A comparison between my living situation in Brooklyn to my current accommodation in the Sarbet (“Grass House”) area of Addis Ababa would not do justice to the overall experience thus far. However, I can say that the intermittent lack of hot water, electricity, internet and phone use are becoming normal. My American status and abundant resources have excluded our group from becoming intimately aware of what life is like for most Ethiopians. It appears that we have interacted with the slight minority involved in the government or high wage jobs in an urban center. Yet this is of intentional design. I chose to attend a pre-eminent New York City university for a post graduate degree for the ability to work amongst international policy pundits. The International Field Program provides such an experience. Concurrently, our professional arrangements expose us first hand to the challenges which locals face.
Two days ago our group visited Debre Zeyit, where roughly twenty women were involved with a successful self help group program. They reported economic gains, increased education and professional skills, but mostly the improved quality of life via their new close knit community. Their experiences were translated through our country program director Yosef Akalu. They shared their homemade bread and coffee with us as we sat under young mango and banana trees – it was truly a beautiful experience. I felt that while I could empathize with them through Yosef’s description of their successes, I also could not have had this experience on my own because I do not know Amharic.
In my desired career in international environmental policy, I feel confident in my command of English, and have studied Spanish and French necessary for international work, but lack language to speak with people who I am supposed to be working to help. This highlights the remoteness of the policy world. Practitioners often are steps removed from the lives of the communities they hope to serve, one such step being face to face communication in the same language with the vulnerable or poorest of the poor people. My goal is not just to have proficiency in UN working languages, but also of the people of which the projects serve. This summer, I will focus not only on the project, but Amharic language of Ethiopian people as a means of understanding and creating more informed policy.