Sunflowers from my garden. Just looking at them makes my heart happy :)
Sunflowers from my garden. Just looking at them makes my heart happy :)
While in Butajira a couple of weeks ago to give a training to a newer group, I sat in on a session one of our staff members facilitated on development. The session was a discussion where he asked the group how they felt about foreign aid after being in Ethiopia for 6 months. By the end of the session my brain was bursting. Listening to the group talk I felt so experienced, but also so cynical. Being in Ethiopia, one of the world’s largest receivers of foreign aid, for over a year and a half now has altered my opinions on aid completely– for better and for worse.
Development aid is wasted on a regular basis– especially by the likes of big organizations like, dare I say it, USAID (which also conveniently funds my own project, so hey, take that for what it’s worth). From my soapbox here, I’ve seen multiple, really expensive projects which have failed to bring desired results. Income Generating Activities where people take the money and run. Books given to schools which are then locked away to be covered in dust and darkness. Teacher trainings where not one teacher actually implements the material. Does that mean we should stop spending this money, though?
Foreign aid is also a huge misconception in the United States which doesn’t help the situation. Many people think the US spends too much money on foreign aid, when “the US has enough problems within its own borders.” If you had to guess right now the percentage of the US budget that goes to foreign aid what would you say? In reality the total spent on (non-military) foreign aid is less than 1% of the total budget. That’s everything: from the Peace Corps operating budget to PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief). So the question is: should we cut this aid– which includes live saving measures like HIV/AIDS medication, Polio Vaccinations, and food aid to thousands of currently malnourished children– just because some of the projects fail and waste money? Of course it’s really easy to say, “Well just cut the programs that aren’t working!” but that’s a lot easier said than done from thousands of miles away. How does one determine which programs are successful and which are not when you don’t live in that community?
Here’s another question: if certain governments suck should we stop giving people in those countries access to life-saving medications or food? Is it these peoples’ fault they were born into a country where the government keeps the money and misdirects crops that are grown in the country? Are they condemned to die from these treatable diseases because of their government’s policies? Should the people in other countries be given more aid just because their government happens to align with the right (rich) countries? So yeah, that was more than one question, but these are real questions we should be asking of ourselves and of our governments.
In my opinion– and remember, my opinion only reflects me, as the disclaimer says, not the US Peace Corps or the US government– foreign aid should definitely not be cut, but the emphasis needs to be placed more on developing the skills and capabilities of the people in the countries that want/need help, regardless of political ideologies. Behavior change is hard work, but of course it is! Lalibella wasn’t carved in a day! There’s a reason people do what they do, whether that reason be tradition or culture or religion, and it cannot be changed over night– and probably shouldn’t be! What I hate is seeing these large organizations come in and throw money around just for the M&E numbers. How many teachers attended a 16 hour training? How many gallons of oil did we give out? If we spend x dollars, x people are better at English in Ethiopia. Sure that formula sounds great, but it doesn’t actually work. Rather, the focus should be on HOW we effect these people. Are more university students abstaining or using condoms to prevent HIV? Are these teachers now using English in the classroom instead of Amharic? Are these peoples’ lives changed for the better?
Development is about people and making peoples’ lives better, whether that may be by teaching teenagers about HIV through soccer or setting an example for local girls by standing up to sexual harassment. Simply throwing money at the problem isn’t the answer. Money provides temporary relief which is certainly needed, but it’s like trying to seal a crack in a dam with rubber cement and just hoping it holds. Reapply if necessary. Without the money the cracks just get bigger and more lethal, but instead of focusing on the money we should be investing in people. Training these people how to fix the cracks or even how to build better dams. One trained farmer from Idaho teaching another, local farmer sustainable ways to grow his crop yield, so that he can feed his family and maybe take some of the rest to market for a profit. Creative and active teachers that can demonstrate improved learning and teaching strategies and can empower teachers and students to do the same thing. A telecom person from, I don’t know, New York, that can finally explain to EthioTeleCom how to improve their network.
