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.
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.
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…