City in Ethiopia looks to follow Uzhgorod
Robel Tadesse grew up in Gondar, Ethiopia, during a time when most people formed their only impression about this country on the horn of Africa.
The famine during the 1980s drew international attention to this impoverished land and the help of many aid agencies. Robel’s mother worked as a nurse for one such organization, and that connection to the outside world became a ticket to a better life for Robel and his family.
He attended college in Kenya, studying business administration. With his family, he immigrated to the United States. He earned a master’s degree in management at the Oregon Graduate Institute in Beaverton.
Robel worked for the state of Oregon and then at a manufacturing firm before relocating to the Willamette Valley. When his wife attended Willamette University in Salem, Robel took a job as head of the city of Corvallis’ management and information services division.
The governance model here astounded him. Robel’s political experiences growing up include living under the rule of an emperor, followed by the takeover by a communist regime. The political strife has kept his homeland from experiencing prosperity, Robel said.
In Gondar, there is no clean drinking water or sanitation system. The infant mortality rate is among the highest in the world, due to starvation and lack of hygiene.
As Robel learned about services provided by the local, state and federal government, it occurred to him that this could take hold in Gondar, if only he had a way to present it. As people got to know Robel, his vision was shared with others and grew into a request last year to expand the mission of the Corvallis Sister Cities Association.
Now the organization that has worked since 1989 with the Ukrainian sister city in Uzhgorod, has formed a committee to establish another sister city as Gondar, Ethiopia.
With the procedural formalities complete, the first order of business has been to send a representative of Corvallis to Gondar, and who better than a Corvallis city councilor whose name has a striking resemblance to Gondar.
Councilor Rob Gandara, also a member of Corvallis Sister Cities Association, was planning to take a trip around the world this winter, and offered to add a stop in Ethiopia to his itinerary when he learned about Gondar.
Gandara arrived in Gondar last week and was greeted with a full motorcade and treated as a dignitary, said Lee March, a retired city employee and member of the Gondar Sister Cities committee. It’s an early indication that the sister city relationship will be two-way.
Gandara is meeting with officials in Gondar to assess that city’s greatest needs. Then he will report back to the Corvallis group. Next they will begin writing grants and applying for aid with international and U.S. agencies, as well as raising money here.
Robel hasn’t been to Gondar in five years, but he said the population of the city has grown exponentially. About 200,000 people now live in the city, but few people have permanent homes.
He expects the greatest priority will be to dig wells and latrines and to improve public infrastructure, such as installing a filtration system on a nearby dam that is filling up with silt and causing water shortages.
The relationship with Gondar will be different than with Uzhgorod, organizers said. Corvallis residents have participated in exchanges with Uzhgorod, hosting visitors and sending people there with more than 600 trips logged. Much of the relationship has been focused on a cultural exchange and providing medical assistance, including supporting an orphanage there.
Although the Corvallis City Council has passed resolutions endorsing these sister-city relationships, they are typically self-supported by volunteers. Corvallis has been honored by Sister Cities International with repeat awards for best overall program for cities of 50,000 to 100,000.
The Gondar committee does not see itself as competing with the established relationship in Uzhgorod.
Money raised here will go a long way in Ethiopia. For example, digging a well or latrine costs about $100.
If they can provide clean water and sanitation to 10,000 people, it would make an immediate impact. Organizers think it could also become a model to show government officials in Gondar how to improve their public infrastructure.
They are certain there is ample funding available for this kind of aid work through government and non-government agencies.
Robel describes Ethiopia is an incredibly diverse land, with lakes, mountains and deserts.
It’s a place he hopes many Corvallis residents will learn about and even visit in the months and years to come.
To learn more
The Corvallis Sister Cities Association Gondar committee meets at 5:30 p.m. the third Wednesday of the month in the basement meeting room of the Corvallis-Benton County Public Library, 645 N.W. Monroe Ave.
At a glance
Gondar, Ethiopia, has become Corvallis’ latest sister city.
Corvallis established sister city relations with Uzhgorod, Ukraine, in 1989
Gondar has about 200,000 people
Ethiopia is the only African nation that was never colonized
The language spoken in Gondar is Amharic, although English is taught in schools
Ethiopia is separated into tribes, based on ethnicity, religion and geography
Ethiopia’s 2005 infant mortality rate was 95 deaths per 1,000 live births
What is a sister city?
The “sister city” concept evolved from President Eisenhower’s “People to People” program, and is now embodied in Sister Cities International, an organization based in Alexandria, Va., according to information at the Corvallis Sister Cities Association Web site, www.sistercities.corvallis.or.us.
More than 900 cities representing millions of Americans have established links with counterparts around the world. Corvallis and the Corvallis Sister Cities Association are members.