Posts Tagged ‘Addis Ababa’

Here’s a living map of Addis Ababa.  Please note that you can click ‘view larger map’ below the map.  Let me know if you would like anything added or would like to be added as a contributor to the map:


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Eliminating public urination would undoubtedly improve the flow of traffic through Ethiopia’s urban centres.  Driving through the streets of Addis Ababa can be treacherous enough, and obstacles abound.  Poor pedestrian infrastructure means that there are many areas of the city without sidewalks, and people are often forced to walk on the road.  Dogs are running around.  Donkeys get in the way.  Herds of sheep have to be moved from one side of the road to the other.  There are so many things to avoid on the roads here.  How can the flow of traffic be improved?  Building sidewalks throughout an entire city would be expensive.  The livestock are not going anywhere.  One inexpensive way to reduce traffic congestion is to ban public urination.  The men who decide that the middle of a roundabout is a good place to take a piss are slowing cars down.  Two lane roundabouts become one lane.  Lane changes in the middle of roundabouts to avoid public pissers cause delays.  Putting an end to this pissing practice will speed up any commuter’s journey home.  But there must be other reasons to put a stop to public urination.  Women are not usually the ones partaking.  Could the Ethiopian male’s fondness for peeing on the street be connected to gender inequality? 

Ethiopia ranks low on the United Nations Gender Inequality Index.  It is 174th out of 187 ranked countries.  There are all sorts of reasons why women in this country have a difficult time.  Reasons cited by the UN Gender Inequality Index include poor education, poor access to health professionals during pregnancy, and low participation in the labour market.  There is no doubt that all of these factors contribute to the hardship endured by Ethiopia’s women, and they must be addressed.  Policymakers have been trying to improve Ethiopia’s gender inequality for decades.  The Canadian International Development Agency treats gender as a cross-cutting theme that runs through all of its development projects.  Yet in the Gender Inequality Index Ethiopia ranks two places below Afghanistan…not exactly a country noted for progressive gender policies.  Despite the failure of policymakers’ best minds over the years to improve the lot of women in Ethiopia, I will throw my hat into the ring with a policy proposal designed to promote gender equality in Ethiopia.  It will be a nation-wide social engineering project, with ramifications for Ethiopians living in all corners of the country.  The policy will force a societal change of behavior.  In addition to improving Ethiopia’s gender equality ranking, it will improve the flow of traffic in large urban centres, and improve hygiene in the country.  All of this can be accomplished with a policy that is a mere three words long:  Banning public urination.

Plenty of cultural behaviors around the world have changed over time to reflect shifting societal norms.  Feet are no longer bound in China.  Women in Canada do not think twice about getting a job outside of the home.  Drinking and driving is now taboo in most of the western world.  Men who whip out their willies on crowded streets and start peeing against walls or in bushes as people walk past are doing more than simply relieving themselves.  They are communicating their gender’s dominance:  I am a man, so I can do this.  Women do not urinate in public.  Women are expected to dress conservatively and keep a low profile.  They receive lewd comments if their heads are uncovered or their knees are exposed, never mind them hiking up their skirts to take a leak at the side of the road.  Banning public urination will force men to stop and think:  Why is it ok for men to pee in public but not women?  Where do the women pee?  Maybe I should find out and pee somewhere similar. 

I must admit that peeing outdoors under the stars while camping is relaxing.  But what stops me from pulling over on the side of a crowded street, or in the middle of a roundabout for a piss is not simply shyness, but more civility and consideration.  I think that it would make people uncomfortable if I started urinating against the side of a building on a busy street in Toronto.  And I think that it would make the women in Toronto feel more uncomfortable than the men there.  I think a national campaign to get men to stop peeing in the streets is a good starting point for raising Ethiopia’s ranking on the United Nations’ Gender Inequality Index, particularly if it is accompanied by a public awareness campaign to educate people that the ban is taking place as part of an effort to treat women with more respect.

