Dr. Zenebe Abebe On Multicultural Education
Addis Tribune (Addis Ababa)
March 1, 2002
By Surafel G.
He went to the United States in 1972 for four years at Goshen College, Indiana. When he did his BA in just three years and
was time to get back home, the young Zenebe found himself at the crossroads. The 1974 revolution in Ethiopia was not
showing any sign of abating; and he decided it was safe to stay where he was in Goshen.
America continued to be his home for the three decades that followed. In the process, he did MSc in counseling psychology
from the School of Allied Health Professions at Northern Illinois University in Dekalb and his PhD in Higher Education
Administration, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, Illinois in 1987. At the moment, Dr. Zenebe is serving as the Vice
President for Multicultural Education and as associate professor of psychology at Goshen College where he did his first degree
way back in 1975.
Goshen is considered one of the three higher institutions of learning in the United States known as "Peace Colleges" due to their special peace studies programs where, with 100 international students, over 30 countries are represented. "It is encouraging to see that we have already four Ethiopians in the college with yet two more just recruited to pursue their education there," Dr Zenebe says adding "Dr. Minase Haile, (Ethiopia's Foreign Minister under Haile Selassie) was the first graduate of the college."
But more than that, Goshen's significant contribution has to do with its introduction of the Study Service Term (SST), a 13
credit hours program that it has launched in 1968 as part of the general educational requirement. The college requires each
student to involve in what they call is an international education before they graduate in this institution considered as one among
the top 40 baccalaureate colleges in the United States. "Our college aims at developing leaders of the world whose
understanding of global issues is wide enough to make them flexible," argues Professor Zenebe. "And what better way is out
there than SST program designed to engage the students in diverse cultures around the world?"
So far several thousand students have lived and studied for the required three months period in various countries in Latin
America, Europe, Asia and in Africa. For the first time in its thirty four years history, the SST has introduced Ethiopia into its
program. Dr. Zenebe is just in town with 20 students who are now in four different locations around the country. "If it can be
done elsewhere why not in Ethiopia? And we had to gamble, an effort which proved us right in the first place," says Zenebe
who is the leader of the Ethiopia SST unit. Zenebe's move to Ethiopia with this group of students has brought him face to face
with the country that he has left years ago.
Zenebe was born and raised in Deder, "An exclusively rural but lively section in the Eastern part of country." He says there was a hospital and a very good school run by the Mennonites. When nearly three decades later he visited his native village, he found out that all were gone and the locality was in bad shape. "That is what happens when we are in constant transitions," he
reasons. It was in that school that he did his junior high and then decided to move to Nazareth's Bible Academy, also run by the same missionaries. "I did finish highs school having partly settled my tuition," Zenebe remembers. And to do that, he had to
work as an assistant in the nearby hospital. Eventually, with the new skill he acquired at the hospital, Zenebe went back to
Deder for some time where he opened a clinic and saved enough money to pay his tuition.
After high school in 1971, Zenebe came to Addis and worked as a manager for a pharmacy. In one year alone he saved
money to buy him a ticket to Goshen where he won a scholarship. "I literally toiled and worked hard to earn my way through,"
he remembers demanding serious explanation for current mumbles by people who say they don't have the money to do things.
"I inherited the work ethic from my parents who did was work hard, raise their children and press ahead with their philosophy
that nothing ever comes easy." (Zenebe grew up in a family of eight children. His father passed away at 98 nearly two years ago while his mother died in 1987. His parents visited the United States in 1984 where his three brothers work and live as
professors. "Some five months later, they couldn't stand it, and finally came back to Ethiopia," he reminisces.)
In the last few years Zenebe began connecting with his home country. He says he visited Ethiopia three times. His first two trips were short and mainly designed to cruise along the country and visit some important places including his native Deder. In one of those trips three years ago, he came with his two children and enjoyed the whole scenic routes in the country. But, he says, he can not shun off the destitution that he has witnessed even in his native Deder which was "disappointingly ruined." As a follow up, he said, "For some reason I expected progress; I suppose that is how you are tuned to think if you are away for some time." This time around, his third but most extended trip to the country has involved the SST project. Although academic by nature, the project is sure to promote Ethiopia in as much as it introduces the ways of thinking of the visiting Americans who
happen to be here for that period of induction.
The participants of the Ethiopia-SST program are twenty Americans- 14 girls and 6 boys- (one of them has had a car crash
and got back home. She is recovering and is reported to have said that she will definitely come back here if provided with the
chance) who are 17-21 years old, young enough to learn and appreciate cultures other than their own. Before they came here,
the students underwent intensive Amharic lessons organized by Dr. Zenebe.
Long before the group's arrival, Zenebe prepared the groundwork. He took the pains of locating host families in Ethiopia and
giving them the necessary orientation about what the needs of the visiting students are and how they are meant to connect with
the local culture and tradition. As a general rule, all the students should be attached to Ethiopian families and spend as much
time with them. "The rule is that they live with the families without any special considerations," Dr. Zenebe says. For six weeks
they were stationed in Addis before their six month long service assignment in the regions began early this week. Dr. Zenebe
made it possible for them to go visit museums, cultural centers, colleges, city landmarks, religious institutions and a host of other areas of interest. "They also attended a series of lessons on the Amharic language and other themes that relate to cultural
considerations," Dr Zenebe explains. "It was marvelous to see the way they were received not only by their host families but
also by the wider public. Governmental and other institutions including ordinary citizens gave us blanket support to help make
the students feel at home."
According to Dr. Zenebe the students are now stationed in Nazareth, Awassa, Debre Berhan and Desse towns with other host
families. Along the road, they are expected to provide service to the educational institutions that they are attached.
Dr. Zenebe expects this program that he helped realize to continue in Ethiopia every two years. He says it is the most intensive
and high power job that one can ever undertake. "I succeeded because of my students who are responsible," he noted. "Who
knows, one day, one of these students may become a leader and could make a real difference. Then, you would know what
we mean by doing what we are doing today, by bringing students to the furthest corners of the world."