Category Archives: PCVs in Ethiopia

PCVs in Ethiopia

Keeping Girls in School

Family Planning, Sex Education, and RUMPS (Re-Usable Menstrual Pads)

by Jessica Dubow (Lode Jimata, Oromia, 2015-2017)

Ethiopia is ranked 126 of 127 countries on the UNESCO Education for All Development Index. For every 100 boys enrolled in secondary school, there are only 77 girls enrolled. In addition to low enrollment the number of female dropouts is high in Ethiopia, especially in the transition from primary to secondary education. Eighty percent of Ethiopian girls are enrolled in primary school, but only 30% of girls are enrolled in secondary education.

Educating girls has a positive impact on those girls, their families, and their communities. Girls who complete primary and secondary education are likely to earn higher incomes, have fewer unwanted pregnancies, and break the cycle of poverty. Educated girls marry later than girls who do not attend school.

In Ethiopia if the wife marries before age 15, the average age difference between spouses is 10.1 years compared to a difference of 8.6 years if the wife marries after age 20. When girls are married at a young age, the power in the relationship usually belongs to their older husbands, and girls do not take part in making family decisions like when and how many children to have. Married girls are significantly more likely than their unmarried peers to be sexually active (73% versus 0.3%) and because of tremendous social pressure for them to prove their fertility, these young brides become young mothers. Sixty-eight percent of married girls in Ethiopia have unprotected sex compared to only 1% of unmarried sexually active girls. For this reason, young married girls are at high risk for HIV infection and for pregnancy.

Pregnancy is dangerous for adolescent girls. Risk of pregnancy-related death is twice as high for girls aged 15-19 and five times as high for girls aged 10-14 compared to women in their 20s. It is estimated that if all these high-risk pregnancies were avoided through the use of family planning, one quarter to one third of maternal deaths could be prevented. The World Health Organization has found that “Family planning saves lives of women and children and improves the quality of life for all. It is one of the best investments that can be made to help ensure the health and well-being of women, children, and communities.” A girl’s educational status is a significant predictor for her use of family planning because education affects the distribution of power in a household. Educated girls are more aware of their family planning options, and they are more likely to feel empowered to demand that their partner use a condom or to discuss family planning with their partner. In turn, girls who use family planning are more likely to stay in school longer, even if they get married early.

When educated girls eventually do have children, they provide better health care and education to their children who then grow up to be healthier and to earn higher incomes, eventually breaking the cycle of poverty. A single year of primary school has been shown to increase a woman’s wages later in life by 10%–20%, while each year of secondary school increases a woman’s wages later in life by 15%–25%. On average, girls reinvest 90% of their income in their families (on average, men reinvest 30%-40% into their families) which means their children are more likely to go to school and subsequently be immunized. If every Ethiopian girl finished school it would add almost $4 billion to the economy.

Introducing sex education to girls at my secondary school
Given the overwhelming evidence that education and family planning can have a positive impact for economic development, public health, and gender equality on individual, family, and even national levels, I wanted to have a frank conversation with girls at my local secondary school about puberty, menstruation, pregnancy, and family planning. Because there are many cultural taboos that make it uncomfortable for Ethiopians — especially young women — to talk and ask questions about sexual and reproductive health, I decided to plan a girls-only workshop to reduce their embarrassment.

Sexual Education 101

Sexual Education 101

I spent many tea breaks talking to teachers in the staff lounge, and they identified menstruation, early marriage, and teenage pregnancy as barriers to girls’ education in my community. Without hesitation these fantastic teachers volunteered their time to co-teach two 2.5 hour workshops for 9th and 10th grade girls — one in the morning for students who are in class during the afternoon shift, and one in the afternoon for students who are in class during the morning shift. By the afternoon workshop, my counterparts were teaching with little support necessary from me; I am confident they will continue to be mentors and trusted adults the girls can consult on these topics. Between the two workshops, 124 girls were in attendance.

We started with a low-risk discussion of the many physical, emotional, and social changes that girls experience during puberty. In their brainstorm, the girls identified menstruation as one of these changes, which provided a transition to identifying internal and external female reproductive anatomy that I had drawn on posters.

The girls were visibly embarrassed when I called them forward to label sexual organs, but I wanted to engage them before speaking on each organ’s purpose. They blushed and giggled through the lecture, but my counterparts handled everything with incredible class and without any sign of awkwardness. Using the posters as aids, I demonstrated the cycle of an egg as it moves from the ovaries through the fallopian tubes where it can either be fertilized by sperm and result in pregnancy or it can be expelled through the vagina along with the lining of the uterus as menstruation. I gave the girls as many facts as I could, especially those facts that corrected their misconceptions. I showed them how the urethra and the vagina are separate for a girl, so urinating after intercourse cannot wash out sperm and cannot prevent pregnancy. I showed them how incredibly small the cervix is and explained that only sperm can pass through it into the uterus — if a condom comes off during intercourse it cannot go anywhere but into the relatively shallow vagina — important because many students fear that a condom can get lost deep inside a woman’s body, discouraging condom use. I explained what a hymen is and that it can be stretched or broken through physical exercise long before a girl’s sexual initiation, so not bleeding on her wedding night is not necessarily a sign that she is not a virgin.

I don’t think anyone has ever given these girls such comprehensive information, information that can affect their behavior and help them make better, educated decisions.

