After addressing a crowd Sept. 22 at the Pan African Festival at Veterans Plaza in downtown Silver Spring, Leggett will board a plane the next day with about 40 community leaders to visit Gondar for nine days, said Bruce Adams, director of the county executive’s Office of Community Partnerships.
Leggett also will be joined on the trip by board members of the nonprofit Montgomery Sister Cities, which organizes the county’s sister cities projects. Because the county partners with Montgomery Sister Cities, the group relies on donations and does its own fundraising. Each of the attendees on the preliminary trip in January and the upcoming trip this month, including Leggett, took vacation time and paid for their own way, without any cost to taxpayers.
“The biggest potential I saw was the government there has made an enormous investment in their university system,” said Adams, who attributed the selection of Ethiopia to the large Ethiopian population in the county.
Daniel Koroma, the liaison to African and Caribbean communities in the county, said one out of every three county residents is foreign-born. Of that third, Africans make up about 15 percent. Koroma said there are about 7,883 Ethiopians in the county, accounting for 28 percent of the African-born residents, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
About 10 members from Montgomery College will accompany Leggett on the trip to build relationships with Gondar’s university system.
“Montgomery College’s role in this trip to Ethiopia is to exchange information and ideas with the higher education leadership at the University of Gondar,” said Marcus Rosano, a spokesman for Montgomery College. “We will hold a mini-symposium to discuss what makes the American community college model so unique and valuable in the world.”
Although it is difficult to measure exactly how many students of Ethiopian descent are enrolled at the community college, Rosano said the school has had 666 Ethiopian students attend on student visas as of spring 2012. He said the mini-symposium will feature talks on the importance of economic and community partnerships as well as workforce development, and how to use technology in American higher education.
Koroma said Ethiopians have resettled to the area for educational opportunities and, like many people from neighboring African nations, to escape persecution during their country’s civil war, which ended in the 1990s. The Sister Cities project, he said, is a successful way to civically engage an untapped community.
He and the members of the Ethiopian sister city council visited Gondar in January to begin talks after Ethiopian community members in the county gave a presentation on a potential partnership with the country.
“In order for the African community to select one country, all countries were asked to organize their own individual communities to make sure there is a local interest,” Koroma said.