Category Archives: RPCV Projects

RPCV Projects

Tree-lined boulevards, lush urban parks, cosmopolitan plazas

The “New” Addis Ababa as presented through a landscape architecture course at AAU

by Andrew Tadross (Endodo, Tigray & Mekelle, Tigray 2011–13)

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s ever-expanding capital city doesn’t evoke images of tree-lined boulevards, lush urban parks, or cosmopolitan plazas. The city is most attractive when looking up at its gleaming new hotels set against the backdrop of 10,000 foot mountains. When you look down, things aren’t quite as inspiring. However, there is new hope for Ethiopia’s urban landscape. In 2015, the  Ethiopian Institute of Architecture, Building Construction, and City Development (EIABC) opened the first landscape architecture masters degree program in the country (there is no undergraduate LA degree). This year, ten graduate students will become the first crop of landscape architects to contribute to the transformation of Addis Ababa into a more livable, resilient city.

Upon earning a Masters degree in Landscape Architecture from the University of Colorado/Denver, I worked for several years with the City of Houston Parks Dept. and at Rialto Studio in San Antonio. Having taught in Mekele during my service in the Peace Corps and finding a great deal of satisfaction in academia, I jumped at a 1 year teaching contract with EIABC in 2016. With a staff of only four, our young program has a curriculum that is similar to most American landscape architecture programs, but caters only to students with previous background in architecture (thus Autocad and basics design courses are not included). My classes included Construction and Site Engineering, 3rd Semester Design Studio, and two sections of Introduction to Landscape Architecture — an undergrad course for over 160 students.

English is a 2nd or 3rd language for most of my students, and initially I deciphered the students silence as boredom, fascination, or confusion. For the Introduction class, I decided to teach landscape design through case study. There would be 30 groups of 5-6 students, with each group studying a different landscape in Addis. Some of these sites included well known spots such as the splashy gardens and fake Axum obelisk at Bole Airport, the oasis-like Ghion hotel, the historic Meskal Square, and the impressive Bole Medhanalem Orthodox church. Some sites were lesser known — the sprawling park Hamle 19 (near the US Embassy), the new Hope University campus, and the truly unique use of marginal space at Gotera Square — aka Confusion Square.

Each group studied the hardscape (pavements, walls, fountains, drainage, etc), as well as identified trees and shrubs planted on site. They generated perspective sketches, as well as plan view drawings of their site, at two different scales. They were also expected to research the history, ongoing management of the site, and critique the design and facility operations. It was a holistic approach to the study of public spaces, addressing many of the diverse professional skills in the field of landscape architecture. Addis Ababa does not have any books or treatises specifically on landscape architecture or parks – and certainly this body of research would come in handy for starting one.

EIABC student sketches

The staircase at the Ghion Hotel

Pillar at the Ghion Hotel

Red Terror Museum

Overall, I was impressed with the projects submitted, including some exquisite drawings. The research and writing by several groups were above expectation.

If one were to look at these projects in a collection, it is evident that Addis has surprising amount of green spaces dispersed throughout the city. It has been observed that many of the large parks (Peacock Park, Bihere Tsegey, Sheger, Yeka, etc) are often empty — even on weekends with beautiful weather. What is the reason? The 2–10 birr entrance fee might be a deterrent for impoverished citizens, but its not too much of a burden for many residents. Some parks have litter problems, but there seems to be active efforts at periodic cleaning. Safety might be a concern, but every park had security guards. Perhaps it’s a cultural matter. Ethiopians are in the new era of satellite TV and mobile phones. Could it be that an impact of globalization is that they joining the rest of the world in spending their leisure time indoors staring at a various electronic devices?

Another observation is that parks in Addis don’t really inspire a great deal of physical activity. While Ethiopia is known for marathon champions, you are unlikely to see a jogger — or a path — in the local parks. Dog walking is non-existent. Playgrounds are rare — and either ill maintained, or locked up, such as at Africa Park. Many of the parks are overly wooded. In a sunny country, shade is valuable, but excessive trees and shrubbery can obstruct vision and make places feel less safe. Many of the parks are divided into small “islands” or “rooms” by boxy hedges that seem to create a cluster of small spaces rather than expansive open space. Another issue is that most of the parks have a single means of ingress/and egress. While required for security, it’s an obstacle for visitation.