Getting people in Canada to stop driving after drinking alcohol involved banning the practice through legislation, but the ban was accompanied by an education campaign meant to educate the public about why the practice was deemed unacceptable.  TV ads and billboards taught the public about why drinking and driving was dangerous.  A similar public awareness campaign would have to go with the ban on public urination.  Women don’t pee in public, so why should men?  It is not the catchiest slogan, but I’m sure that as the campaign evolves, more memorable slogans can be written.  Ads to convince men to stop peeing in public could branch out into messages reminding men to treat women with respect.  They could get men to stop and think about how their behavior affects women.  ‘Shocking’ posters portraying women urinating on the streets could make men realize what it looks like when they do it.  Another option is to use national role models to deliver the message.   Long distance running is a popular sport in Ethiopia, and with the Olympics beginning next week, the sport will be brought into the spotlight.  A TV commercial with a prominent Ethiopian runner taking a break from a race to pee next to the track could have an impact on the urination practice:  ‘We are in a race against time to improve the lives of women in our country.  Don’t lose the race by pissing on the side of the road,’ could go the narrative over the TV ad. 

A ban on public urination with a public information campaign would have the added effect of improving hygiene in Ethiopian cities.  The smell of sewage would decrease.  The prevalence of pests would be lowered.  Stains on city walls could be cleaned up.  All of this could lead to a stronger civil society.  Citizens must consider what kind of city they want to live in.  Surely the practice of public urination has its roots in rural living.  Peeing outside while living on a small-scale farm does not have much impact on neighbours, but living in a city requires different practices.  Parisians still have a penchant for public pissing, and the city’s mayor tried to curb the practice by building sloping walls in Paris parks that sprayed piss back onto the culprits.  Expensive projects like this may not work in Ethiopia, but cutting down on the public urination would make for a cleaner environment.  “Give us toilets and we will use them!” will say people (men) upset by the ban on public urination.  They have a point, and providing public latrines should be a long term goal for city governments in Ethiopia.  But these naysayers should start by simply ask a woman where she pees.  It is not enough to simply say that the reason one pisses in public is because of a lack of public toilet facilities if 50% of the public is finding somewhere else to pee.

Sun Yat Sen believed that competent governance of bodily functions is a prerequisite for competent governance.  China has made great strides over the past few decades to convince citizens to stop peeing, hacking up phlegm, and spitting in public.  On my last visit to China in 2003, people in restaurants there were still spitting on restaurant floors and butting out cigarettes in uneaten food on the table.  But the government there has reportedly stepped up efforts to encourage people to wait in lines and stop spitting in public.  If people are going to live in cities, it is important to have respect for one’s fellow citizens.  China is responsible for many Ethiopian infrastructure projects.  It needs to share its social engineering tactics, as well:  Stop pissing on the street because you gross out and intimidate women.  Stop and think about why it is ok for men to piss on the street but not women. 

So there you have it:  a simple policy that I predict will have a positive impact on Ethiopia’s ranking in the Gender Inequality Index,  AND improve the flow of traffic.   I’ll just wait for CIDA to call for project proposals on how to simultaneously raise the status of women and improve traffic flow.

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overlooking Awash River

Busy times in the VSO world.  It had been ingrained into my mind not to expect things to move quickly.  The message was that if volunteers spent the first half of a placement cultivating trust so that something could be accomplished in the second half then that placement could be considered a success.  But things here move along at quite a good clip.

On the College ELIC (English Language Improvement Centre) front, I have created a levelling system.  This consists of a baseline speaking test, and an analysis sheet to use in assigning students to a level.  This allows for students to join an English conversation class that is appropriate to their level.  It also gives students the opportunity to see which skills they need to work on in order to improve their English.  The results have been digitally stored in student profiles and will be kept on the ELIC computer.  In this way, College staff will be able to continue utilising the system after my departure.  This is capacity-building in the Ethiopian education sector.