To check the girls’ comprehension, I asked them to use their bodies to form the shape of internal reproductive anatomy. One girl represented an egg and she had to travel from the ovary (several girls standing in a circle holding hands) through the fallopian tube (two girls with their arms stretched out) towards the uterus. Another girl represented sperm and in one scenario she traveled up through the vagina, cervix, and uterus to hug the “egg.” In another scenario the “sperm” did not enter the “vagina” and so the “egg” traveled out of the body. The girls directed each other through the process.

I brought examples of each method of family planning available at my local health center for show-and-tell and passed them around. Through health posts and a Health Extension Worker program, Ethiopia has improved access to family planning services in even the most rural parts of the country. All family planning is free of charge, but there are many cultural barriers to utilization. Even though the condoms were wrapped, the girls tossed them to each other like hot potatoes, they were so embarrassed to touch them. It made me realize this should be the first of many family planning workshops; if a girl won’t touch a wrapped condom, it seems unlikely she’ll push her partner to use an unwrapped one. The girls were more comfortable with the birth control pill and injection, but looked at me with shock and horror when I explained implants and IUDs.

After explaining the effectiveness, risks, and correct use of each method of family planning, I wanted to use the remaining time to answer questions. I offered to continue the workshop for any interested girls two days later. It was three days before Easter, a major holiday, so I was pleased that between the morning and afternoon shifts 54 girls returned for Part II of the “Women’s Health Workshop.” We began with an interactive review in which one side of the room represented “True” and one side of the room represented “False.” My counterpart read a statement and the girls had to stand relative to their beliefs and then use prior knowledge to explain their position. I was impressed with how much they remembered, and the game allowed me to informally make clarifications or answer their questions.

Making re-usable menstrual pads
Many rural girls miss school during their menstruation because they cannot afford to buy store-bought pads on a regular basis. Instead they use unhygienic alternatives (like dirty rags) that result in embarrassing leaks on their school uniforms. When girls miss school for up to a week every month, they fall behind in classes, underperform on tests, and are more likely to drop out.

Cutting fabric for a casing for a RUMP

Cutting fabric for a casing for a RUMP

Re-Usable Menstrual Pads (RUMPs) are a popular solution among Peace Corps Volunteers in Ethiopia. RUMPs reduce waste because they are re-usable, can be made from materials at home, will last for a year or more, and allow girls to feel safe going to school. I made a sample RUMP and demonstrated how to use it, how to take care of it, and how to maintain proper menstrual hygiene. I brought sewing needles, thread, stencils, scissors, buttons, and cloth for the girls to make their own RUMPs.

RUMPs can be made from any scraps of cloth at home, but for the demonstration my counterparts helped me find materials around town. This included a hilarious exchange at the tailor where my counterparts asked the tailor which cloth would absorb the most blood and he replied, “I’m not sure, I’ve never tried that before!”

The finished product

The finished product

For the rest of the session, we played music and walked around giving the girls feedback and answering questions while they sewed. An unexpected highlight was how many girls copied the stencils into their notebooks to take home and make future RUMPs.

Giving girls the knowledge and the tools to make healthy decisions regarding their bodies is just a start. For long-term behavior change and utilization, girls have to become comfortable with these topics and these tools. Cultural changes need to happen that allow girls to ask questions and access resources without fear or embarrassment. And boys need to be involved in future discussions because family planning is the responsibility of both partners. But, I’m pleased with this

initial workshop. The teachers and the students increased their capacity and will hopefully pass on their sexual health knowledge in my community. After all, to educate a girl is to educate a generation.


How to Make a Reusable Menstrual Pad:

Step 1

Step 1: Trace the pattern onto your fabric. Your fabric or material should be 100% cotton. You can use old t-shirts, school uniforms, baby blankets, etc. The material to make “shitties,” or pajamas, works well.

Cut out your pattern pieces, two of each. Cut one of the cloth pad wings in half.

Step 2

Step 2: Prepare the bottom piece of the pad. Take the two halves (these form the bottom piece) and fold the opening edge over ¼ inch, press then fold over again, press and sew in place.

Step 3

Step 3: Prepare the bottom of the pad. Pin the pieces together and sew around the edge. Do not sew the center line (that’ll be where you insert the liner).


Step 4: Sew the top to the bottom. Press the cut out piece of fabric from Step 1 to the bottom you have been sewing. Top stitch around the edge and sew down each side to form the wings. Add buttons to the wings. 

Step 5

Step 5: Make the insert for the pad. You can use the template cloth pad liner or you can simply use a square piece of fabric folded in quarters. Layering 3–4 pieces of cloth is recommended; you can add more layers if you have a heavier flow. Thick cloth, like an old rag or washcloth, is recommended for the pad insert. If you have a sewing machine, you can randomly quilt the pad center to keep it in shape.

Step 6

Step 6: Place the insert inside the pad



The pad is complete!The Pad is Complete

Care Instructions: When you have your period, you will need a day pad and a night pad. You need to make at least two outer parts and at least two pad inserts because while you are wearing one pad, the other will need to be washed and dry. Make sure to consistently change your pad and wash your dirty one during the course of your cycle. To wash the insert and the pad, place both separate pieces in cold water with soap and let them soak for a few minutes. Then scrub the inside and outside of both pieces. Once you have scrubbed everything, hang them in the sun to dry. The sun will kill any bacteria on the pad. The pad and insert will have stains on them, but this doesn’t mean they are dirty — blood is hard to remove from cloth.



