Ethiopia – a lifelong fascination


William Foreman in India.

William Foreman on a U-M trip to India.

My name is William Foreman. I write about research and initiatives that the University of Michigan is involved with worldwide. I’m traveling in Ethiopia on July 12-22, 2014, to describe U-M’s rapidly expanding partnerships in the East African country. More than 20 units across the university have collaborative projects underway with Ethiopian colleagues. I’ll be traveling with my colleague Austin Thomason, a senior photographer with Michigan Photography, who will help me tell the story with photos and videos.

For much of my life, I’ve been fascinated with Ethiopia. It’s the homeland of one of my athletic heroes: Abebe Bikila, who famously ran barefoot when he won the marathon in the 1960 Summer Olympics in Rome. He took gold again in 1964 at the Olympics in Tokyo. I remember being enthralled by my 7th grade history teacher’s lecture about the Ethiopians’ valiant defense of their country in the 1930s against fascist Italy’s occupation forces, which used chemical weapons and overwhelming air power. During my first year of college in 1984, I spent the holiday season humming the “Do they know it’s Christmas?” tune, sung by an ensemble of pop stars (remember Boy George?) raising money for famine relief in Ethiopia. I felt hopeful for the country as the Marxist-Leninist junta – ominously known as “the Derg,” or “the Committee” – was overthrown in 1991 after ruling during some of the nation’s darkest years. Now, Ethiopia is quickly recovering and has one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. It’s an exciting place.

Photographer Austin Thomason in Addis Ababa.

Last year, an e-mail popped up in my inbox from John Godfrey, assistant dean for international education at U-M’s Rackham Graduate School. He always has terrific story ideas, and he suggested that I meet Senait Fisseha, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology. He said Fisseha is leading a major medical initiative in Ethiopia and has already pulled together an extensive network of U-M professors who are involved in the country. I interviewed Fisseha in her office, and she turned out to be one of the most passionate and engaging people I have ever met. I wrote a feature about her work for Global Michigan, and the piece was one of the website’s most popular stories last year. Fisseha invited me to go to Ethiopia to witness the amazing collaborations in the country, and I’m thrilled to finally have the opportunity to visit the nation. Many thanks to St. Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College – U-M’s main Ethiopian partner – for all of its assistance and hospitality.

Stay tuned for daily updates about our visit.


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