The Addis Ababa Beautification, Park and Cemetary Department is the city agency that is tasked with bringing Addis parks to a level where they can significantly contribute to quality of life and tourism. As with most big cities, funding (low tax base) is a challenge, and evident in the deficiencies in park maintenance and investment. There are income generating activities such as cafés at several parks, but this invites conflicts, as green spaces are increasingly privatized and commercialized for profit. Another issue is the fact that open spaces, unless tightly guarded, end up being unsanitary living quarters for the homeless.

Looking at American history, the great park building eras coincided with industrialization and urbanization. Ethiopia is in the midst of this phase, and will be for decades to come. City leaders have recognized the need to provide recreational spaces for the residents and to keep Addis attractive as a diplomatic hub. The National Green Infrastructure Guidelines are recommending 30% of the city be used for green areas or public space. Most of this would be reclaimed from flood prone areas and slum clearance. Already, significant swaths of forest are protected in the hills above the city within Gullele Botanical Garden, and a patchwork of protected areas. Down in the city, there are concerted efforts to plant street trees (mostly exotics) to shade crowded sidewalks and absorb some of the air pollution.

The almost-completed ECA Park, designed by our chair holder Aziza Abdulfetah, features contemporary looking earthworks, water features, sturdy shade structures, a basketball court, pool and café spaces. The site (between ECA and St. Estafanos) was once an informal housing settlement on the edge of a fetid urban river, but it now serves as a visual treat for office workers in the surrounding buildings, and passengers gliding past on the newly built light rail.

The newly developed Aser Park located near city center of Addis Ababa was one of many projects examined by students in the Landscape Architecture course at AAU.

The newly developed Aser Park located near city center of Addis Ababa was one of many projects examined by students in the Landscape Architecture course at AAU.

Aser Park located on Bole Road, which will occupy the underside of Rwanda Bridge in Addis Ababa, was one of many projects examined by students in the Landscape Architecture course at AAU. It doesn’t offer much in the way of dirt and grass, but it offers impressive fountains, clean restrooms, a playground, and a café for weary pedestrians to escape the sun.

Gotera Square is a park that makes use of a kind of no-man’s land wedged in between a caucaphonous rail line and freeway fly overs. It is a colorful, extensive hardscape of pavers dotted with seating and raised planting beds in a modernistic grid. The verdict is still out on whether these new parks will be active and inspire further investment, but they do represent a new thrust in park development.

Problems abound in translation of design to construction documents to installation. The grandest dreams of designers can be crushed by the reality of what is actually built by unsupervised contractors. However, these new projects in Addis represent great opportunities for the nascent landscape architecture field. If the economy continues its aggressive growth, there will be continued expansion of resorts, sports complexes, universities, and “everything under the sun” that keep landscape designers employed.

I consider myself fortunate to play a small role in this area of development as I try to pass on some of my skills to a younger generation. My students are very talented, as well as technically proficient. I expect to return to Addis sometime in my 40s and see the great work they’ve accomplished. With rapid urban growth pretty much guaranteed for the next few decades, I’m confident these graduates will have no shortage of work. The challenge will be to convince people they need to hire a landscape architect. That’s not easy to do here — most people haven’t heard of Central Park or Red Rocks Amphitheater. They just think of walking paths, trees, and gardens as the work of layman, rather than a trained designer. So, beyond just getting a job, my students have to promote their own profession to earn the respect it deserves.


 

RPCV Projects

Clean Water for Ethiopia: An Update

by Robert Gausman (Bodditti (1970-72)

It has been several years since we updated Ethiopian RPCVs about the Central Highlands Foundation water project in central Ethiopia.

Woman collecting water from polluted spring

Central Highlands Foundation has been working on water projects in Ethiopia for some time now and later this year we hope to complete our 10th project.  Our model has been to take mountain springs that have become terribly polluted, place a concrete cap over them for protection, construct a holding reservoir and finally install water faucets to provide perfectly pure water to local residents.

Water distribution point

With the construction of this project over 15,000 people will have access to clean water.  Unfortunately, the need is overwhelming as 60% of all Ethiopians, or 55 million people, still do not have clean water.