PCVs in Ethiopia

Summit Teaches Students to Promote Gender Equality

by Grace Kabel (Agula, Tigray, 2015–17)

On Thursday, March 3rd, ten Peace Corps Volunteers traveled to Addis Ababa from the Amhara, Tigray, and SNNPR regions of Ethiopia for the third annual “Action for Gender Equality (AGE) Summit.” Each Peace Corps Volunteer brought with them four of their best students to the four-day leadership training. The Summit was hosted by Peace Corps/Ethiopia’s Gender and Development Committee that was established in 2012 to encourage and support grassroots efforts to promote sustainable gender equality efforts in Ethiopia.

To gain a spot at the Summit —

  • Volunteers from across Ethiopia completed gender-related activities at their sites for points.
  • Each Volunteer worked with a counterpart from her/his local community to lead a gender club for their students.
  • Five outstanding counterparts were selected to join their PCVs at the Summit due to their initiative and commitment to gender equality in their home country.
  • The competition activities introduced students to the concepts of gender norms, gender roles, gender-based violence, and other important topics, and the students used this working knowledge to delve into the topics more in depth at the Summit.
  • The Volunteers with the most points at the end of the three-month competition were invited to bring two female and two male students to the Summit.

The purpose of the Summit was twofold: to prepare the students to become junior counselors at Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World) this summer, and to become ambassadors for gender equality in their communities through their gender clubs. Many of the sessions at the Summit used the topic of gender equality to develop the students’ leadership and life skills. Through various activities, participants explored leadership styles, teamwork practices, interpersonal skills, and effective communication methods. At the end of the Summit, the participants gathered with their PCV leader, fellow students from their town, and a counterpart to plan an activity to lead at Camp GLOW.  Additionally, they creatively sought solutions for common scenarios at camp by performing skits that demonstrated ineffective and effective methods for solving problems.


Participants with Ambassador Page

Participants with Ambassador Page (standing, 7th from left)

In the spirit of leadership, the Chargé d’Affaires, U.S. Mission to the African Union in Addis Ababa, Susan Page, gave the opening address. Ambassador Page spoke to the students about her career, including the humanitarian concerns she witness during the civil war in South Sudan during her time there as U.S. ambassador. She emphasized the importance of working collaboratively to accomplish common goals.


U.S. Ambassador to Ethiopia Patricia Haslach, disappointed at being unable to attend, showed her support by creating a video message for the students. She spoke about some of the specific gender inequality issues prevalent in Ethiopia and applauded the students for their efforts to make change in their local communities.


Participants with Berhane Daba (left-center holding certificate)

Participants with Berhane Daba (left-center holding certificate)

Berhane Daba, founder of the Ethiopian Women with Disabilities National Association and winner of the Harris Wofford Global Citizen Award from the National Peace Corps Foundation for her work empowering disabled women in Ethiopia, gave the keynote address. One of the themes of this year’s Summit was service, so it was only fitting to have such an iconic woman speak about her work towards creating a more equal and inclusive Ethiopia.


Bezahun Endale speaking at the career panel

Bezahun Endale (2nd from left) speaking at the career panel

In keeping with the themes of gender equality and volunteerism, six accomplished Ethiopians spoke about their lives and jobs as part of the career panel. On the panel were:

  • Beletshachew Tadesse, the manager of the rehabilitation center at Hamlin Fistula Hospital;
  • Amen Taye Bekele, a student at Addis Ababa University and a member of the Yellow Movement, an AAU group that works to speak up for women and girls’ rights;
  • Aklile Mekuria, program manager of Girls Gotta Run;
  • Bezuhan Endale, a football player on the Ethiopian women’s national team;
  • Michael Alemayahu, an actor and journalist; and
  • Tirubrhan Getnet, director of the Good Samaritan Association.

Most of the students who attended the Summit had never been to Addis or thought about the numerous career opportunities that await them if they go to university. The aim of the career panel was to show a diverse range of careers that students could pursue here in Ethiopia. It was also meant to be inspiring. While none of the students may qualify for the Women’s National Football Team, they can relate to the discrimination and hardship felt by Bezu Endale as she fought to achieve her dream.

The AGE Summit was funded by the U.S. government’s PEPFAR program – the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Many of the students attending the Summit were in the trenches of puberty, so Population Services International and Girl Effect sent staff to teach the students about their changing bodies. Once they had a grasp on the facts, we talked a lot about family planning. Everyone knows abstinence is the best policy, but the students were interested in other options to consider in the future. We talked about all of the birth control options available in Ethiopia, but emphasized the importance of condoms in preventing STIs and pregnancy. The students then completed a condom relay race with their teams. Each team member — girls and guys — had to correctly put a condom on a penile model. It was a new challenge made all the more difficult by the uproar in the room.


Competing in the “Walk . . . in Her Shoes”

One of the most popular activities at the Summit this year (and every year) was “Walk a Kilometer in Her Shoes.” It’s an obstacle course relay race that places boys literally in girls’ shoes and dresses to complete stereotypically gendered chores — like caring for a baby, washing clothes, and making food. Afterwards everyone sits down to discuss gender roles in Ethiopia. One male student from SNNPR explained: “Just as we are men, it doesn’t mean we can’t do things; it doesn’t mean we can’t make buna.” Coffee ceremonies are a large part of everyday Ethiopian life. Girls and women prepare coffee by washing, roasting, and grinding the beans by hand multiple times a day for their families. This creates obstacles to their education because they are encumbered with a large amount of housework. It is important that household labor becomes more balanced if girls and women are going to truly achieve equality in Ethiopia.

