Both are experienced travelers, having been to places such as the Marshall Islands, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Uzbekistan and the Philippines, but none of their previous trips prepared them for what they saw and felt recently in Ethiopia.
"It's a beautiful but challenging country," said Walker. "It was a National Geographic experience."
The UND scholars were participating through a program called Ethiopia Reads, which originated in Grand Forks. Ethiopia Reads is a nonprofit organization that works to improve literacy throughout Ethiopia. So far the organization has created 61 libraries and five kindergartens.
Although Walker and Shafer volunteered through Ethiopia Reads, UND financed their visit, which took place Jan. 1-22. Both intend to use the experience as a research opportunity and publish what they learned.
While in Ethiopia, they trained educational staff, such as teachers and librarians, to properly implement assessments and use them on an ongoing basis. They also demonstrated ways to develop no-cost and low cost literacy materials and resources.
Walker and Shafer were amazed at how unexposed Ethiopia was to other developed countries. Life there was very basic, yet extremely busy as locals worked hard for basic survival needs such as clean water and a basic diet. However, even with their rigorous lifestyle, the people of Ethiopia tended to be a very optimistic and generous with an incredible sense of community, according to Walker and Shafer.
"Instead of asking for money, the kids would ask for pens for school," said Walker.
Walker and Shafer spent much of their time in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia's capital, also traveling to the rural and highly impoverished area called Kembata-Tembaro, which is located in the Southern United Tribes Region.
While working in the villages outside of the capital, they became accustomed to working with trilingual translation. In addition to translation into Ethiopia's national language, Amharic, they often needed translation into a dialect of the local village they were visiting.
Walker and Shafer gained a deeper respect for the people of Ethiopia as well as a sense of just how hard working they are.
The visit also tied in well with their teachings at UND.
Shafer says the experience will provide real-world examples for her Multicultural Education class, such as the different backgrounds and world views that future teachers should be increasingly aware of.
Walker said her time in Ethiopia reinforced that good teaching comes from within, a valuable lesson when it is one's job to educate future teachers.
Both would love to get UND students involved in this project in the future. They think it would be a beneficial experience for students, but they stress that students would have to be ready. They would need to know that it is definitely not a vacation.
"It's an honor, I mean, when you realize that you're in this area that not many have made it to," Shafer said. "What a gift, to be in the middle of that setting."
Amy Halvorson University & Public Affairs student writer