$485,000 Book Donation!

Over the past few months I have been helping to facilitate a Book Donation between a Non-Profit in the U.S. and my host institution in Ethiopia.  Finally coming to fruition this past week, I am happy to announce that we received nearly 45,000 brand-new English textbooks from International Book Project, working in partnership with the U.S. Embassy and Dire Dawa University!   With a list price of nearly half a million dollars, the books were supplied by McGraw Hill Higher Education and encompass a wide array of disciplines from Medicine to Education and from Law to Business.  Not only for the sole use by the university, we have plans to also distribute them to local libraries and schools, ensuring that the larger community of learners has access to this incredible donation.

It was in November when I received an email from a colleague at the university asking me to help organize, acting as an intermediary between the Non-Profit in the United States, the Embassy in Addis Ababa and the University in Dire Dawa.  With daily emails across the country and globe, and with weekly telephone calls to all parties involved, I can say that it has certainly been an interesting learning experience.  Totally different in nature from the Nike Football Donation Project I am organizing, this Book Donation Project was more challenging in that it encompassed sea transport between the U.S. and Djibouti and then land transport between Djibouti and Ethiopia.  Customs clearances, tariff billings and language barriers created a climate where it was actually easier and cheaper to move across 8,000 kilometers of Ocean than it was to transport over 400 kilometers of land.  Nonetheless, last Friday we received the books at the University with the President and Vice President presiding over a small ceremony, happy that one part of the process had ended and encouraged about the next steps of utilization.

From International Book Project was Merritt, who worked tirelessly from his end, updating me on the sea transit and alerting me to the arrival dates in Port.  An expert who has done this before with many other countries, he helped guide me through the logistical side of things, including the packing lists, price points, and impending deadlines.  Part of an incredible organization which “promotes literacy, education and global friendships” it was a treat to call the States on a weekly basis and get updates while at the same time shedding light on the sets of circumstances in Ethiopia which countering many of his assessments.  A learning experience for everyone involved, I am honored to have been able to work with such an efficient and professional organization and would recommend their services and mission to anyone interested!

In Ethiopia was my colleague from Dire Dawa University, Firew, who helped me navigate the endless complications which accompany even educational donations. Obtaining countless signatures (and stamps) from the Ministry of Education and joining me on meetings with the university administration, he was the voice of patience in an otherwise glacial process.  Like his counterpart, Merritt in the U.S., without Firew’s help this probably would not have been possible.  To ship a 40-foot container across the world is no small task and it truly takes a team to put ideas into practice.

For its part, the Public Affairs Section at the Embassy helped out with some of the shipping costs, while International Book Project footed the other fees associated with such a large shipment. Currently the nearly 45,000 books are in the process of being cataloged through the university’s system, with smaller donations going to the local libraries and schools as deemed necessary by content and level.  Moreover, members of the Front Office have plans to visit the university and hold a ceremony celebrating the donation while recognizing it as a truly beneficial endeavor for the larger community of Dire Dawa.  We understand education as a means of empowerment and believe that through these books, worldviews will be expanded, English attainment will be increased and global partnerships will be solidified…



Djibouti Educational Outreach

For the second year in a row I took the opportunity to travel during “Ethiopian Christmas” which is celebrated the second week in January.  Paring both work and vacation, I made my way to the neighboring country of Djibouti which is only about a 30-minute flight from Dire Dawa (but a $90 Visa On Arrival).  There I spent four full days with the first two immersed in educational outreach in partnership with the Embassy and the second two relaxing pool side overlooking the Gulf of Aden.

As was the case last year, I again was privileged enough to work with the Cultural Attaché in the Public Affairs Office, Joia Starks, who also runs the English Language Programming in Djibouti.  With no English Language Fellow, Fulbright Scholar, or even Peace Corps. Volunteer, the challenge to reach every need throughout the country can be daunting, although Joia and her staff do an incredible job given the circumstances.  Still, it was a welcomed opportunity to assist, if even for a few days, with workshops and meetings both in rural areas and the capitol alike.