Rarely do boys hear from girls about what life is like for them. That’s why the activity “Gender Stadium” is so impactful. All of the female students and counterparts sit in the middle of a circle while the males sit in a circle surrounding them. The boys listen but do not speak as the girls answer discussion questions about their experiences and the difficulties that they face due to their gender. Once the girls are finished, they switch places with boys and listen to their answers to the discussion questions. It’s always an emotional activity, but it’s one that creates a deeper empathy and understanding of the opposite sex afterwards.

Boys cheering on the girls at the Women's First 5K

Boys cheering on the girls at the Women’s First 5K

On the last morning of the Summit, everyone participated in the “Women’s First 5K Race.” This is Africa’s largest all-female footrace, and all of the girls completed the race! Although the boys weren’t allowed to run in the race, they showed their support by painting their faces and cheering us on with motivational signs. One of our favorites read: “Don’t be late! Our girls are winners!”

The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, which took place one day after the Summit, was “Pledge for Parity.” Students took that idea home, with many saying they pledged to fight for gender equality and share the knowledge they gained at the Summit with their classmates, friends, and family when they returned to their towns.

PCVs in Ethiopia

Matt Westerberg “Peace Corps Partnership Program Grant a Success”

In January 2016, Ethiopia & Eritrea RPCVs made a donation to a Peace Corps Partnership Program project initiated by PCV Matt Westerberg to build chairs for a classroom and adequate toilets for his school in Yechila. We recently heard from Matt that the project is complete and that our donation was well spent.

The following letters of appreciation and photos demonstrate the spirit of cooperation from the Returned Peace Corps Volunteers and the PCVs in country. Congratulations to Matt for a job well done!

Please continue to check the Ethiopia Peace Corps Partnership Program grant page for new and exciting projects and opportunities for you to help.

The Editor, The Herald.



I would like to give you a final update on the project you have  generously donated to in Yechila, Ethiopia. Our project has been  completed, with one latrine’s support system being completed at the  secondary school, making a functioning bathroom there, a second  latrine foundation being finished and ready for further work by the  community this semester, and 14 new desks having been completed and in current use by students. The grant has succeeded in its aims,  increasing sanitation and the quality of education at the secondary  school. Class overcrowding has been diminished with the use of the new  desks. The preparatory school’s latrine foundation allows the  community to use previously saved funds to complete the bathroom by the end of this current semester. Thanks to your generosity,  sanitation and comfort for students and teachers has drastically  increased. Thank you for your kindness and support.

 Attached to this email is a letter written to you by the community  project leader, Director Kidanamiriam of the Secondary School. Please  read it, as it represents the sincere feelings of the community with regards to your support for this project.

 Thank you for all you have done. If you have any questions or  comments, feel free to contact me at any time. In emails to follow, I  will attach pictures of the completed latrine components and desks.

 Matt Westerberg
Education PCV
Peace Corps Ethiopia

DATE 03/11/2016 (Edited for clarity)


First and foremost the community and the Wereda administration of Tanqa Abergele Yechila Secondary school would like to thank you for your special donation.

Not only this but also the U.S government helps our students by allotting Peace Corps teacher enhancing our students skill.

Such as students desk and teacher’s toilet and also the community at large. As a result of this, the students of Yechila Secondary School have a good vision to achieve our goals and score good results.

Then, we hope that we will be the successors of you so as to contribute to the community of Yechila.

Thus, the residents of Yechila will improve their living standard and develop our community as a whole.

Generally, we don’t have a word to express our gratitude for your golden reward to our students.

With best regard

Kidanemariam Weldemicael
Director of Yehila Secondary School

1Prep foundation

With mountains behind them, workers are digging a very shallow hole that is the beginning of the Preparatory School’s latrine foundation.

The conrete and rock structure slightly above ground is the final foundation for the Preparatory School. The School will continue adding an above-ground structure with community raised funds this semester.

2Secondary foundation

Digging the hole for the Secondary School latrine.

3Secondary Completed

The concrete slab being watered is the final completed foundation for the Secondary School. Note in the lower right a trench leaving the hole.

The end result is two functioning latrines, drastically increasing sanitation in both schools.


5 desks

14 new desks will allow the secondary school to ustilize a new classroom that was previously empty. This will decrease the number of students in other, overcrowded classes. The quality of teaching and learning has already dramatically improved, with more personalized lessons.

Read another article about this project that we published in January.

PCVs in Ethiopia

‘Kids for Kids’ Continues

by Swathi Ayyagari (Quiha, Tigray 2015– )

Abadi Abreha, founder of “Kids for Kids,” first approached me in the spring of 2015 because he was looking to expand on his vision to educate primary school youths on topics spanning health, environment, and social responsibility concerns in the community, with the help of the Peace Corps.


Swathi at Swearing-In

As a Volunteer in Ethiopia’s education sector, my primary work is centralized around children and their education. This coupled with my role as a high school English teacher at my site, Quiha, Tigray, seemed to convince Abadi that I would be the right Volunteer to help him advance his efforts.