At the moment, workshops run by ELIC are only available to language majors.   The plan is to expand the availability of ELIC workshops to all departments by using the same levelling system.   A science student will be able to attend ELIC workshops and will have a better notion of how the ELIC services can be of benefit.  Students will be able to choose whether to attend a Basic, Pre-Intermediate or Intermediate ELIC class or workshop based on a level of achievement received after completing the baseline test.  The College is excited to expand the services of ELIC to students from the various departments.  Installing this system will exponentially expand the number of students that receive help from the centre.

In addition to coordinating the ELIC at the College, I have begun managing a project funded by the Guernsey Overseas Aid Commission to build a Girls’ toilet and improve the library infrastructure at a local primary school.  This week I met with local education officials to select an appropriate school.  We visited the school to ensure there was space for a toilet and to have a look at the library facilities.  The principal signed on for the scheme.  Next week I will be in Addis Ababa for an ELIC conference and will deliver the paperwork to the VSO Programme Office in order to release the funds.  Then I will monitor the progress of the project, collect receipts and write a report for the funding organisation.  The toilet and the library should be completed by the summer.

location of new toilet

library to be upgraded

library study area

Asaita College of Teacher Education is also working with some NGO’s.  One is called the Development Expertise Centre from Holland.  It is funding a 5 year project to train teachers in student-centred pedagogy.  The College will be supporting teachers in its cluster to help them gain proficiency in student-centred pedagogy.  My role as Cluster / In-service Trainer will be to assist the teachers with taking a student-centred approach to learning.

Finally, I take part in the College’s Higher Diploma Programme.  This course is a prerequisite for all teacher trainers at colleges and universities throughout Ethiopia.  It can be summarised as a crash course in Western pedagogy, and would be familiar territory for any teacher.  The first time the programme ran here it was facilitated by a VSO volunteer, but then one of the course graduates took over as facilitator.  I attend mainly because it is a good way to get to know the teaching staff at the College.  Small group work is how the course runs, and there is lots of opportunity for good professional discussions about teaching with some really committed instructors.  Sometimes I facilitate a section of the module, but the intangible ‘building professional relationships’ seems to benefit the most.

Higher Diploma Programme participants engaging in some active learning

This wraps up my update.  Thank you to everyone that has sponsored my work here.  I believe that the fundraising is 72% complete.  If you feel like you can contribute, please click on ‘Brian’s Fundraising Page’ in the right hand tool bar.  If you could ‘Share’ this blog on Facebook, that would be appreciated also.  Trying to spread the word about the type of work being done in Ethiopia is part of my mandate.

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The first order of business with VSO Ethiopia has been to create an Action Plan that outlines my role with the organisation for the year ahead.  Basically it is an opportunity to write the job that I plan on doing, and I have tried to be realistic and diligent in writing it.

The centrepiece of my project is achieving 10 general objectives.  Each objective has a more comprehensive explanation of action that will be taken to achieve the aim.

handing over the keys to the toilet

Objective 3 is ‘Promoting inclusive education and diversity in the educational sector of the Afar Region’.  The most glaring lack of diversity in Ethiopia’s post-secondary education institutions is in gender representation.  In fact, girls are grossly underrepresented at all levels of Ethiopia’s education system except for early primary.  There are many reasons for this:  work, marriage, and financial strain are few worthy of mention.  Another reason is the lack of toilets for female students.  The argument goes that adolescent girls are unlikely to attend school without having a toilet to use.

VSO Ethiopia has facilitated the building of girls’ toilet at Sinble Elementary School in Asaita, Ethiopia.  Last week my fellow volunteer Peter and I attended the ‘key ceremony’ for the girls’ toilet and the key was handed over from the contractor to the school officials.

The girls present at the ceremony expressed their happiness at having a new toilet to use.

Focus Group discussion at Sinble

Our visit also furthered achieving Objective 6 – ‘Building Community Relationships’.  Handing over the keys in front of the toilet are teachers from the school, the principal and vice principal, as well as an official from the local woreda office.  A woreda is a district in Ethiopia.  Building a professional relationship with people in the community is to be accomplished through visits to local institutions, observing the learning conditions and giving these people and institutions a voice which they would otherwise not have.

