Ethiopia is quickly becoming a key player in the University of Michigan’s global engagement and multidisciplinary projects.

The collaborations with Ethiopia are widespread and diverse, ranging from the development of the first online cancer base in the nation to the longest-running field study of gelada monkeys. Other endeavors include transforming physician training, soil restoration and conservation, improvements in reproductive health and assessing the local groundwater and sanitation needs.

Three years ago, the Office of the Provost at the University formed an Ethiopian Steering group, with the goal to unify ongoing University projects in Ethiopia and develop a synergistic relation between existing and future ones. In 2015, the first Ethiopia-Michigan symposium was held in Addis Ababa, the capital of the country; the 2016 symposium was held in Ann Arbor. This year’s symposium was held in Addis Ababa again, and about 40 University students and staff joined a hundred of their Ethiopian partners to learn about one another’s projects and discuss ways to join forces through their work.

Nuclear Engineering Prof. James Holloway, vice provost for global engagement and interdisciplinary academic affairs, said he believed a growing interest to engage with Ethiopia from students and staff has driven many of the collaborations. Holloway described these partnerships as being “mutually beneficial” and having the potential to create something unique.

“I hope that our students come to see the amazing opportunities and capacities that Ethiopia society affords its people and find ways to learn from those opportunities, while sharing their own talents and capacities with the people of Ethiopia,” Holloway said. “I hope that Ethiopian students come to know the people of the United States and of Michigan and that they also learn from the engagement and develop new ways to grow their own society.”

Indeed, University students said they were glad to find a new cultural perspective as well as a collaborative partner in Ethiopia.

Public Health student Olivia Bouchard spent 11 weeks in Addis Ababa as a research intern at the Ethiopian Public Health Institute. Bouchard worked on updating the Cancer Pathology Database and helped organize a training orientation for nurse translators with her partner Public Health student Claudia Djimandjaja, a fellow Master of Public Health candidate. She found learning about different global communities to be eye-opening and worthwhile.

“The most rewarding part of my internship was being immersed in Ethiopian culture: enjoying new foods, being welcomed into homes by women during our survey, traveling outside of Addis Ababa and building lasting relationships with my colleagues and preceptor,” Bouchard said.

Bouchard was drawn to her research project due to the surprising statistics regarding the effect of a nation’s wealth on health outcome. According to Bouchard, over two-thirds of global cancer deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, and in Ethiopia, the annual mortality rate for cervical cancer is 66 percent. She reflected on how important it is to understand cultural beliefs and constructs in order to improve the health conditions of a place.

“I learned more about program implementation in low resource settings and became more cognizant about a culture unlike my own,” Bouchard said. “Also, it is undeniably necessary to collaborate with local, trusted stakeholders. Without the help of the health extension workers and local nurses, our study would not have been successful.”

The nation of Ethiopia represents African independence to many. It is the continent’s oldest independent country and has the second largest population.

Mandira Banerjee, who does international communication for the University, wrote in an article for the Global Michigan Newsroom that Ethiopia has surpassed Kenya as the fastest growing nation in the sub-Saharan region.

“As its fortunes improve, the country is rushing to build new infrastructure, hospitals and universities, which has created a demand for engineers, educators, doctors and researchers,” Banerjee wrote.

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