Third Goal Efforts of RPCV Betty & Bill Graff (Ethiopia)


Third Goal Efforts by RPCV Betty & Bill Graff (Ethiopia 1963-65)

I am continually impressed by what former Volunteers have done in their host countries in the years since their tours. Former Volunteers have continued to work in-country, spending time and money over the years to help the schools and sites where they taught and lived, to build school and community libraries, to find scholarships for students, to improve the medical conditions in their villages. One example is Bill and Betty Graff who were in Ethiopia from 1963-65.

Recently I heard from Bill about his and his wife’s history of helping their school and region of Ethiopia where  they lived as PCVs in their second year in-country.

Bill wrote . . .

Betty & Bill in 1964 in Sodo

When Betty and I arrived in the Wolaita Region of southern Ethiopia in 1964 it was a pre-wheel society of about a million people.  We opened the first high school.  Now there are 67 high schools and still counting.  We had 19 students. Now the average high school has about 3000 students.

Wolaita has progressed accordingly.  Wolaita had no water, no electricity,  only one car in  the town of Sodo and 2 day trip to Addis Ababa on bad roads. Now they have water and electricity most of the time, several thousand vehicles, mostly Bajas. It only takes 5 hours to drive to Addis on good roads. It has been an inspiration to me to watch this happen and to play a small part in its growth.

Betty and I started looking for projects to do in the late 1990s. By the year 2000 we settled on library books for the high schools being built by the local Wolaita residents. The deal was supposed to be the local people built the schools and the government would provide teachers and books.

The schools were built, the teachers came but the books never showed up. The libraries were empty and the students and many of the teachers had no text books. The text books were supposedly on the way so we focused on library books.

We began with appropriate new  surplus American books. We were able to get about 300,000 books, divided among every high school in the southern region. We had tremendous support from the governor who attended the school where we taught. He became the prime minister in the first legal transfer of power in Ethiopian history.  In evaluating this project we decided that the books were under used by the students. They had limited availability and were not directly usable to study for the leaving exam. We decide we could spend our money better.

We then switched to providing funds to individual schools for books under strict conditions. One, a committee of parents and students selected the list fo books to be bought and the list had to be approved by the principle. Two, the library had to be open extended hours and six days a week. Three, the books had to be available for overnight borrowing by students. We funded about a half dozen school under this arrangement. This project had excellent success but the books were in tatters within two years.

By this time the government was well along in providing text books and in some case even limited library books. We decided to try ebooks. This was right down my alley. I could Finally use my technical background to help good people of Wolaita.

Bill speaking to an IT class at Sodo University

We hired a part-time programmer who built a server that would hold Khan Academy and all the Ethiopian curriculum and videos.  We were successful in building it and were welcome with open arms when we demonstrated it in Sodo.  We installed a server and 30 chrome books at the lab school at first, then three more at prominent high schools.  We became aware of RachelPlus about that time.  They were much better funded than we were with a very similar product. To save on development and technical support cost we switched over to RACHEL for all future installations.  We installed another 7 systems over the next two years.

At ET Learns schools we funded auxiliary help. Things like replaced failed water tank, installed a large generator at the lab school, support for needy girls. Generally we helped were we could on a case by case basis. Due to in part to my age and the Marshall law in Wolaita it has been over two years wince we have been active in Wolaita.

We have funded 7 systems in other parts of Ethiopia: 5 in Amhara, 1 in Oromo, and 1 in Tigre.  The one in Tigre was done in partner with Janet Lee (Endeber 1974-76).  ET Learns provided the server and 15 chrome books. She and her group provide another 15 home books and provided shipping. That is the smoothest installation we funded in Ethiopia.

We have developed a partnership with World Possible, the developer of RachelPlus, in Tanzania. ET Learns funds schools that have Peace Corps Volunteers on staff and are acceptable to World Possible.  Two have already been successfully deployed with there are more in the process of installation.  I hope to expand this project to Ethiopia within the next year.

Bill says today,”Prior to Peace Corps I got a BS  in Engineering and an MS in mathematics.  Had a summer job at the Office of Naval Research and co-op jobs at RCA in their radar engineering division.  After the Peace Corps I had a job at the Center for Naval Analysis, a think tank for the navy.  Then I switched careers to sales and marketing with Honeywell Information Systems.

I firmly believe the Peace Corps made the difference.  I like to joke that the Peace Corps “ruined my career”.  But if so the Peace Corps made my life.


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