But this strategy requires something of us. Each one of us needs to invest in our fellow human beings, whether it be at home or abroad. We’ve spent enough time isolated from each other. America here, Africa there. We should be trying not to judge or change traditions to be more like ours, but to help ease suffering and make all lives more joyous and just a bit easier.
I’m glad I can be a part of an organization that invests in people through people. Peace Corps Volunteers spend enough time “doing development work” to know that one person cannot change the world, but that if one person can effect one or even five other lives for the better, then the time and effort spent was worth it. Because that’s what it’s about. Not meeting quotas and spending money, but meeting people and sharing and growing and hoping that at the end of the day you helped make the world a little bit brighter.
Since Thanksgiving I’ve made it through a grand total of 6 major celebrations (including my birthday) here in Ethiopia: Thanksgiving, my birthday, non-Orthodox Christmas, non-Ethiopian New Year, Gena (Orthodox Christmas), and Timket (Orthodox Epiphany). At times it seems a bit ridiculous to have so many holidays– and to celebrate so many of them twice–but most of the time I feel really lucky to be able to celebrate each of these days in such a special way. Here’s a brief run-down of how I spent holiday season 2006/2013.
Thanksgiving was one of those times where you’re reminded just how alone you can get at site. All-in-all the day was a normal one here in Ethiopia. The dry, dusty air made it seem less like Thanksgiving, but each holiday spent away from family and friends is tough, no matter how busy you try to keep yourself. Hand-drawn ‘thank you’ turkeys with English Club were a bit of a respite with my Student English Clubs. Trying to explain a turkey as a big chicken and how a hand can represent that turkey was a bit lost in translation, but was certainly entertaining.
My birthday and (ferenji) Christmas gave me time to take a mini vacation from site. I spent nearly a week with some other amazing volunteers in the ever exciting capital, Addis Ababa. It was a great week filled with fabulous food (fro yo, cinnamon rolls, enchiladas, Lebanese, cheese plate), friends, and fun. On Christmas Eve some of us went to a Christmas Eve carol service at the local Anglican church, where, surrounded by people of all different nationalities, it truly felt like Christmas. Doing something so normal, so American, like singing “Silent Night” with candles shining, in English, was enough to bring a tear to my eye. Lots of Skype time with the family, including my brother and his new fiancé, Rebekah. In all, a needed and well-spent break.
As New Year 2014 approached, I was fast asleep in bed. On New Year’s Eve I had a Grassroot Soccer practice with some of my favorite kids. We were going to do sparklers, but the local suk was out, so I just celebrated by making dinner and watching a movie. On New Year’s day I made greens in hopes that it would bring me health (or is it money? preferably both).
Gena is always a fun affair on my compound. Unlike most volunteers, I live on a compound with two families, which means double the fun on holidays. After spending about a week on the compound with us, a sheep was killed right outside of my door, and the entire compound took part in its delicious demise. No dorro wat this time: all sheep and beef. Loads of coffee and locally made non-alcoholic beer. At night it was either the amount of food or the slightly undercooked dullet, intestines, that left my belly unsettled and not quite ready for the next day’s leftovers.
Timket (Epiphany) was celebrated in grand style for 3 days here in Yirgalem. Last year I spent the festivities in Addis getting drenched with a holy water hose at what could have been an Ethiopian Christian Rock festival. This year my counterpart and I walked about a kilometer out of the main part of town to watch the parade from the baptismal font to one of the (six) local churches. Everyone was dressed in their finest habesha libs, including myself, dancing and singing as the parade made its way to the church. When the parade finally made it to the church it seemed like half of Yirgalem was there with it. Smushed together, everyone excitedly danced and sang, as the priests chanted over the loudspeaker and dust swept everywhere.
Some days were spent alone, others with Americans, and others at work, but it’s holidays are always a special time– a time to remember family and friends, new and old. I haven’t experienced my last holiday in Ethiopia yet, but I must say these were some memorable ones.