Before I arrived on the scene, Abadi had worked diligently for several years to create and distribute music videos with songs about various youth development topics. (See Benjamin Morse’s article in the February 4, 2014 issue of The Herald).  Abadi wrote most of the music and lyrics for the songs himself while a partner, Biniyam Abrehe, penned music to accompany several of them. Abadi’s wife, Genet Kidane, edited the music videos and other community members helped to provide translations.

For the videos, kids from a local high school sang the songs in the regional language of Tigrigna for the education of other kids, providing the inspiration for “Kids for Kids” as the title of Abadi’s program.  The video topics include hand washing, exercise, nutrition, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, fetal alcohol syndrome, gender equality, disabilities, school pride, cheating on exams, and tree planting, all of which address pressing community needs. Youth in the region often lack knowledge about these health, environmental, and education-related topics, and they stand to benefit greatly from kid-friendly exposure to the information.

Under Abadi’s direction, I began to facilitate the implementation of his Kids for Kids program. Our first task was for Abadi to bring me up to speed on what he had already accomplished, and what he ultimately aimed to accomplish by expanding the project. The Kids for Kids materials had initially been distributed to only one town in Tigray, but Abadi had broader ambitions. He sought to open access to the music videos to every primary school in Tigray. Thus, the DVDs, CDs, and accompanying manuals would have to be professionally duplicated and distributed to the local governmental offices, which would then distribute materials to the schools. Knowing Abadi’s ambitions, we determined a budget for the project and decided to write a grant through the Peace Corps Partnership Program.

While waiting for grant approval and for funds to arrive, we solidified an action plan and methods to measure outcomes and results of the project.

We knew there would be a risk of local governmental offices or primary schools storing away the materials and never putting them to use. We decided to implement a pilot program at a primary school in Quiha to gage community reaction to the project. We met with the school director and the mini-media club director (a club that uses audio to transmit morning announcements and other educational messages) and asked them to choose twelve students with a broad range of interests to work with us. We then distributed copies of the CDs and DVDs to the students, who were given two weeks to view them and formulate their own opinions about the messages and relevance of the project.


At the interviews. CLICK

At the end of the two-week time frame we returned to the school  to conduct video interviews with the school community. I was truly amazed at the students’ enthusiasm to talk about the project, even sometimes without being prompted. They were singing the songs throughout the day and were excited to talk at length about what they had learned. The pilot program has proven a resounding success, and all of those interviewed unanimously agreed that Kids for Kids is an innovative and necessary project worthy of expansion.

What’s next for Abadi and Kids for Kids?
Receiving helpful feedback and encouragement from the primary school has encouraged us to conduct further interviews with students and teachers at the local high school, as well as with members of relevant community groups such as: the Women’s Association and the HIV Association. We will compile these interviews and present them to the Regional Education Bureau with the hopes of securing support and encouragement to help us monitor and evaluate any broader use of the music videos. Meanwhile, we are currently having the materials professionally replicated in preparation for distribution. By the end of January, we will finish the materials production and the Education Bureau will begin distribution at the local level. We plan to produce 530 copies of the various DVDs, CDs, and manuals so that nearly every primary school in the region will be reached.

Having recently entered my second year of service, I often think about the impacts and sustainability of my efforts as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I want my projects to continue without me. I want my students to continue to learn and grow without me. That being said, I am confident in the sustainability and continuation of Abadi’s Kids for Kids program after I leave. The dedication and obvious desire to improve Tigrayan communities is evident in Abadi and the communities themselves. This is, after all, their project, and I am simply an advocate for their efforts and supporter of their successes.




PCVs in Ethiopia

Tippy Tap to the Rescue

The Importance of Handwashing

By Hannah Pensack-Rinehart (Mezezo, Amhara, 2015- )

mezezoI arrived in Ethiopia in January 2015, to begin a 27-month Peace Corps assignment as a Health Volunteer. I live in a community of 1,600 people located in the Amhara Region of Ethiopia, in a town called Mezezo.  It is a wonderful and small place, with one dirt road, a primary and secondary school, plenty of freshly roasted coffee, and some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met.

As a Health Volunteer I work in the areas of prevention and education, and spend time at the schools, the Health Center, and building relationships and rapport in the town. Although Mezezo only has 1,600 people, the Mezezo Health Center serves a catchment population of 19,480, with people walking for hours from the rural areas to receive medical care and treatment.

One Monday morning in November of 2015, I walked the 5 minutes to the Health Center. I needed a little bit of motivation to get me going for the week, so I mentioned to Bantayehu Gabrekristos, my friend and co-worker at the Health Center, that it would be magnificent if we could somehow build a “Tippy Tap” (a hand-washing station made from wood and nails and a jug of water). In spite of its vital role in servicing the area’s wellness needs, the Health Center in Mezezo had absolutely no place for patients or staff to wash their hands. Bantayehu was very intrigued and we walked around the Health Center to the back of the compound, to where the town’s trash pile is located. We carefully navigated up a rocky hill, taking great care to avoid a green spiky plant called “sama,” which if touched causes a painful burning and itching sensation that does not quickly subside. Among the trash we discovered a lot of wood as well as a plastic jug called a “jerry can.” This is a good example of “one person’s trash is another person’s treasure!”  I wonder if that is even a phrase in Amharic. I am guessing it might not be, because recycling and repurposing trash is very common and hardly anything is ever thrown away or wasted!  The only other thing we needed was a saw, which another co-worker said they would bring after lunch. We went our separate ways for lunch and when we reconvened in the afternoon, the construction began!  As I am every day, I was extremely impressed with the resourcefulness that surrounded me!

