Monday, July 25, 2005

Student Sending Books to Ethiopia

Alem Astatike is selecting books to send to her native Ethiopia. The books have been donated by Indiana Tech, where she is studying for a master’s degree in engineering management.

FortWayne.com -- A small, hot storage space on the Indiana Tech campus probably wouldn’t be a place anyone would want to spend much time, but graduate student Alem Astatike sees it as a treasure.

Between studying to get a master’s degree in engineering management and working full time, Astatike is trying to send old books stored there to her native Ethiopia.

The 32-year-old was born in Addis Ababa, the nation’s capital. She was sent to live with relatives in the U.S. in the 10th grade, arriving in Fort Wayne with her brother so the siblings could receive a better education.

She went home for a couple of weeks at the end of last year and decided to drop in on her old principal at the Assai school. During the visit, Astatike and other former students toured Assai and saw a high school had been added to the school grounds. Plans are also in the works to build a college there.

Although the facility itself is bigger, something that hasn’t grown is its collection of books.

“(The principal) told us that they need books,” said Astatike. “In the library, I didn’t see a lot of books like we have here (in America).”

Upon her return to the U.S., Astatike asked her admissions counselor at Indiana Tech if the school had any to donate. The counselor referred her to Josi Campbell, coordinator of the Campus Books and Print Center.

Older editions of books, or those no longer used by professors, are sent to the school’s overflow section.

They weren’t being used otherwise, so Campbell packed up three boxes to send to Ethiopia. There are more available, and Campbell said Astatike can have as many as she needs.

For decades, the illiteracy rate in Ethiopia was among the highest in the world, and the country’s education system mirrored that of Britain. Women weren’t encouraged to excel academically.

In the mid-1970s, the government worked to combat illiteracy through a campaign in which “reading books for beginners” were distributed nationwide. In 2000, about 47 percent of adult Ethiopian men and 31 percent of adult Ethiopian women were literate, according to statistics compiled by UNICEF.

Astatike said education has definitely improved in her native country, but said only students who have at least a 3.5 grade-point average are considered for university admission.

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