The Sinble Elementary School that received a new girls’ toilet is housed in a fairly new building.  Windows do not last long in this town.  They are not really needed as the prevent what small amounts of breeze are around from getting into the classroom, but the glass shards that are left over do not look very safe for the students.

The new school does look like a more modern facility than what was there previously.  The old schoolhouse may have had better ventilation than the new, but there is no electricity in this building and the teaching and learning resources are sparse.

former classroom at Sinble

Another planned action for completing a needs assessment of education institutions in the local region is to hold focus group discussions, and the visit to Sinble  School provided the first opportunity to do this.  Prior to the ceremony handing over the keys to the school administration we gathered with some female students at the College to hear firsthand how pleased they were to have a toilet block for themselves.  The arrival of a new toilet block meant the end of a 200m walk to some bushes at the edge of the campus.  As girls get older they get more and more reluctant to come to school under these conditions.

My contribution to the discussion was the insistence that universal female literacy is a prerequisite for development and that having half of a country’s population undereducated and underemployed is not doing anyone much good.  I encouraged them to continue studying and expressed my hope that they graduate from high school and contribute to Ethiopia’s development.  Peter explained VSO Ethiopia’s role in the project and did an excellent job promoting the organisation.

The male students at the school had noticeably more confidence (at least these ones did).

Sinble students eager to pose for a photo

Another project that is underway here falls under the Objective for promoting diversity and inclusivity in the Ethiopian education sector.  Girls are underrepresented in Ethiopian post-secondary education, and in an effort to help female Afar high school students to pass the university entrance examinations, VSO Ethiopia s arranged to fund extra tutoring sessions for the female students at the high school.

Mohammed Humphries High School

Monitoring this project provided another opportunity to visit a local institution.

The high school is in better shape than the elementary school.  The facilities in the classroom were simply desks, chairs and a blackboard, but it was a classic classroom from a bygone era.  The medium of instruction in Ethiopian high schools is English, and the students are expected to take all of their classes in this language.

old school English teaching

I sat in on an English lesson.  Since part of my mandate here is to promote student-centred pedagogy, it was a little painful to watch the teacher turn around and write two pages of a grammar textbook onto the blackboard and then to read it over with the students.  But on the other hand, the teacher is teaching to a test, and the objective is to give the girls at the high school an opportunity to get into university.

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Afar "Afar (Ethiopia)". Flags of the...

Afar flag

the Danakil desert outside of Asaita

Perhaps because some people were trying to wind me up regarding the hostility of the Afar region’s people and climate, my arrival here has been a rather pleasant surprise.  The College of Teacher Education out here has simple facilities, but the atmosphere is one of growth and expansion.  Things are happening:  gardens are being planted, electricity is becoming more reliable, and buildings are being erected.

The people are friendly.  Students at the College are on holiday, but there are still a few hanging around the campus and they are keen to talk and say hello.  Walking through the town is also a warm experience.  People approach and say hello.  Quite a few people have been coming up to me and speaking in French.  This is because Djibouti is so close and French is the common tongue there.  The Afar people around here seem really pleased when I answer them in French and explain that I am Canadian.

The maple leaf is on full display here.  The Canadian Ambassador to Ethiopia really came through with a large quantity of maple leaf pins, pens and flags.  The staff at the College have appreciated the pins and I am trying my best to promote Canada’s image here.

The town of Asaita’s main road is lined with adobe buildings that house little shops.  There is a hotel that has a fantastic view of the Awash River valley.  It is literally a desert oasis.  It’s green and lush.  It has a sugar plantation.  There is a ton of wildlife.

My work at the College is slowly getting underway.  Today was my first day.  I had an introductory meeting with the College Dean.  There were some officials from the Ministry of Education in town that I met in Addis Ababa a few days ago and their presence got me into the Dean’s office, and my presence on the campus was legitimised.  Funding and resources for my position are coming via the British Council and all seemed content with the route ahead.  My plan is to conduct a need assessment next week.