Using a saw, my co-workers cut tree branches to be the foundation/legs of the tippy tap and another branch to go horizontally across the top.  Instead of using a shovel, the staff used a thick tree trunk as a hammer to whack the legs of the tippy tap into the ground, and then used a rock as hammer to put in the nails that held the tippy tap together.


Zenebe and Stefanos drive in the posts.

The plastic jug that we found in the trash pile had no lid, but we found one on the other side of the Health Center compound, and after some deep cleaning it was ready to be put to good use! A nail was used to put a hole hear the bottom of the plastic jug, and when the lid was loosened and the nail was removed, the water flowed nicely in a thin but steady stream (thanks to some aspect of physics that I do not fully understand!), ideal for washing hands!


Some electrical wire that was stripped of its outer coating was used to hold up the soap container (which is the bottom of a plastic jug found in the trash),


and some rope also found in the trash held up the jerry can/plastic jug containing the water.

By the end of that same November day, for the first time ever the Mezezo Health Center had a place for patients and staff to wash their hands (history being made!).  It felt great to admire the result of our labor, which provided a great sense of accomplishment, especially because it demonstrated so clearly the creativity of my Ethiopian co-workers who somehow took a mere idea and with remarkable speed and ingenuity, transformed it into a completed tangible reality!

If this project had been up to me to do alone, I would never have even begun, because I would still be hunting for the proper tools and materials that I thought were required for this project (and wouldn’t have found them here)!  This was a wonderful and valuable lesson for me, and a reminder of how much I learn from the people I am surrounded by every day in Mezezo; incredibly strong and inventive people who have become my family and friends, who I laugh with everyday, and whom I love!


Celebrating the final product: Bekele, Zenebe, Hannah and Worke.


PCVs in Ethiopia

President Barack Obama’s Historic Visit to Ethiopia

by Janet Lee (Emdeber  1974–76)

There was great excitement in the air for us in the U.S. with ties to Ethiopia and for our Ethiopian brothers and sisters in witnessing President Barack Obama’s visit to Ethiopia in late June. This was the first time that a sitting President visited Ethiopia and it was met with great fanfare. The purpose of the two-country visit to Kenya and Ethiopia was to attend the 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit and to meet with leaders from government, business and citizen groups. The President met with Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, held a meeting on South Sudan and counter terrorism issues with representatives of Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia, the African Union, and Uganda; attended a State Dinner with Prime Minister Hailemariam; and spoke at the African Union.

President Obama speaks at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 28, 2015 - White House video

President Obama speaks at the African Union Headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, July 28, 2015 – White House video – CLICK to view

During his visit, he toured Faffa Foods in Addis Ababa; partook buna in a traditional coffee ceremony; was treated to traditional dancing; and met “Lucy,” the 3.2 million year old hominid, locally known as “Dinknesh.” Ambassador Patricia Haslach “got down” dancing to traditional music at the State Dinner.

For anyone who has lived or visited Ethiopia in the past six to eight years, the presence of Barack Obama is difficult to miss. Children sport Obama t-shirts and Obama internet cafes, bars, and business centers  can be found in every kebelle, village, and town.

One thing that was noticeably missing during this visit was the presence of Peace Corps Volunteers, Ethiopia having one of the largest, if not the largest program in the world. Yes, Peace Corps did get a “shout-out” in the toast remarks by both Prime Minister Hailemariam and President Obama, but it did not get a seat at the table, not want for trying.

Forrest Copeland, the Peace Corps Volunteer Leader for Communications and Outreach, has written a blog about his and other Volunteer’s experiences surrounding the visit of President Obama to Ethiopia. Forrest is a third-year Volunteer assigned to the Peace Corps office in Addis Ababa, with a previous stint in Abi Adi, Tigray from 2012 to 2014. To keep the integrity of the blog and his photos, we refer you to “My Story about NOT Meeting Obama”  Read on and enjoy!


Click for the story

Thanks to Forrest Copeland for his firsthand account of this historic event.

PCVs in Ethiopia

Welcome to Reading!

Outcome: Ethiopian primary school students excited to read!

by Deborah Massey (Injibara, Amhara Region 2012–14)

[click on each photo to view a larger version]

MANY PROGRAMS I have started during my service in Injibara have tapered out to nothing due in part to the excessive number of school holidays that lower attendance, teachers who lose interest or become busy, or my own personal schedule. But “Welcome to Reading” is one activity that has been easy to run and has yet to fail!

Remember all those little kids who always met you on the street running? Either calling your name, which made you smile, or calling you other things, which didn’t.


Inviting all these kids to  “Welcome to Reading” has made the terrorizers my friends, and all my friends excited to come to the Injibara Public Library!

Thanks to the Peace Corps Volunteer who served in Injibara before me, the project started with 20 children’s books in English and 6 in Amharic. That number rapidly increased in both languages as I found books online to purchase, bought books in Addis, and called out to Facebook friends to send books they had at home. Now our bi-weekly reading programs include 150 books in both languages,


math flashcards,


a table where students can draw, card games like Uno and Go Fish and an educational video program in Amharic.


