Interview SummaryEd Engelbart served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Education program in Ethiopia from 1965-1967. Ed grew up in Weehawken, New Jersey, a small community across the Hudson River from mid-town New York City. He earned his B.A. in Government and Public Affairs from George Washington University in Washington, DC in 1963. Ed then applied to the Peace Corps for the first time, and Peace Corps offered him an assignment in Ghana. However, Ghana did not interest him, so he next completed an M.A. in American Studies at University of Maryland in 1965. Applying to Peace Corps a second time, Ed enthusiastically accepted a Peace Corps assignment as a secondary school teacher in Ethiopia. He had decided that “it was time to give direction to my life.” The first of Ed’s many travels during Peace Corps was his flight to Peace Corps training at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). His training consisted of Amharic language, Ethiopian history and politics, and two weeks of practice teaching in a Los Angeles high school.
After a short home visit, Ed’s group flew to Rome and then on to Addis Ababa on Ethiopian Airlines. Unfortunately, Ed became ill from a viral infection soon after arriving. The Peace Corps Ethiopia office immediately arranged for medical help from the Peace Corps doctor and then for Ed’s recovery at a hospital in Addis Ababa so that Ed was able to begin his assignment Ed taught seventh, ninth, and tenth grade history at Prince Makonnen Secondary School, located in the bustling Mercato district of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital. Teachers followed the British curriculum there. Prince Makonnen School served close to 1,000 male and female students. Their backgrounds were diverse: Christian, Muslim, and Nilotic students from western Ethiopia. The teaching faculty was similarly diverse, made up of Ethiopians, Armenians, Indian contract teachers, and six Peace Corps Volunteers. Ed enjoyed the teachers’ morning coffee break at a “bunna bet” (coffee stand) for making connections and to savor the “bunna macchiato” brewed in a large Italian expresso machine. Ed’s experience was broadened by sharing housing with several Prince Makonnen School teachers from varying international backgrounds. In this communal house, Ed carried on the school’s tradition of providing lodging, food, and activities to first one, then to a second Prince Makonnen student.
A highlight of Ed’s teaching experience came when his principal asked him to be Director of his school’s new Boy Scout/Girl Scout troop. Emperor Haile Selassie had just declared Addis Ababa the site for the National Scout Jamboree. Ed’s team from Prince Makonnen Secondary School practiced at the Headquarters of the Ethiopian Imperial Guards and won this prestigious national competition. After the victory, Ed witnessed a celebratory visit to the team from Emperor Haile Selassie and his son, Prince Asfa Wossen.
Two highlights of Ed’s Peace Corps service between school years were: 1.For one month in summer 1966, Ed participated in Ethiopia’s national inoculation project to eradicate smallpox and tuberculosis. Ed was assigned to the rural town of Gore in southwestern Ethiopia to set up headquarters for his inoculation work throughout the region. He received training from two missionary doctors at a Gore medical clinic sponsored by the Presbyterian Church. Ed was assisted by a student with local indigenous language skills (other than Amharic). Ed and his assistant ate and slept locally. Traveling on mules, Ed and his assistant went to outlying villages to give two vaccinations, one for smallpox and the other, Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG), for tuberculosis. Ed recalls encountering people with “unbelievable diseases” like elephantiasis . Involvement of Peace Corps Volunteers in the initial Ethiopian inoculation work contributed to the World Health Organization reaching its goal of eradicating smallpox worldwide in 1979. 2.After the inoculation project, Ed joined a small group of Ethiopia Peace Corps teachers in summer, 1966 for one month of travel throughout East Africa. His group traveled to Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania, visiting Nairobi, Kampala, and Dar es Salaam. They saw Murchison Falls and Mount Kilimanjaro. Ed commented how much he appreciated experiencing so many different environments and cultures.
Always one to take an opportunity, Ed’s additional travels during his Peace Corps service included trips to: Olduvai Gorge, the Leakeys’ archeological site in Tanzania; Old Jerusalem; and the 6th century monastery (men only) of Debre Damo in Ethiopia ‘s Tigray region.
As his Peace Corps service was ending in summer 1967, Ed had an opportunity to remain in Ethiopia and work with the famed paleoanthropologist Louis Leakey. However, Ed decided it was time to come back home to New Jersey. He had joined Peace Corps to give direction to his life, and he left to continue the work of teaching and community involvement he had begun in Ethiopia. Ed’s post-Peace Corps story was securely built on the foundation of his Peace Corps years. Back in New Jersey, Ed taught history and economics for 37 years. There he married a fellow teacher, and they eventually moved to Pequannoc, New Jersey, founded in 1740. He has a son and a daughter, but his wife is deceased.
Ed’s community service record is exemplary. In his New Jersey communities over the years, he has served on the Planning Commission, School Board, Town Council, and as Mayor. He also keeps up on news on Peace Corps through meetings of New Jersey Returned Peace Corps Volunteers. He is happy to report that Peace Corps is “coming back” after the covid pandemic disruption. Ed concluded his Peace Corps story with this heartfelt message: “If you’re a person thinking about Peace Corps, take advantage of your opportunities. Join the Peace Corps. You won’t regret it.”