News / Africa

California Congressman Returns to Ethiopian Roots

John Garamendi hugs his wife, Patti (file photo)
John Garamendi hugs his wife, Patti (file photo)

Multimedia

Audio

A California congressman and his wife are in Ethiopia to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Peace Corps at the place where they served as volunteers in the 1960s.  The anniversary has revived memories of the Peace Corps’ key role in ending a war that killed 70,000 people.



John Garamendi leans back in his chair as he recalls the life he and his new wife Patti found when they arrived as Peace Corps volunteers in Emperor Haile Selassie’s Ethiopia in 1966.

"We were to be English teachers. We wound up teaching the sixth and seventh grade," recalled Garamendi. "Patti not only taught school but set up a women’s program, a children’s program, a pre-school program, and I started doing community development work."

Previous trip

This is not the Garamendis' first trip back to Ethiopia. They returned in 1984 to help when famine struck the countryside and have been back several times since. Patti came in 1994 as associate director of the Peace Corps when the Ethiopia program was revived after a period of absence during the dictatorial Dergue regime.

But this week, 50 years after U.S. President John F. Kennedy established the Peace Corps, now Congressman John Garamendi of California returned with Patti and the youngest of their six children to the town of Metu for an emotional reunion with friends they made so many years ago.

"It was wonderful to see the progress that the town and community had made," he said. "And one thing the students said as we were gathered there at the school was, you taught us two very important words, a four letter word H-E-L-P, that we were to help each other, and the other was ‘community’, that we were a community and we would together do well. And they had indeed."

Peace mission

The California congressman recalls another visit to the Horn of Africa in the late 1990s as part of a peacekeeping mission when the region was engulfed in war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. Garamendi says the mission succeeded largely because both Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki trusted the Peace Corps.

"My team was invited to meet with prime minister of Ethiopia and the president of Eritrea. Why? Because they’d been taught by Peace Corps and they knew our agenda was peace," Garamendi said. "We had no other agenda. So we met with both heads of state talking about the war, talking about what their goals were. And in those communications we saw a path for peace. Those concepts we had discovered in our communication with the heads of state… became the essential elements of the peace negotiations and the settlement."  

Garamendi and his team of Peace Corps veterans were later invited to witness the signing of the Algiers peace agreement that ended the two-year war.

Changing lives

The Peace Corps left Ethiopia a second time during that war, which claimed 70,000 lives, then returned again three years ago. The 75 current volunteers do HIV/AIDS prevention work and agriculture projects. But Garamendi says just as in the early days, Peace Corps people bring a variety of skills to the places where they work and live.

"Now one of the Peace Corps volunteers in [the town of] Bonga has become the IT expert for the region," noted Garamendi. "He’s now traveling not only in Bonga but in other communities around that area helping with information technology, Internet, repairing computers, setting up programs and the like. He wasn’t sent here to do that but that was his interest and now he’s become the regional expert on that."

More volunteers

Ethiopia Peace Corps Director Nwando Diallo says there are plans to increase the number of volunteers to at least 200 in the next year or so. That number will include teams of English teachers following the trail John and Patti Garamendi blazed more than 40 years ago.

Congressman Garamendi notes, however, that it is not only the recipient countries who benefit from Peace Corps work.  He points out there are 200,000 American men and women who gained a greater understanding of other cultures, religions and the struggles of peoples through volunteering abroad.

You May Like

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said To Be Improving

Experimental drugs have been tried on six people: three Westerners and now, three African pyhysicians More

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities residents rebuild their lives, but many say everyone is being treated with suspicion More

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

Girls learn to object; FGM practitioners face penalties from jail sentences to stiff fines More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improvingi
X
Carol Pearson
August 19, 2014 11:43 PM
The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video Five Patients Given Experimental Ebola Drug Said to Be Improving

The World Health Organization has approved the use of experimental treatments for Ebola patients in West Africa. The Ebola outbreak there is unprecedented, the disease deadly. The number of people who have died from Ebola has surpassed 1,200. VOA's Carol Pearson reports on the ethical considerations of allowing experimental drugs to be used.
Video

Video In Ukraine, Fear and Distrust Remain Where Fighting has Stopped

As the Ukrainian military reclaims control of eastern cities from pro-Russian separatists, residents are getting a chance to rebuild their lives. VOA's Gabe Joselow reports from the town of Kramatorsk in Donetsk province, where a sense of fear is still in the air, and distrust of the government in Kyiv still runs deep.
Video

Video China Targets Overseas Assets of Corrupt Officials

As China presses forward with its anti-graft effort, authorities are targeting corrupt officials who have sent family members and assets overseas. The efforts have stirred up a debate at home on exactly how many officials take that route and how likely it is they will be caught. Rebecca Valli has this report.
Video

Video Leading The Fight Against Islamic State, Kurds Question Iraqi Future

Western countries including the United States have begun arming the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in northern Iraq to aid their battle against extremist Sunni militants from the Islamic State. But there are concerns that a heavily-armed Kurdistan Regional Government, or KRG, might seek to declare independence and cause the break-up of the Iraqi state. As Henry Ridgwell reports from London, the KRG says it will only seek greater autonomy from Baghdad.
Video

Video In Rural Kenya, Pressure Builds Against Female Circumcision

In some Kenyan communities, female genital mutilation remains a rite of passage. But activists are pushing back, with education for girls and with threats of punishment those who perform the circumcision. Mohammed Yusuf looks at the practice in the rural eastern community of Tharaka-Nithi.
Video

Video For Obama, Racial Violence is Personal Issue

The racial violence in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson is presenting U.S. President Barack Obama with an issue to which he has a deep personal connection. To many Americans, Obama's election as America's first black president marked a turning point in race relations in the United States, and Obama has made ending the violence a policy priority. On Monday he issued a new call for calm and understanding. Luis Ramirez reports from the White House.
Video

Video Clinton-Obama Relationship Could Impact 2016 Election

President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton have a long and complicated relationship. That relationship took another turn recently when Clinton criticized the president’s foreign policy. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports there is renewed attention on the Clinton-Obama relationship as Hillary Clinton considers running for
Video

Video Iran Looks to Maintain Influence in Baghdad With New Shia PM

Washington and Tehran share the goal of stopping Syrian-based militants in Iraq. But experts say it's Iran, not the United States, that will most influence how the new government in Baghdad approaches internal reforms and the war in Syria. VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns has the story.

AppleAndroid