Contrary to what the Peace Corps Evaluators wrote in their 1967 Evaluation of the Ethiopia project, that Wofford and the agency had “chosen the incorrect “institutional” answer-the secondary schools-to the problems of Ethiopia,” the Empire in 1962 had a serious “educational emergency,” which threatened to retard permanently its economic development.
According to Gary May, out of a secondary school-age population estimated at approximately one million, only six thousand were enrolled in 1960, and there were few college-trained Ethiopians qualified to teach them. This crisis had its origins during the Italian occupation (1935-1941), when the Italians killed nearly 20,000 Ethiopians, “reportedly concentrating on the professional, educational, and political leaders.” When Selassie returned to Ethiopia in 1941 he found “almost no educated people left in the country.” Over the next two-decades he attempted to fill this gap by importing teachers from abroad.
The Emperor considered education so important to the modernization of Ethiopia that he personally assumed the position of Minister of Education. The Peace Corps seemed ideally suited to assist Ethiopia in overcoming these problems.
Ethiopia’s need for teachers provided the Peace Corps with an opportunity to become an agency that was large in number and bold in purpose, May writes.
Then, and now, the Peace Corps Volunteers were college graduates who had majored in the liberal arts. Shriver and the founding fathers believed, (unlike Evaluators Bennett and Carroll,) that education was not only ‘good in itself’ but was the ‘key to progress and development.’
In October 1961, Selassie informed the Peace Corps that he would be interested in receiving as many as three hundred volunteers. In April 1962 Wofford negotiated the final agreement. Wofford was appointed Country Director to lead what would become “the largest Peace Corps contingent ever to come to any country at one time.” On July 8, 1962 the 340 of us Trainees for Ethiopia arrived at Georgetown University. Wofford would tell us, at the welcoming dinner, “The New Frontiers was not in Washington, they are out where you are going….”