Concrete cap protecting spring and clean water flowing

 

Our ability to complete more projects such as these is limited by our funding. Over the past couple of years we have been working in partnership with Bob Waltermire’s (Bale 1970-72) Rotary club in Colorado.  Their generous support has allowed us to do more projects than we otherwise could have accomplished.  Of course, we are always looking for additional funds. What I am seeking is not for anyone to make new or additional contributions, but rather, if you were contemplating changing a charity to which you currently contribute we would like to be considered in your plans.  We are a fully exempt 501(c)3 non-profit corporation and all contributions would be tax deductible. No overhead or administrative costs are paid for out of contributions and all money goes to programs in Ethiopia.

In addition, we are working with Books for Africa in order to send a 40 foot container of textbooks to schools in southern Ethiopia later this year.

If you wish to become a donor you may send money to:

Central Highlands Foundation
c/o Robert Gausman (Bodditti (1970-72)
430 M St. SW, #310
Washington, DC 20024
Website: www.bekha.org

Editor’s note:

In addition to the project in the central highlands, Dwight Sullivan (Dodola, 1970-72) is working with a village near Axum in order to dig a well and install a solar pump to provide water to people in the area.  This would be one of the first solar water projects in the country. 

Dwight is currently in Ethiopia (February-March 2017) and sent a brief update on the progress of the wells. He and his colleagues visited Darwo to inspect last year’s projects and scope out potential sites for future projects. The lack of rain for the past four months may mean that they have to make the difficult decision to eliminate the Arusi-Ang project. The drought may last another three months, a very unfortunate event because the water is badly needed by the community.

They investigated another site near Tarcha, Agene, a project that could have a positive impact for a population of 475. The water flow measured about 2 liters per minute. The cost to construct the project is estimated to be between $13,000 and $15,000.

Shota, one of the other spring sites is very promising. It has a water flow of 10.5 liters per minutes and should be relatively easy to construct once one manages to navigate the road system, which tested the mettle of Dwight, his colleagues and their Toyota Landcruiser.

As an update on last year’s three projects, Abba Ereri is completely finished and well-constructed. It is in a lovely setting. The spring caps on Chana and Basabi Biyou are completed. Their reservoirs and water distribution points are also completed. The trenches have been dug, but no pipe has been installed to date.

There is great progress.


 

 

RPCV Projects

An Update on the Ethiopian Sustainable Food Project

By Steve Johnson (Dese, GhoaTsion 1969-71)

potato-project-1

Checking the potatoes . . . North of Debra Tabor, 2013. Ato Windem (ARARI), Fred Bechard, the farmer, Ato Alemu (ARARI), and Charlie Higgins. -click-

The Ethiopian Sustainable Food Project (ESFP), founded in 2007 by Dr. Charles (Charlie) Higgins (Haik 69–71)  and Dr. Fred Bechard (Dese 69–73), continues to make progress in the Amhara region of Ethiopia. The project works under the auspices of the Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute (ARARI) located in Bahir Dar. ARARI reports to the Ministry of Agriculture in Addis.

potato-project-3

. . . and the books.

Charlie Higgins and Fred Bechard return to Ethiopia each November for an audit tour. Together they work with ARARI field staff to assess year’s  project growth, acceptance, production, as well as challenges and pending needs.

During the audit tour Charlie and Fred meet with ARARI staff at ARARI HQ to assess compliance with the plan and uncover obstacles to future growth. They also ‘go over the books’ to ensure expense and income (donations) are not out of line. Further, they are often asked to lecture at the near-by Bahir Dar University on subjects suggested by their contacts there.

As the project and the needs it serves continue to grow it became apparent a more formal approach is needed to ensure long term success as well as funding, and during the August 2015 Wisconsin bi-annual reunion of PC XII ( there have been 20 since 1976 according to Nancy Schewe  (Gambella, Addis Ababa 69-71) a proposal was brought forward by Attorney Joe Bell (Alamayata 69-71) to move  forward to form the project as an unincorporated association with the longer term goal of reaching 501(c)3 status. With the assistance of Attorney Tom Countryman (Ghoa Tsion 69-71) a slate of officers and a Board of Directors has been established, the stated purpose of which is to ensure the continued flow of necessary gifts to support the stabilization of the food supply in Ethiopia. Funds are directed by the ESPF Board Chair through the Ethiopian Ministry of Agriculture and the Amhara Regional Agricultural Research Institute, however the best way to do this is to eventually move the project to a 501(c)3 tax status, which will facilitate fund raising, open the project to a broader donor pool, and ensure the project’s mission continues into the future.