So there are my first impressions of life in the Afar.  So ‘afar’ so good.

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English: View from the Sheraton Hotel in Addis...

Addis Ababa

Perceptions of Development

Development brings to mind images of skyscrapers and cars.  Developed countries have shopping malls and food courts.  Countries which have ‘developed’ most recently pass down tales from older generations about what has changed.  Evidence of this change is everywhere when one walks through laneways in Tokyo or Beijing.  Old narrow streets have given way to wide avenues capable of handling large volumes of traffic.  Low-rise buildings made of brick have given way to high-rise ones comprised of steel and concrete.  Space is used for business.  Shelves are full of goods.

The developing world, on the other hand, is full of flies.  At least it is according to my mother.  Flies are everywhere.  So are children.  And the flies are all over the children.  My mother’s image of fly-covered children comes primarily from the television coverage of the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980’s.  The BBC’s Jonathan Dimbleby’s coverage of the first Ethiopian famine in the early 1970’s reminds one of where this image of Africa and the developing world comes from.  Famine is a serious problem that prevents people from leading long, healthy and creative lives.

Optimism for Africa’s future among Canadians is uncommon.  The media does not portray a bright future for Ethiopia’s children.  The word most commonly associated with Ethiopia is famine.  Yet there is no famine in Addis Ababa.  Addis Ababa is known as the diplomatic capital of Africa.  The capital is also known to be very different than the rest of the country.  At the height of Ethiopia’s famine crisis life in Addis Ababa continued normally, according to Robert Kaplan’s Famine Wars.  It was Ethiopia’s rural population which suffered the most during Ethiopia’s famine years.  And it is the rural population in arid parts of the country which continues to be disadvantaged by drought.

‘Disadvantaged’ is a relative term.  Someone or something is offered less opportunity than someone else.  ‘Disadvantaged’ groups are often reported in the media: ethnic minorities, asylum seekers, and women.  Uighurs in Xinjiang are disadvantaged.  The Afar in Ethiopia are disadvantaged.  Asylum seekers in Australia are disadvantaged (and often incarcerated).  They are shunned in society for not having proper language skills or enough familiarity with local customs.  Women in many societies are not afforded the same opportunities for education and employment and are ear-marked for certain professions, if they are allowed to work at all.  Children are deprived of childhood.  They are disadvantaged by not having access to education and clean facilities.  They may not have access to clean water.  That is real disadvantage.  Shacks may provide a supportive home environment for those living there, but the chances are slim that its inhabitants have access to high speed internet.  So the people living there will be disadvantaged in business relative to their urban counterparts.  The man sitting in the street may be disadvantaged by his lack of pension or social security.  People planting their fields by hand may be lacking modern agricultural technology and be disadvantaged relative to farmers in Europe.

If disadvantaged is a relative term, then poverty is an absolute one.  Disadvantaged infers that there is someone else out there who is advantaged.  There are children in the world with access to clean water, and they have an advantage over children without it.  There are people with modern homes and access to high speed internet that will have an information advantage over those without it.  Elderly people with good pensions will have an advantage over those with none.  Farmers with access to modern technology will be more efficient than those who manage their farms by hand.

Poverty implies that an individual cannot meet the basic necessities of life.  Earning a dollar a day when that dollar can buy one food and shelter is different from earning a dollar a day when five dollars is required to pay for food and shelter.  Poverty is not just a social status.  If an individual cannot afford food and shelter, that individual is not just poor relative to others.  That person’s survival is in jeopardy.

Education can be a way out of poverty.  Education empowers individuals not just to break the cycle of poverty, but to recognise disadvantage in society, and to create a more equitable future.  The second of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals is to achieve universal primary education by 2015.  Achieving universal primary education will not lead to skyscrapers and traffic jams, but will hopefully lead to longer and more creative lives for people in the developing world.

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