Q&A with Prof. Ghidewon Abay
by Billion Temesghen
Prof. Ghidewon Abay is a mathematics professor at the University of Commonwealth in Virginia. Ever since 2004 he has been a visiting instructor at the Eritrea Institute of Technology (EIT) gaining much respect and love from his Eritrean students.
The professor is also highly involved in several activities of the YPFDJ in the Diaspora. We have asked him to share his perspectives on the Eritrean youth both in Eritrea and abroad as he is extremely fond of them.
- Q: You have been teaching at EIT for several summers now. Lately, you took part in the newly installed postgraduate education in the institute. From your perspective, what is the inspiration of the institute? And also, tell us about your experience teaching in both the undergraduate and postgraduate level at EIT?
A: The postgraduate program at EIT, if I am correct, has biology, chemistry, physics, chemistry and mathematics in it. There could be other departments with postgraduate programs. But, these ones, I am quite certain have postgraduate programs. My involvement is in the Department of Mathematics.
The aim of postgraduate programs at EIT is to realize self-sufficiency by having enough instructors. I have been involved with EIT since 2004. Then, the ratio between indigenous versus non indigenous instructors was very disappointing. Now it is much better. Out of twenty four instructors only one quarter are from Eritrea. The purpose of the postgraduate program is to train mathematics instructors and then from masters program in EIT they would pursue PHD abroad.
In the previous years I was coming to EIT every summer to teach graduate elective courses that include optimization and theory of ordinary differential equations. This year’s summer program was rather short and focused on mathematical research in discrete math.
You can say that this time around it was a workshop that made emphasis on discrete mathematics. The ranges of courses given in the postgraduate math program of EIT are broad and extremely interesting. Therefore, I can affirm that the newly introduced graduate programs are very promising. I believe that it takes four major components for any educational program to succeed: students, curriculum, instructors and resources. In terms of students Eritrea has a big number of dedicated and hardworking students, and that is based on my experience. The students’ resourcefulness is extremely impressive. Of course you cannot compare a fourteen years old educational system with those of Europe or America which have been running for centuries. So, as far as I am concerned what I have seen is that the colleges of Eritrea are on the right trajectory thanks to the enthusiasm of Eritrean students and instructors. These centers of higher education will certainly be epicenters of research and learning not only for Eritrea but for the region as well.
- Q: I am curious to know the difference between students of developing countries, such as Eritrea, and those in Europe or America. Through the several years of your career as an instructor, have you, perhaps, felt any differences between students who study with all imaginable commodities and students who learn with the little they have?
Mathematics is a poor person’s course. It doesn’t require a lab and much resources. The only thing you need is a good text book and also passion. In that sense I taught high school in Ethiopia. I also taught as graduate assistant when I was a college student in Kenya. I have been teaching in the USA ever since I started my graduate program. I have taught Eritrean students, Ethiopian, Kenyan and American students. I don’t find Eritrean students to be any less capable than the ones I teach in the US. If there is any difference that would be of individual interests and, sometimes, background. I can say that the twenty years of no war no peace situation has made life tough on Eritreans. Therefore, instructors and students did suffer a lot trying to make ends meet but despite all difficulties the educational system in Eritrea is a remarkable one. The government has been investing, within given constraints, heavily on education. And the outcomes show in the diligence of Eritrean students and teachers. With peace on the horizon, I truly hope for a speedy advance for Eritrea so that people can work on and execute different studies, research and projects to the maximum of their capabilities and desires.
- Professor, you are also highly involved with Eritrean youth abroad. What can you say about them and the connections they have with the homeland?
My involvement with Eritreans in the Diaspora is little compared to the role they have in fortifying a strong sense of identity within the Eritrean community abroad. Growing up in a foreign land is hard. The first thing one does if born and raised there is try to break the stigma and melt in that big melting pot, as they call it, and in every possible way look like and act like an Anglo-Saxon. For most Eritrean youngsters the scenario is different. They’d rather mold themselves to be representatives of Africa and particularly Eritrea. They feel that it is their responsibility to carry on the torch of the identifiable identity that was attained through heavy prices. The young diaspora Eritreans’ inspiration are the young Eritreans in Eritrea. The heavy burden of defending sovereignty and nation building that they carry with modesty and patriotism is probably the greatest source of motivation for Eritreans abroad to be proud of their origins. They need Eritrea as much as it needs them. Therefore, the work they do, especially in public diplomacy, is admirable.
- What is the involvement rate? Do all Eritreans partake in YPFDJ and its efforts?
It is hard to expect hundred percent participation of every Eritrean abroad. But those who do take part are indeed stellar youth raised and brought up in the Diaspora who, nonetheless, reserve a grand place for Eritrea in their minds, hearts and soul. Eritrea is their true home. I’d like to make a note directed to the Eritrean youth abroad to come and give back in any capacity. Come to Eritrea and share knowledge and experience. You would receive more than what you give as there is a lot to benefit from Eritreans and Eritrea.
- You have closely worked with Eritrean youth here in Eritrea and abroad on several occasions. And I know you are fond of them. What would your recommendation be for Eritrean youth both in the country and abroad now that it finally looks like the time for peace and stability has come?
It is, now, the perfect time for Eritreans to join hands in developing our home. First of all, let me praise the Eritrean youth in Eritrea that has been altruistically selfless, generous and courageous in defending and building our country. They truly are dedicated, steadfast and unique. And these words would describe the youth of now and yesterday. Only Eritrean youngsters would withstand the pressure of life we experienced in the past half century, particularly in the last twenty years. The country is surviving thanks to our unwavering youth. As far as the youth in the Diaspora, I have high regards for them too. These are youth that could have melted in the big melting pot of the west and lose their identity, but they didn’t and choose to remain true to their identity. And that is admirable.
Going back to your question, peace comes with its own form of challenges. Many ups and downs await us ahead. Eritrean students who’ve been working hard to improve themselves, while building and safeguarding the nation, have now reached the time to manifest their wits. It is time for them to think innovatively and implement everything they have learned to research and discover many things as Eritrea is a virgin land full of opportunities. It is also time for the youth abroad to give back to the nation. I urge them to make time for their country and share their knowledge and ideas with their compatriots here. If the peace situation we have just embarked on is sustainable, and I heartily hope so, I believe that Eritrean youth will make miracles once again in building Eritrea.
- Thank you for your time Professor. Any closing remarks?
Congratulations to the Eritrean people. You have withstood a lot. Moreover, best wishes to the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia. If we learn from the past and work together the future is bright and the sky is the limit.