Barry McNamara  |   Published January 27, 2016

‘Henrietta Goes to Ethiopia’

Children’s books by Monmouth student part of cultural exchange with African nation
  • Daphne Nelson, a Monmouth College senior from Chicago, created two books based on the adventures of a bird named Henrietta that will be shared with children in Ethiopia. Helping her display the books is art professor Stacy Lotz. The books are one element of a connection the college plans to develop with Ethiopia.
As an award-winning children’s author, Monmouth College alumna Jane Kurtz ’73 has woven many interesting tales for young people. But Kurtz can also tell fascinating stories of her own childhood, growing up in Ethiopia with her sister, Caroline Kurtz ’72, as daughters of Presbyterian missionaries who also graduated from Monmouth.
  The Kurtz sisters lived much of their childhood near Maji, a village of 3,000 people in southwestern Ethiopia. As adults, they have maintained a commitment to Ethiopia, with Jane helping to found Ethiopia Reads, a non-profit organization which collaborates with communities to build schools, plant libraries, train educators, boost literacy and provide youth and families with the tools to improve their lives.   But the Kurtzes’ story doesn’t end there. Jane and Caroline are returning to Ethiopia on a trip called Odyssey II, bringing along artists from the United States who, working with several Ethiopian artists, will create artwork to be sold in the U.S., with most of the profits to benefit the Ethiopia Reads projects.   When Monmouth College associate development officer Jeri Candor first heard about Odyssey II, she thought “How could we engage our students into the Ethiopia Reads book making and Maji apple orchard projects?” From this, a cultural exchange between Monmouth College and Maji has begun, in the form of two children’s books created by Daphne Nelson, a senior art major from Chicago. Additionally, the international business senior capstone class, taught by associate professor Terry Gabel, will create a business and marketing plan for the apple orchard, based on the findings Candor makes while visiting in the community in and around Maji.   “When Jane asked me to go to Ethiopia with them as a photographer, I was stunned,” explained Candor. “Ethiopia was never on my bucket list, and I haven’t really held a camera since 2008, but I had made a promise to myself that if opportunities came to me to help people, I’d do it. This trip will definitely take me out of my comfort zone, but I knew it could provide our students with a true global exchange. It’s also wonderful to think of the impact it could have on everyone involved.”   Candor spoke with Gabel, art professor Stacy Lotz and assistant professor of English David Wright about the opportunities for a cultural exchange.   “When Stacy pitched the idea to her students, Daphne was very enthusiastic about it,” said Candor. “She was looking for a senior project, and she enjoyed the work so much that she created a second book. These are canvas books she painted with acrylic, and they tell a very simple story. She left the last four pages blank, and we’ll ask the students at the girls school in Maji to fill in the rest of the story.”   The books, titled “Henrietta Goes to Ethiopia” and “Henrietta Finds a Home,” come from a plaster bird Nelson created in her Construction and Foundry class.   “I used her as a character in the books,” Nelson explained. “In the first book, Henrietta wants to go on an adventure, and she decides to go to Ethiopia. She makes friends with a pelican and an another bird. The books tell about how much she loves Ethiopia. In the second book, she tries to find a new nest.”   The books are written in English, but students and Ethiopia Reads staff in Addis Ababa and Bible translators in Maji can help with Amharic and Deezee words and perhaps artwork, too.   “We don’t know what they will create, or how they will create it,” said Candor. “We’ll leave that up to them.”   “I had to do a little research on the types of birds and trees in Ethiopia,” said Nelson of the project, which took her about a month to complete. “I needed to make it relatable enough for the girls at the school. This has been a lot of fun, and it’s exciting to think that the students there are going to enjoy them.”   Candor, who began her travels on Jan. 23, is spending four days in the centrally-located capital city of Addis Ababa before embarking for Maji.   “I’ll be bringing the books back to show Daphne what the students created and to share with our campus and community. Then the books will return to the children in Ethiopia.”   But the story may not stop there. Wright is looking into a Summer Opportunity for Intellectual Activity (SOFIA) project to add to Nelson’s works, perhaps featuring comparative books that would allow for an exchange of information between the two cultures, such as what constitutes the morning routine for youth in each country or other cultural comparisons.   In addition, conversations are under way regarding projects in which Monmouth College faculty, staff, and students work with the people of Maji on electrification and agricultural improvements, similar to how the college community assisted in the eastern European nation of Moldova in recent years.   Jane Kurtz will also return to campus in April as a Distinguished Alumni Visitor to share her memoir and book making projects from Addis Ababa and Maji.
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