On Wednesday we traveled about three hours by Motor Pool to the desert town of Dikhil which is actually on the road back to Ethiopia.  There we were able to meet briefly with Prefect Mohamed Cheiko Hassan (read: The Governor) exchanging pleasantries before heading out to a library to meet with local teachers and students.  With about 10 teachers and 20 students in attendance, I led a short lesson incorporating interactive techniques associated with English language acquisition through a program called “Activate” hoping to promote engaging learning practices as opposed to rote memorization.  Overall it was a success, especially given the outlying location of the project, with both the teachers and students full of an enthusiasm which can hard to come by.

During our trip out to Dikhil, we were joined by Combat Camera(!) who filmed our outing for part of a “Faces of Diplomacy” they are promoting for the new U.S. Diplomacy Center in Washington, DC.  The Star, Joia, was filmed in the field so as to showcase some of the educational and cultural outreach she is doing on behalf of the Embassy in Djibouti, with our lesson at the library acting as a perfect example of the benefits associated with such initiatives.  From my end, I made a cameo appearance (or two), hopefully highlighting the cross-cultural cooperation taking place between the respective countries of Ethiopia and Djibouti.  More than anything though, the film crew aimed to capture the positive environment of the mission, from the diplomatic efforts made to the practical lessons learned.

Dikhil Library

Thursday saw us to meetings with both the public and private educational sectors in the capitol, including an audience with the English Department at the University of Djibouti.  The relationship between the Embassy and the University is one which is constantly evolving, and to be able to meet with 10 members of their staff speaks volumes to the diplomatic efforts of Joia and her team.  They were all engaging and had valid points to make as it pertained to English language learning not only within the confines of the university but also to the extended community of learners which makes up Djibouti.  A Francophone country who holds perhaps the single most important geopolitical location in today’s climate, the country is on a rapid pace of change and these educators understand the importance of English within that algorithm.


University of Djibouti English Department

Given the short distance between Dire Dawa and Djibouti, I have plans for future collaboration there as well as here.  For the upcoming Mid-Year Conference, the new Information Resource Center (IRC) Coordinator, Turki, will be invited to help expand his network as it relates to English Language Programming on the continent.  Similarly, I have plans to return to participate in a Nike Football Project, donating equipment to Djiboutian female youth as a means of empowerment through sports.  My experiences both last year as well as last week have taught me that continued cooperation between these two country’s educational and cultural fronts will be to the benefit of everyone involved, and I for one, am grateful to be a part of that process…

Gulf of Aden


Abdul Kadir Mosque English School

Apart from Dire Dawa University, the only other formalized English school in the city takes place at a local Mosque, Abdul Kadir.  Run by an absolutely amazing International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP) Alumni, Imam Mohamed Abdifatah, it hosts about 100 students for daily/weekly classes, ranging from beginner to advanced, all taking place in a school housed on the same compound as the Mosque.  Organized and efficient, the classes duplicate as a community builder as well with local students and teachers pairing to not only learn English to but to likewise foster discussion on municipal issues as they pertain to education and society.  As the only American educator living (semi) permanently in Dire Dawa, I feel that it is my responsibility to assist in any way I can, including donating both time and resources to this incredible venture which is taking place in my adopted community.

English Class

In partnership with Imam Mohamed, I have agreed to volunteer teach on Saturday nights throughout the year, working with the higher-level students on all four skill sets as they pertain to English-language attainment. In addition, I will be donating materials as well, including books, magazines, and media-literacy tools so that the school is able to expand its library; allowing access to a wider array of resources to utilize for educational growth.  From a cost-perspective, it is 80ETB (about $4USD) a month to attend the school, and I am hoping to establish some sort of Scholarship where I can facilitate eight low-income students a month to be able to attend, for they know as much as I do that second (and in many cases third) language acquisition is a gateway to a more promising future.

With Teachers

Of all the individualized teaching opportunities Ethiopia has presented me with, I feel that this one is the best yet, working alongside devoted teachers and in conjunction with motivated students in a setting which mirrors the beautiful complexities which extend beyond any classroom.  The inquisitiveness of the students is palpable and I find myself replying to their questions with a smile on my face, knowing that I am making both an educational as well as cultural difference in their understanding of the world.  Yet the marker of any good teaching experience is what I, the teacher, am able to learn, and I have no doubt that over the course of the upcoming months I will find out firsthand from both these teachers and students alike that we share similar ideas and dreams for the betterment of tomorrow through educational and cultural exchange, teaching and l from one another about the beauty we all possess…

With Students