to look at farming, tourism and the insurance business. Please feel free to contact me if you need have ideas to share.

Thank you

Friends

Doro Wat with a side of mash?

Teff may be the Ethiopian staple food, but potatoes offer tremendous nutritional  advantages. An RPCV tells how American expertise and technology are helping Ethiopia’s potato farmers raise better spuds

by Charlie Higgins (Haik 69–71)

Higgins in 1969 Peace Corps facebook

When my wife, Judy, and I were Volunteers in Haik in 1969, potato yields were less than 50 hundred-weight-per-acre [cwt/acre]. In the 40 years since, the population of Ethiopia has grown from 20 million to 80 million, but sadly the potato yields per acre are the same. Small farmers with only three or four acres in the high mountains have only potatoes to feed their children after the grain is used up and before the next harvest comes in. But because Ethiopian farmers use ground storage — or even store a few potatoes under the bed — upwards of a half of their crop can be lost to insect damage. This is a disaster in a country where forty percent of the children do not receive enough calories. Because potatoes produce more food per square yard than any other crop that can be grown at altitudes up to 12,000 feet, increasing potato production could alleviate some of the hunger and malnutrition problems in Ethiopia. This has already been done in China and India. The green revolution has come to Ethiopia for grain crops but not for potatoes.

Increasing potato production
Four years ago, while I was on a USAID Farmer to Farmer visit to Ethiopia, I saw an empty potato tissue lab used for the propagation of seed potatoes that had been built with USAID funds — your tax dollars. Construction was incomplete and they did not have clean clones to start production.

Bechard, right, sharing coffee with farmer and Ministry of Agriculture officials in Asfew

Over the past four years, I have seen improvement come to Ethiopia little by little thanks to the hard work of a team of people from the University of Wisconsin, Heartland Farms, Walther Farms of Michigan, Michigan State University and North Dakota State University along with Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture Potato Researchers. They all jumped at the opportunity to help Ethiopia potato farmers. We were able to help get clean clones for the lab, and Ermias Abate, the tissue lab manager, received training in the U.S. with Dr. Amy Chirkowski at the University of Wisconsin — who also made a trip to Ethiopia in March to provide advance training to Ermias. The University of Wisconsin and Michigan State University have provided Ermias with germ plasm of late blight tolerant clones that can be tested and crossed with Ethiopian high yield varieties of potatos. Dr. Gary Secor and the disease and tissue labs at North Dakota State University taught Ermias how to clean diseases from field tubers to produce clean clones. Drs. Chirkowski, Russell Groves, Felix Navarro, Jiuan Palta and many others at the University of Wisconsin provided critical training in lab management and screen house production. Now the lab is producing, and the screen house is full of clean seed production, and the Ethiopian potato research team now has email support from the best minds in the U.S.

Potato farming in Gojam: basic cultivation, superior varieties, great yields

AND SO, WITH GREAT PLEASURE, last November I watched an Ethiopian farmer harvest a crop of a new high-yield variety of potatoes with a team of oxen. These new varieties were selected by the Ministry of Agriculture Potato Researchers from true seeds from the International Potato Center (known by its Spanish acronym, CIP) in Peru and developed for sustainable farming in developing countries. The new potato varieties made by Ethiopian researchers CIP true seeds  can yield 300 cwt/acre compared to less than 50 cwt/acre from the local varieties.

Solving the storage problem
As I mentioned earlier many farmers lose as much as half of their crop each year during ground storage. To reduce this loss, on-farm potato storage is being designed and built with assistance from this project as well.  The storage can be built by the farmers with locally available materials.

Ethiopia has a wealth of sunshine. There are nine or ten months of sun and then it rains about 40 to 50 inches in two or three months during the rainy season.  Many farmers are replacing their thatch roofs with tin, and the tin roofs with some black cloth and clear plastic can become excellent potato and other vegetable dehydrators — a system that Steve Schewe (Gambella, Addis 69-71) helped design. The U.S. team is supporting the on-farm development of these solar dehydrators, and is encouraging Ethiopian nutritionists to develop recipes with dehydrated potatoes that can be made into nutritious soups by adding boiling water. The dehydrated potatoes can be made from damaged potatoes, and be  can be stored for years. If the rainy season fails to arrive, dehydrated potatoes could add to the food security for these small farm families.

Next on the to-do list
The next step will require the development of a micro-loan program so farmers in Ethiopia can contract for clean seed potatoes, fertilizer and pesticides.  The micro-loans would be repaid with cash, dehydrated potatoes or potatoes for the local school breakfast program.

Do it for the kids: potatoes give children a head-start

The ultimate purpose
In remote mountain villages children of migrant workers are left with relatives for months at a time while the parents search for work. The director of one school told us that some of her students, children of migrant workers,  get only one meal per day and only attended school two to three days per week. Jason Walther and Nancy Poynter of Walther Farms are funding a school breakfast program to help these children more directly.

In the U.S. test scores increase significantly if children have breakfast available at school. With the aid of Fred Bechard (Dessie 69-71), now a retired superintendent of schools in Maine, and other RPCVs of the XII group (1969 to 1971) a pilot school breakfast program will be tried in a small school in Gumet near Secala in Gojam. The local farmers have volunteered to support the school breakfast program with donated potatoes to pay back micro loans for clean seed potatoes of improved varieties.  Richard Pavelski of Heartland Farms, who has helped fund of the Ethiopian projects, advised in setting up the tax deductible Ethiopian Sustainable Food Project at the Community Foundation of Central Wisconsin to manage the funds.

Charlie Higgins, Ph.D., is Director of Research & Development for Heartland Farm in Hancock, Wisconsin, and Walther Farm in Three Rivers, Michigan. The two farms total nearly 27,000 acres.