The article, written by Deepa Ramudamu, has been copied below.
Policy students take a close-up look at the struggle to develop sub-Saharan Africa.
Eight students who studied abroad in Ethiopia this past summer shared their experiences with the country’s culture, policy and economic future during a Center for International & Security Studies at Maryland forum on Sept. 10.
Their findings echoed data released Wednesday in a Pew Research study on economic priorities in sub-Saharan Africa.
During the 17-day trip, University of Maryland students traveled to Africa’s so-called continental capital to visit various government agencies, universities and other organizations. They interacted with officials such as USAID representatives as well as Ethiopian citizens.
“The level of insider access we had in Ethiopia was amazing,” said Ceena Modarres, a graduate student in the School of Public Policy.
“You could see what it’s like from the standpoint of a private business owner in Ethiopia,” as well as from the perspective of non-governmental organizations, he said. The trip, which took place in June as part of a course called “The Policy and Politics of Development in Africa,” focused on the barriers and potential for economic and political growth in sub-Saharan Africa.
The students also spent time at the International Leadership Academy of Ethiopia speaking to the children about leadership and civic engagement, said junior Lara Fu, who studies government and politics.
They also traveled to Ahope, an orphanage for HIV-positive children, she said.
“[Ahope] was originally started as a place for HIV-positive orphans to have a final place to stay because HIV medication wasn’t great back then,” Fu explained. But thanks to the U.S. government’s PEPFAR initiative to stem AIDS globally, “medication has improved and people who are HIV positive are able to live longer, so now they have a children’s orphanage.”
New Pew data finds about 38 percent of Ethiopians list health care as one of their top priorities, as did eight of nine sub-Saharan countries surveyed. About 15 percent named education as other major concerns.
It’s not hard to see why: each dollar the state spends on early childhood education returns $8 to $16 the community, students explained in their presentation
“We wanted to get sort of on the ground and interact with everyday Ethiopians,” Fu said.
Yiqun Ren, public policy graduate student, described what she learned about the culture, including how Ethiopians greet each other with handshakes, hugs and kisses on the cheek.
“I was told by an Ethiopian lady that they spend much time on greetings because they think people are more important than time,” she said.
While most of the students had never been to Ethiopia and did not have familial ties to the country, three were Ethiopian themselves.
Getachew said she had traveled to Ethiopia many times since moving to the United States at a young age, so she initially thought she wouldn’t learn much.
“I came out of it learning a lot more about my heritage but also about the political institutions in the country,” said Meaza Getachew, who was born in Ethiopia.
“[The trip] provided me with a lot more knowledge on why we should question democratic development and whether or not that is something that countries like Ethiopia … are able to achieve,” she said.
Several members of the audience had traveled to Ethiopia, including Nancy Hayden, a Ph.D candidate in the School of Public Policy. Hayden has documented her travels on her blog.
Hayden said she spoke with many Ethiopians and discussed topics like political turmoil in the country.
Despite many reforms for the Ethiopian government to become a more federal system, there are still challenges for the country. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front has been in power there since 1991, according to the World Bank, and has been a dominating force against the opposition.
Photo: Junior government and politics major Lara Fu talks civic engagement in Ethiopia. Deepa Ramudamu/Plex