0 times it has rained in the past month
1 new blue ladies Phoenix bike with helmet
1 Fulbright application
1 new DSTV
1 English Club Lesson Plan Manual completed
2 schools regularly attended
2 trips to Addis in the last month
2 visits to the new ice cream shop in Hawassa
4 cups of coffee each day
5 English Clubs
5 times model teaching each week
6 weeks to plan the Yirgalem Mini Camp GLOW
7 months left in Yirgalem
17 students that regularly show up to Grassroots Soccer
51 books raised so far for the Ras Desta ELIC
115 birr for a daily milk contract
600 birr for a new propane tank
2,000 birr from Peace Corps for shai/buna
8,000 students between both of my schools
As we reach that stretch of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas we all begin to question the things we’re thankful for: our family and friends, that working car in the drive, sweet puppies that welcome us at the door, our health, Target. Living in Ethiopia I’ve realized that in the US I took a lot of things for granted. Living in one of the wealthiest countries on earth it’s easy to forget we’re blessed with things daily that some people in the world cannot even fathom– say, a quality education and books.
The first books I read as a child were Laura Ingles Wilde’s The Little House on the Prairie series. Each night before bed I would curl up on my queen sized bed with my grandma, mom, or dad and undertake the task that is reading the English language. At first it was slow going, but by the end of the series I was reading them to myself.
Think of your life without Rainbow Fish or The Giving Tree. The Boxcar Children or Harry Potter. A world without Dr. Suess. These books taught us how to share. They taught us about adventure and magic and the importance of giving. Now imagine your childhood without them. It’s a scary thought, right?
Now that you’re kind of depressed imagining a world without books, I want you to imagine how a student would feel to open these books, begin to decipher these words, and enter an entire new world of imagination and adventure. Imagine their joyous faces when they discover a new word. Imagine their jumbled words that will eventually start to flow smoothly. Imagine their surprise at fully illustrated pictures so lifelike they seem to jump off the page.
Now I want you to donate. Better World Books is an organization which sells cheap new and used books and ships them for free anywhere in the world– including to this girl’s PO box. If you want to make a difference in the lives of the students at Ras Desta Primary School for the cost of an average Starbucks drink, pick out a book or two (or five!) on the suggested list below (or any of your childhood favorites) and follow these directions:
This holiday season help me give these students the gift that keeps on giving: books!
“The Lion’s Whiskers and Other Ethiopian Tales” by Brent K. Ashabranner
“The Fire on the Mountain, and Other Stories from Ethiopia and Eritrea” by Harold Courlander et al,
“The Perfect Orange” by Frank P. Araujo
A Bear Called Paddington
Alices Adventures in Wonderland
A Chair for My Mother
Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good Very Bad Day
Amelia Bedelia Anne of Green Gables
Are You My Mother? The Very Hungry Caterpillar A Wrinkle in Time
Basil of Baker Street
Bernstein Bears Series
Bread and Jam for Frances
Big Red Lollipop
Black on White
Bridge to Terabithia Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?
Bud, Not Buddy
Caps for Sale
Cat in the Hat
Clarice Bean, That’s Me
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory
Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs
Clifford the Big Red Dog
Counting Kisses: A Kiss and Read Book
Diary of a Wimpy Kid
Diary of a Worm
Diary of a Young Girl
Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!
Frog and Toad Are Friends
George and Martha
Go, Dog, Go! Good Night Gorilla Good Night Moon Green Eggs and Ham
Guess How Much I Love You?
Harold and the Purple Crayon
Harriet the Spy
Harry Potter Series (
1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7)
Harvesting Hope: The Story of Cesar Chavez
Have You Filled a Bucket Today? A Guide to Daily Happiness for Kids
Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes
How the Grinch Stole Christmas
Hi! Fly Guy
Hunger Games Series
I Took the Moon for a Walk
Island of the Blue Dolphins
If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
If You Give a Moose a Muffin If You Give a Pig a Pancake
In the Night Kitchen
James and the Giant Peach
Knuffle Bunny: A Cautionary Tale
Little House on the Prairie Series
Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse
Llama Llama Red Pajama
Magic School Bus All Dried Up
Make Way for Ducklings
Martin’s Big Words
My Name is Yoon
Moo, Baa, La La La
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH
Mufaro’s Beautiful Daughters: An African Tale
My Rotten Redheaded Older Brother
My Truck is Stuck
No No Yes Yes
Not a Box Ages 4-7
Number the Stars
Oh, the Places You’ll Go Olivia One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish
Pat the Bunny
Peek a Who
Puss in Boots
Rainbow Fish Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry
Ramona the Pest
Ramona Quimby, Age 8
Sarah, Plain and Tall
Stellaluna Strega Nona
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble
Sylvia Long’s Mother Goose
Tea with Milk
Team Moon: How 400,000 People Landed Apollo 11 on the Moon
Ten, Nine, Eight
The Art Lesson
The Bad Beginning
The Adventures of Tintin
The Chronicles of Narnia
The Hundred and One Dalmatians
The LIttle Prince
The Story of Babar
The Tiger Who Came to Tea
The Trumpet and the Swan
The Boxcar Children Series
The Composition Ages 8-10
The Giving Tree
The House at Pooh Corner
The Indian in the Cupboard
The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Lightning Thief
The Lion and the Mouse
The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe The Little Engine that Could The Little Mouse, the Red Ripe Strawberry, and the Big Hungry Bear
The Magic School Bus Series
The Maze of Bones
The Mitten The Napping House
The Paper Bag Princess
The Phantom Tollboth
The Polar Express
The Runaway Bunny The Secret Garden
The Story of Ferdinand
The Tale of Peter Rabbit
The True Story of the Three Little Pigs
The Velveteen Rabbit
The Wind in the Willows
Through My Eyes
When Marian Sang: The True Recital of Marian Anderson
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Where the Sidewalk Ends
The Snowy Day
Vlad the Drac
What Do People Do All Day?
What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?
What Shall We Do With the Boo Hoo Baby?
Where the Wild Things Are
Why Mosquitoes Buzz in People’s Ears
Winnie The Pooh
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Would you Rather
*English Teaching Books
Chicken Soup for the Teachers’ Soul
Games in Teaching English as a Foreign Language by: Nomi Kun
Multiple Choice- A Useful Testing Method for Teaching English as a Foreign Language
Teaching Grammar by: Jim Scrivener
The ESL/ELL Teacher’s Survival Guide: Ready-to-Uuse Strategies, Tools, and Activities for Teaching ENglish Language Learners of All Levels
99 Ideas and Activites for Teaching English Learners with the Siop Model By: Mary Ellen Vogt
The Good Grammar Book: A Grammar Practice Book for Elementary to Lower-Intermediate Students of English
Grammar Games: Cognitive, Affective and Drama Activities for EFL Students
Treasures, a Reading/Language Arts Program, Grade 1, Book 2 Student Editions
*Teaching Aids: Multiples are welcome!
Webster’s American English Dictionary Amharic English, English Amharic Dictionary: A Modern Dictionary of the Amharic Language By: Endale Zenawi
My Big Bag of 8 Sticker Books
Tear Up This Book!: The Sticker, Stencil, Stationery, Games, Crafts, Doodle, and Journal Book for Girls!
*Really any sticker or coloring-type book if you search “stickers” or “coloring” many come up!
Training is a big part of Peace Corps. Before my service even “began” I was put through nearly 3 months of intensive language, culture, and education training. At certain times my entire group (all 60 of us) comes together for follow up trainings that is normally focused on educational training. One time all of Peace Corps Ethiopia got together for an informative and fun All Volunteer Conference where we learned about cross-sector initiatives all volunteers can work on. One of the best trainings I’ve received so far, though, was the Grassroot Soccer program I finished only yesterday. My counterpart, Mignot, and myself traveled to Addis Ababa with several other volunteers to attend this great training.
Grassroot Soccer is an innovative organization centered in South Africa that partners with Peace Corps and other organizations to teach HIV/AIDS and Malaria “skillz”. The basic idea is to create a curriculum about these sensitive topics using soccer balls which naturally attract youth in so many countries across the world. Not being a huge soccer fan, I was a bit hesitant to join the training at first, but after talking to my counterpart we decided to sign up.
