Winter in Ethiopia

By Scott Winter, COJMC Lecturer

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia -- Spending December's dead week and finals week in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, was stressful, but warm.

College of Journalism and Mass Communications Dean Will Norton sent lecturer Scott Winter to the University of Addis Ababa to teach feature writing and page design to master's students. Many students are professionals, teachers or nurses or NGO workers, who want to tell the stories of their country, and bring light to its core problems.

CoJMC has combined with the Gimlekollen University of Norway to provide programming for students in both Ethiopia and Kosovo, both emerging democracies struggling to build meaningful press laws that would allow journalists the freedom and safety to tell real stories.

This was Winter?s second trip to Addis, where students welcomed the Western perspective, just as they welcomed Beyonce for their millennium celebration last year and as they welcomed a new theater showing first-run movies. National Treasure III is a hit there, for good or bad.

The Ethiopian students want to build projects on big issues. Tsion Issayas wishes to write about children living longer with HIV, and is focusing on the AHOPE Ethiopia orphanage. All these kids lost their mothers to HIV, and their fathers are also either dead or gone. But thanks to the Bush Fund, which is providing medicine, the kids are happy and living longer. One said she plans to be an astronaut, another wants to be the first female pilot for Ethiopian Airlines. The orphanage program director, Gelila Tesfaye, says psychosocial support is the most important service she can provide.

"Some of these children want to grow up to have a job, to get married, to have children. This is all new for us," she said.

In the past, the government hasn't supported these children, especially not financially, because they weren't going to live much longer anyway, she said.

Other master's students are writing about Ethiopia's traffic fatality rate, the worst in the world. Some are reporting about the new fistula hospital for teens dealing with the physical and emotional wreckage of having children much too young. Another student, who has already published five theology and philosophy books in his native Amharic language, plans to write a definitive piece on the long-term health and economic effects of chat, a narcotic plant much of the country chews at noon every day.

The trip was rewarding for Winter, from the teaching and dropping off of books for the school's library to the pageantry of a Muslim holiday and beauty of the countryside and culture.

"The beauty of the people and the culture is too obvious to talk about, but the lasting impression I'll cherish from two weeks in Addis is the tenacious purpose I see in these students," Winter said. "They want to learn because they want to achieve change, more than grades or money or fame."

CoJMC is in the middle of a photojournalism project that sends students to some of the most impoverished areas of the world, including Kosovo in March. Next year, six to eight students will travel to Addis Ababa to work with AAU students to tell poverty stories.

Addis Ababa University student Tsion Issayas discusses magazine page design with a classmate in Scott Winter's class in Decembeer. Issayas worked on a project about HIV children living longer in Ethiopia.

CoJMC lecturer Scott Winter spent an afternoon away from the university at an all-girls K-12 scott called Bethel Mekane. Most schools, government or private, teach English from the early grades, and English is required for acceptance into universities.

AHOPE Ethiopia houses 123 orphans in two compounds, where the children are living longer than ever. Program director Gelila Tesfaye says losing children to death or adoption isn't easy, but great things are happening there every day.