Each program begins with 45 minutes of free reading and flashcards, then two students are invited to read a story in front of the group.


Then students are invited to tell their own stories.

At the end of the program we set up the projector and show 20 minutes of an educational video like Abebe and Abeba or Tsehay Loves to Learn. Before the students leave they line up to get a sticker and a high five!


Deborah with one of the happy readers

Despite all the difficulties I have faced in Injibara over the past two year, the kids are where the difference is made. I know I’ve done something good when students are lined up outside the library compound before I even arrive and when simply telling 10 children the time and day of the program brings over 50 participants. These children will always think reading is fun and that makes for a successful program that I feel proud about.


Oh, the Places You'll Go!

The more that you read, The more things you know. The more that you learn, The more places you go!

(Dr. Seuss.  Oh, the Places You’ll Go)

The Transitional Hive: A Quiha Story

by Evan Craig (Quiha 2014– )

[click on each photo to view a larger version]

IT ALL STARTED in Holetta with my fellow environment/agriculture Volunteers during In-Service Training (IST).

We learned about beekeeping in Ethiopia and the current methods and technologies commonly used. The two common types of beehives found in Ethiopia are the traditional (fixed comb) hive and the modern (moveable frame) hive. The traditional hive cannot be properly inspected, and produces a quite limited amount of poor-quality honey. Modern hives on the other hand can be inspected, maintained, and allow for “true beekeeping” with high yields of quality honey, but they are too expensive, require extra tools and equipment, and are therefore out of the reach of the typical rural farmer.

Researchers at the Holetta Honeybee Research Facility introduced us to the transitional (moveable comb) hive. The transitional hive design is basically akin to a DIY modern hive that produces exponentially more honey than traditional hives, and allows for quality inspections and advanced beekeeping techniques. The real value of these hives, however, is that they can be made from a variety of readily available materials like eucalyptus, shambako (in Tigrigna) — a bamboo-like plant, animal dung, a pocket full of nails, and some string.

After returning to my site from IST, I found the beekeeping expert in my office and asked how many transitional hives were in-use in the woreda. To this question, she answered “zero.” She added that there were some modern hives being used, but the majority of hives in the woreda were of the traditional variety.

I had found a gap!

I TOOK MY GAP to the next level and found a beekeeper in town who has built transitional hives in the past and was very willing to work with me. I set up a time for him and me to meet just to make sure that he and I were on the same page with this transitional hive business. Before I knew it, one thing led to another, and we were building a transitional hive together. Later, after a healthy portion of reminding and follow-ups, I convinced my woreda office to spill per-diem for transitional hive training for the development agents (DAs) of my woreda. I chose to pitch the DA training first (instead of a rural farmer/beekeeper training) for two reasons:

  1. craig-1-sm

    Hive-building demonstration

    The DAs are the go-to people for questions regarding beekeeping from folks in the rural communities. If the DAs aren’t hip to transitional hives, the rural folks definitely won’t be hip.

  2. Since there are only 17 DAs in my woreda, the training would be more affordable for the office and therefore more feasible (keep in mind this was the first time the office pulled the trigger by spending money and paying per-diem on one of my trainings).
The DAs and their 3 hives (click)

The DAs and their 3 hives

The training consisted of a short presentation on the benefits of adopting and promoting transitional hives, and was followed by the construction of three hives by the DAs.

THE FOLLOWING NIGHT I took the DAs to a model farmer’s property in a rural kebele for training on how to transfer bee colonies from traditional hives to transitional hives. I believe this farmer’s participation played a key role in the success of the training, and ultimately the acceptance of the transitional hive technology, because he volunteered one of his own colonies (valued at ≥ 1,000 birr in the Enderta Woreda) to be transferred to a transitional hive. He demonstrated to the woreda office workers, the DAs, and friends and farmers nearby, that he was willing to take a leap of faith on this new technology, which paid off in spades in the end.

The training was a success and the transitional hive technology seemed to be well accepted by the DAs.

SIX WEEKS LATER my office counterparts and I revisited the model farmer to follow-up on his new transitional hive colony. We met the farmer at his home where he shared some homemade beverages with us. While we were talking about unrelated topics I noticed that he had a transitional hive against the far wall of his compound. He told us that he was so pleased with the productivity of his new hive, and the strength of the colony since the transfer that he made another one by himself (he wasn’t even at the construction portion of the DA training; he figured out how to do it on his own!). This made me feel exuberant and full of cheer! After dark we traveled to his apiary and taught him how to inspect and manage transitional hives. Before we departed the village, he filled a container with fresh honey comb and sent it home with me, just to say thanks.

I FOLLOWED UP with the office and urged them to hold training for farmers and interested beekeepers in the woreda. I was told by the animal sciences supervisor that he would call to the farmer training centers (FTCs) in the rural kebeles, and if enough farmers were willing to attend a training (without per-diem) about the transitional hive, then we could do it. It turns out, however, that the DAs had promoted and pitched the transitional hive technology in their kebeles after having returned from the training, and now many rural farmers and beekeepers were ready and interested in hearing more about the technology.

This is where they took it all away from me.

The farmers build the beehives (Click)

The farmers build the beehives

Upon hearing the interest from the DAs and farmers to introduce this transitional hive to the kebeles, they took the initiative and planned a training for 150 farmers and beekeepers in the Enderta Woreda to attend. This time (unlike the first) they collected all the necessary materials, they planned the presentation timeline, they gave the presentation, and they were the maestros of the hive construction.