The Board meets twice a year, generally by conference call. During the most recent call Charlie told the board that potato tuber production at ARARI had increased from 25,000 in 2014 to 100,000 in 2015; about 250 farms have been positively impacted by the program to date; seven new large screen houses are to be built south of Bahir Dar at Adet, and that the mini-screen house project is taking hold in Sekala, Injibarra and Debra Tabor. Five more mini screen houses are to be built this year at a cost of $60 USD. The mini screen house is critical as it offsets the bacterial wilt seed from Adet prior to distribution to farmers. Finally, Charlie introduced oats as an excellent crop opportunity for higher altitude towns such as Debra Tabor and Adet.

It is to be seen how well the Amhara region fares in the current drought crisis, but it is expected the ESFP’s efforts will provide a bridge over the past “hungry times” for a growing number of farmers.

Of course, it is not all work during the tour and the chance to once again enjoy Ethiopia and its people, hospitality and countryside brings back many old memories and makes new memories and new friends. The team in ever mindful that it is working in a 3,000-year-old culture, and as desirable as change may be, kas ba kas is still the order of the day in so much of everyday life … but even that is changing.

A local farmer (in green dress) shares locally produced injera where a key ingredient is fresh from the field potatoes near Debra Tabor. She learned, presumably via mobile phone, that the team was on the way to her farm and was able to whip up a batch of potato infused injera for the team. Ato Alemu, far left, from ARARI.

Near Debre Tabor, a local farmer (in green dress) shares locally produced injera where a key ingredient is fresh-from-the-field potatoes. She learned, presumably via mobile phone, that the team was on the way to her farm and was able to whip up a batch of potato infused injera for the team. Ato Alemu, from ARARI, is at the far left.

Also see a 2013 article in The Herald about the ESFP.

 

RPCV Projects

Old Adwa Cultural Museum

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

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

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

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

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

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

Original focus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Project partners and their commitments to the plan are —

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

The project will begin in October.

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

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

 


 

RPCV Projects

RPCVs Bob and Nancy Sturtevant Receive Prestigious University Award

from left: Paul Evangelista, Nancy Sturtevant, Bob Sturtivent, CSU VP of PR, Dean of Wondo Genet, manager of main store

from left: Paul Evangelista, Nancy Sturtevant, Bob Sturtivent, CSU VP of PR, Dean of Wondo Genet, manager of main store

RPCVs Bob and Nancy Sturtevant (Hawassa, 2010–13) along with colleague, Paul Evangelista, received the Ram Pride Service Award at the Colorado State University (CSU) System Board of Governors meeting in May. The Ram Pride award recognizes “service above self” in upholding CSU’s land-grant mission and character. The award was presented by CSU President and System Chancellor Tony Frank, who noted in CSU’s  website Source, “This award recognizes those who ensure the value we place on service is more than just rhetoric – who treat it as a high calling and commit to modeling excellence service in every interaction with students, alumni, parents, and the public.”

hawassaThe award recognized Bob and Nancy and Paul’s efforts in conducting a book drive for Ethiopia’s Hawassa University starting in 2012 while they served as Volunteers, and for helping CSU form a strategic partnership and strong research relationships with the University. Although the University had built a new library, it was seriously deficient in books and research material. With prior experience with book drives, Bob and Nancy started to work on the project during their Peace Corps service and continued after returning home to Fort Collins.

“We actually went back to Ethiopia three times between July and September of last year to make sure all the correct paperwork was filled out and filed with Customs,” Bob told CSU’s Source. “When the boxes finally arrived at Hawassa after a long voyage and customs process, they were re-inventoried and sorted among the four college libraries.”

Bob retired from a long career with the Colorado State Forest Service but has now returned working with CSU part-time, and Nancy now works as a coordinator in CSU’s Office of International Programs.

The Journey of the Books

apo-volsVolunteers from the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity at CSU sorting, cataloging, stamping and boxing the books.

 

books-loadedBooks loaded in the container and ready for shipment to Ethiopia.

 

 

store-roomBooks at the Hawassa University “main store” (comparable to our central receiving facility). Here the books were re-inventoried and then divided into which college library they would be sent.

