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

UN Watchdog Urges Israel to Probe Possible Gaza War Crimes

More than 2,100 Palestinians, most of them civilians, were killed in a 51-day war in Gaza, along with 67 Israeli soldiers and six civilians in Israel More

New Kenyan 'Thin SIMs' Poised to Transform African Mobile Money

Equity's new technology is approved in African nation for one-year trial, though industry leader Safaricom says thin SIMs could lead to data theft and fraud More

Solar's Future Looks Brighter

New technology and dropping prices are contributing to a surge in solar power 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.
Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukrainei
X
Al Pessin
October 25, 2014 4:21 PM
Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Talks to Resume on Winter Gas for Ukraine

Ukrainian and Russian officials will meet again next week in an effort to settle their dispute over natural gas supplies that threatens to leave Ukraine short of heating fuel for the coming winter. VOA’s Al Pessin reports from London the dispute is complex, and has both economic and geopolitical dimensions.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.
Video

Video US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.

All About America

AppleAndroid