After 4 days of training I noticed my usually quiet counterpart stepping up to lead energizers and answer questions. Of course the information was great, but I think the greatest immediate impact I’ve seen is the confidence it’s built in my counterpart. I hope she we go back to Yirgalem she will take this confidence and become a really strong leader within our community. I cannot wait t start the program with a local NGO which supports at-risk students, and I cannot wait for Mignot to really lead this effort.
Check out some pictures of the “HIV Limbo” session Mignot and I lead for the group.
Normally, in the US, the beginning of fall, marked by turning leaves and cooler temperatures, wouldn’t be the ideal time to start making New Year’s Resolutions. Here in Ethiopia, though, the New Year began a month ago (September 11). It’s also 2006 here in Ethiopia. Don’t ask. In August I officially began my second year as a Peace Corps Volunteer meaning I have less than 12 months to finish the work I’ve started here. For this Ethiopian New Year and new year in my Peace Corps adventure I’ve made a few resolutions in hopes that my second year here will be even more fulfilling than my last. Without further ado, here they are:
1. Accept more. As the only foreigner in town I get a lot of offers. Offers to join people for coffee. Offers to eat with people I’ve never met. Offers to join others for (insert holiday/wedding/birthday celebration here). Offers to take people to America. Offers to marry any male my age (and older). This year I want to accept peoples’ offers (with the exception of the last two offers) more often. Last year when people invited me to things I was very careful about what I accepted. Maybe it was because I was afraid I didn’t know enough language to keep the conversation going or maybe it was because I was worried they would ask me about offers 4 and 5. After a year, though, I’ve found that the invitations I have accepted turn into some of the most meaningful relationships I’ve had in country. So bring on the awkward, language-limited conversations and syrupy sweet coffee! Anyways, I’ve found pretty good answers for offers 4 and 5.
2. Depend more on Ethiopian friends. It’s so easy when I’m having a bad day to call up a fellow PCV and rant about Ethiopia and its problems. At the end of the conversation, I’ve vented but I don’t feel any better. Rather, if I’ve had a bad day and surround myself with my Ethiopian friends it reminds me that every country has its problems and that there are people in Ethiopia that make me genuinely happy. When I depend on these friends I complain less and feel more optimistic. Hints the resolution.
3. Give the teachers another chance. My job title is technically “teacher trainer,” but last year I could get very few teachers to work with me. Teachers rarely showed up to my programs, and the students’ enthusiasm to work with me made it easy to move from working mainly with teachers to students. School has only been in session about a week, but when the teachers returned from summer break I could already tell they were more accepting of me– perhaps it’s because I’m still here. We’ve had productive conversations (where they tell me they want my help with lesson planning, teaching aids, and model teaching) and I’m excited to work with them again. I knew they’d come around eventually!
4. Wake up. My goal of becoming a morning person entails going to bed earlier (not watching as much nightly television on my laptop) and waking up when the sun rises. Ideally I’d do some productive activity like running or yoga with this extra morning time, but I know better than to make those promises to myself. Instead, I think I’m okay if I just use the time to catch up on some emails or read a news article, just so long as I’m up and doing something productive.
5. Post-PC plans. Cast a wide net and find the best possible options for life after Peace Corps. Right now I’m applying for a Fulbright, but I want to be prepared with lots of options. Maybe I’ll take the Foreign Service Test. I’m definitely studying for and taking the GRE. Working for a year to stop living like a volunteer? Who really knows (certainly not me). I do know that once I finish up my service about 10 months from now, I want to find something fulfilling. I’m not going to be able to do that without options.
Other than these big 5 I have some smaller Resolutions– shower more, get rid of the rats in my house, keep in touch with family and friends more often, keep up with this blog– but the ones above are the big ones. The ones I think will really make my second year better than the first. It’s going to be a great year; I just know it.
Putting Tulsa Time aside and heading out on an adventure to Ethiopia with the Peace Corps
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life as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Ethiopia
From college to the Peace Corps, SC to Guatemala. Moving from one family to another.
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