 

 Ceremony at Hawassa to celebrate the distribution of the books to the various libraries


Ceremony at Hawassa to celebrate the distribution of the books to the various libraries

 


 

RPCV Projects

GrassrootSoccer Peace Corps SKILLZ Program

by Mary Gaul (Kombolcha, Welo, 2012-2014)

Ryan and Mary Gaul served together from 2012-2014 in Kombolcha, Welo, Ethiopia. As health Volunteers they were both placed with local HIV, infectious disease and environmental health-focused organizations where they trained local kombolchastaff and health extension workers. They each started after school clubs, Mary focusing on gender, and Ryan focusing on English and agriculture. They also hosted events for a number of international holidays including World Malaria Day, Earth Day, World AIDS Day and International Day of the Girl.

The most rewarding experience Ryan and Mary had during their service, however, was working with the GrassrootSoccer Peace Corps SKILLZ program. Grassroot Soccer (GRS) is an international adolescent-health organization that educates, inspires and mobilizes young people to overcome their greatest health challenges and live healthier, more productive lives. GRS uses the power of soccer to connect young people with the mentors, information, and health services they need to thrive, and empowers adolescents to make educated choices about pressing health challenges such as HIV & AIDS, sexual health, gender-based violence, and malaria. GRS’s evidence-based programs, led by trained local coaches, incorporate soccer into dynamic lessons about health and wellness that engage young people and break down cultural barriers. With proven results and a constant focus on research and innovation, GRS has reached over 1.2 million young people in nearly 50 countries with health education.

During their service, Mary and Ryan trained nearly 500 youth in their town of Kombolcha in the GRS curriculum. They witnessed first-hand the incredible impact of this program, educating and empowering youth to make positive impacts in their own lives and the lives of their families and communities.

mary-girls

Mary with some of the girls . . .

. . . and some of the boys.

. . . and some of the boys.

As firm believers in the program, Ryan and Mary have continued their support for GRS back in the United States by joining their team of endurance runners. Endurance runners run long-distance races throughout the year in order to raise funds for GRS. The money goes directly to GRS and supports their programming, including the SKILLZ program (which covers the cost of training curriculum manuals, an indestructible soccer ball, and shipping costs to send the materials to currently serving Peace Corps Volunteers involved in the program). In October, Ryan and Mary ran their first race — a Tough Mudder in Philadelphia — where they raised $1,700 for GRS.

mary-ryan

They will continue to run races throughout the year, and attempt to raise even more money for GRS (please email mgaul13@gmail.com or ryangaul09@gmail.com for details on how you can donate to their future races).

RPCV Projects

Axum Library and Cultural Center Update

update by Dwight Sullivan (Yergalem, Dodola 70–72)

In September, Dwight Sullivan (Yergalem, Dodola 70-72), wrote in The Herald of his work with the Ethiopian Community Development Council’s library development project in Axum. Dwight is currently in Axum where he has been supervising the unloading of six (yes, count them six!) shipping containers of building materials from Dubai and one container of miscellaneous items including furniture, books, desks, and sewing machines. The  building materials include ceramic tiles, metal frames, windows, and tools that are not available in Ethiopia.

Entry area with new windows waiting to be installed.

Entry area with new windows waiting to be installed.

stairs-1-2016

He has also commissioned three pieces of art: one is on canvas, one is on a goat skin, and the last is on a cow skin. The first is of the battle of Magdela, the second is of the Italians in WW II in Axum, and the last (see below) is of the Dergue period.

3rd commissioned art work 2 view

Dwight plans to commission a mural of the Blue Nile falls for the children’s section of the library.

ch-rm-lake

Children's Room

Children’s Room

Dwight has been beating the streets of Addis Ababa in search of children’s books in local languages.  There are few to be found.  Could publishing be the next great step?

Dwight - madeline

PCV Madeline Jones and her sewing class

Axum has presented Dwight with much great fortune.  Through Peace Corps connections in Axum, he was introduced to PCV Madeline Jones, whole lives in Belie [Tigray] (between Axum and Shire), and is a most able seamstress and crafter.  She gave a private sewing lesson to a group of nuns, and, according to Dwight, was quite adept at her command of Tigrinya based on the amount of chatter while they worked together. In that one short session, they were able to craft together a small prayer book carrying case. A sure sign of more good things to come.

Highlight of Dwight’s trip? Kissing a bishop’s cross.