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

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

1855 Slave Brochure Starkly Details Sale of Black Americans

Document lists entire families that were up for sale in New Orleans, offering graphic insight into the slavery trade More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs