Home News Local News Roswell native makes Ethiopian village home during Peace Corps assignment

Roswell native makes Ethiopian village home during Peace Corps assignment

AP Photo Goddard High graduate Anisha Suri is in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, as she begins her two-year assignment with the Peace Corps. After three months at a training site somewhere in the Ethiopian nation, she will be assigned to a school to teach English to high school students.

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The students in Anisha Suri’s English class often fall asleep and some rarely do their homework.

For a lot of teachers, that would be upsetting, but Suri says she considers the situation understandable.

A 2013 Goddard High School graduate and a 2017 University of Texas alumna, Suri is on a two-year assignment with the Peace Corps until September 2019, teaching secondary school English in a small village in south Ethiopia.

She lives and works in an agricultural community of about 600 people without running water, indoor plumbing, reliable electricity or internet.

Many of Suri’s ninth-grade students walk two to three hours a day to get to school, and most spend long hours working on farms, doing household chores or running family shops in a nearby town.

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Suri said that, in the time that she’s been teaching, she has learned to accept that school is a luxury for many.

“There’s always going to be work to be done around the house. The students are always going to live far away. Some parents are always going to keep their children from going to school because there is just too much farming or other work to be done to keep the family earning,” she said in an email interview. “The best that I can do is use the time I am given in class to teach them the English skills that they will need to continue on with their education by passing the National Exam.”

The National Exam, required for a student to continue on to 11th grade, and university entrance exams must be taken in English, so Suri wants as many students as possible to master the language.

“Without that, they are almost guaranteed to stay in the village and continue the work of their family,” she said. “This is not necessarily a bad thing. I just want my students to know that there is so much more out there than what they know.”

Having earned a bachelor’s degree in international relations and global studies, Suri also trains other teachers and runs a gender club to promote equality for all students.

She said she has had her challenges adjusting to her new life in the Gamo Goffa zone of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR) of Ethiopia.

She has had to get used to the primitive living situation; the absence of friends and family, which includes her parents Anjali and Deepak Suri of Roswell; and the heavy rains that often result in a loss of electricity, muddy roads and the cessation of bus service to the nearest city of Arba Minch, her link to the internet.

The language barrier is often a problem as well, she said. Although she received three months of Amharic language classes at a Peace Corps training site in Kella in the Gurage zone before her teaching assignment began, the language used most often by villagers is Gamunya.

“In my classroom, I almost never use any other language besides English. I try to explain concepts and vocabulary words in different ways using English. However, sometimes if students are really stuck on a concept or a word, I have one or two students in class who know it and can explain it to the rest of the class using Amharic or one of the local languages,” she said. “I think the biggest struggle in the beginning of the school year for my students was my accent and pronunciation. However, over time they adjusted to it, and now they don’t have trouble following my instructions in class.”

She said she is appreciating the experience and is making the village her home. She talks of the incredible beauty of the landscape, the kindness of villagers, the diligence and enthusiasm of her students, the friendships she has made with fellow volunteers and the opportunity she has to share information about U.S. culture, including its diversity.

“Oftentimes, people are confused because they expect every person from the U.S. to be white,” she said. “So I try to tell my story, how my parents immigrated to the country from India and I was born an American, and how my story is by no means a unique story, but the story of most Americans today.”

With more than a year left in her adventure, Suri says, “I definitely feel as though I made the right decision in coming here.”

Senior Writer Lisa Dunlap can be reached at 575-622-7710, ext. 310, or at reporter02@rdrnews.com.


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Lisa Dunlap is a general assignment reporter for the Roswell Daily Record.