The farmers with their hives (Click)

The farmers with their hives (Click)

This time around I only helped some of the farmers with the hive construction. I wasn’t needed, I was wanted, but they didn’t need me. The feeling was odd at first, like I just gave away my hypothetical daughter in a hypothetical wedding. To be honest, something was upsetting me; maybe it was a feeling like they had taken advantage of me and elbowed me out of the transitional hive scene. I talked about this with my wife, Kristen, and she reminded me that what just happened, no matter how it felt, is what was supposed to happen. She was right, I just didn’t realize I really had worked myself out of a job.

I am very thankful to the Enderta Woreda Agricultural Office for welcoming me to their community and workplace. It wasn’t always easy, and at times I had to be persistent, but in the end, I’m grateful that they took a chance by supporting and supplying me with what I needed to introduce this technology. I’m happy to announce that the Enderta Woreda Office has formed an agreement with SNV, a not-for-profit international development organization that will further fund their transitional hive training for the next five years.

English Only

The Youth Solidarity and English Language (YSEL) Summer Camp

by Forrest Copeland (Abi Adi [Tigray] 2012–14, Addis Ababa 2014–16)

In August last summer, I attended the Youth Solidarity and English Language (YSEL) summer camp for a few days in Debre Zeyit and was blown away by how American this camp was. This camp transformed a little piece of Ethiopia into a real American summer camp. The camp was held on a beautiful compound that had nice dorm rooms, excellent food, friendly staff, immaculate landscaping, and even a functional computer lab. However what really made this feel so American was the English only rule: All students were required to speak English ALL THE TIME. This meant I could once again eavesdrop on student conversations, classes didn’t waste time with translations, and I had to bite my tongue over and over again when I instinctively responded in Amharic or Tigrinya. I felt American again.

The reason for this English-only rule was to enable students to improve their English language abilities, obviously, but also because English may be their best form of communication. Ethiopia is home to more than 80 local languages and although Amharic is the official language, many people don’t speak it well. All of the 44 students attending the YSEL summer camp were interviewed for their English abilities and were pretty impressive English speakers. Since those students came from all 11 regions in Ethiopia, and represented a huge variety of peoples and cultures, it made as more sense to use English as the lingua franca rather than Amharic.

This was the second annual YSEL camp held in Ethiopia. The camp was organized by the NGO American Councils for International Education and was fully funded by the US Embassy in Addis Ababa. It’s a pretty interesting program that developed from the American Councils’ international exchange program. The American Councils for International Education facilitates exchange students around the world and Tom Toomey, the YSEL Ethiopia Camp Director, has been working with youth from Afghanistan for years doing similar camps.

These camps offer a great way for students from all over diverse countries to come together and work as one group. According to their press release, “the goals of the YSEL-Ethiopia program are to improve English language skills, develop critical thinking, build leadership skills and create solidarity among the 44 students from the diverse areas of Ethiopia.” These high school students rarely have a chance to interact with students from other regions and this camp provided a forum to create new friendships and share ideas among the leaders of tomorrow’s Ethiopia.

In order to attend this program, students had to submit a comprehensive written application. Over 300 students submitted an application and around 100 were selected for interviews with Camp Director Tom Toomey and Assistant Director Endalkachew Tesera. These students represent the best of the best and aspire to become astronauts, doctors, engineers, and pilots. Ultimately 22 female and 22 male students from all 11 regions in Ethiopia were selected to attend the month-long summer camp.


The students were taught by Peace Corps Volunteers from the Education sector. Paul, one of the teachers, mentioned how exciting it was to be teaching students with such a voracious appetite for knowledge. “They want to learn!” I was lucky enough to be invited along to facilitate a few sessions about “burning issues” in Ethiopia and how it’s up to youth to make changes and improve the current state of this country. Over the course of three days we brainstormed, rehearsed, and filmed eight different public-service-announcement videos that the students could bring back to share with their communities after leaving camp. The idea for this session originally came from Shayna’s session at the 2014 Mekele Camp Glow where we filmed seven dramas with great results. The YSEL-Ethiopia students loved it and they all participated in creating messages about drug abuse, corruption, work ethic, cleaning the environment, and immigration.

While at camp I sat in on some classes held by Education Sector Peace Corps Volunteers Paul, Jennifer, Pete, and Merre. On Friday night there was a talent show and on Saturday we visited a local factory where they build everything from bicycles to buses to tanks. It was a fun few days to spend with these great kids in this little American summer camp, which just happened to be in Ethiopia.

Hats off to the talented PCV teachers, the camp staff (Tom, Endalk and Birhan) and the four amazing Ethiopian student counselors for making this camp possible! And thank you, American taxpayers, for funding it!

You can read more about the camp by reading the camp blog.

Update in March 2015: Most of the students have kept up the YSEL spirit and have created clubs in their local schools. In fact, last weekend I went to visit two students who started a mini-YSEL club in their high school in Addis Ababa. We talked about goal setting and planning for the future. It’s incredibly inspiring to see the recurring effects of this month-long summer camp on community service projects, life skill trainings, and English language study sessions. I follow along with most of the students on Facebook and over the past months most posted pictures of their successes back in their hometowns spread across all 11 regions in Ethiopia.