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Blog category: Volunteering
1st Jun 2016
Written by Rhi and Ama
Ethiopia is still a country of economic divides. Although there has been major progress recently, there is still an obvious gap between urban and rural areas in terms of basics such as education, sanitation and development. In the countryside, an agricultural way of life often means that time is limited, as rearing livestock and tending crops leaves little to spare. The schooling resources for rural areas are often scarce. Educational facilities are lacking, and the school buildings themselves can be old, unsafe, with poor structural integrity and reduced light and space.
As part of our rural education campaign, Link Ethiopia has been working with Girlguiding North East England and AidCamps International to rebuild schools and classrooms in the satellite developments and farming communities around Gondar. Structures that are bright, airy and welcoming are provided, as well as having more space and facilities for the children using them. This is important because with limited space, schools may not have capacity for all the children, or be able to offer education past a certain age. This means many children cannot continue in education, as the travel to the next nearest school that offers further education can simply be too much, leaving them no time to complete domestic or agricultural tasks required, let alone tackle homework. Each additional year of schooling increases a person’s earning potential by 10%, meaning that the possibility of lifting an area out of poverty becomes more of an attainable goal with the correct infrastructure in place.
Click to expand
A typical classroom in a rural area
Andinet School is one of the most recent school partners in this joint partnership. The school previously had a rundown set of classrooms, with lumpy stone floors, poor roofing, and unplastered walls. Originally built from traditional wood and mud, one in particular had fallen into a state of disrepair and was no longer serviceable as a building. Providing little shelter from the elements, the classroom was a difficult environment for young children to be in. As a small space, access was restricted and some of the children could not progress to higher grades.
Link Ethiopia worked with the local community to discuss what they needed out of a new school building. A double classroom was planned, allowing children the space and security they need to continue their education. We had worked with a volunteer architect on previous school projects, and the structural changes she had suggested to improve the life of the classrooms were also implemented here. This included plastering the mud and wood, metal shutters for security at night and use of a wooden cross beam to prevent lean on the building.
Our volunteers and their hardwork
Link Ethiopia partnered with Girlguiding North East England and AidCamps International over the last few years to fundraise for, and sign up volunteers, to open this vital resource for children in rural Ethiopia. AidCamps team of volunteers were motivated and engaged with the project, and helped ensure the building was completed on time. A number of Girlguides will also be going out this year to continue the restoration and improvement work at Andinet School – this will be their 2nd visit.
The classroom was opened in plenty of time for the Summer term. Representatives from the education authority and the local kebele attended, as did the school director. The project build had been challenging in places, liaising between contractors, volunteers and the local authorities, so we were delighted to have opened on time and to see the difference this build will make straight away. The classroom is spacious and a positive space for children to develop and learn in. Having previously had to finish educating children at grade 3, the school now plans to educate children up to grade 5. The opportunities this will provide for the local children are huge.
The new classroom in use
Link aims to build a further 20 new classrooms in rural areas, with a focus on schools that cannot currently offer all grades. For more about how to get involved, you can read our page here.
26th Jun 2015
by Hannah Dillon
125 teachers and 46 librarians trained, 736 individual reading tests carried out, hundreds of school visits completed and 31 library certificates awarded. Phew! All this can only mean one thing: this month we are celebrating the successful completion of the second year of our Libraries and Literacy project.
The project, which this year included 46 Ethiopian schools, was the brainchild of our out-going Country Director, Belayneh Shewaye and our former UK Projects Manager, Shree Mandke. They wanted to promote a culture of reading and, at the same time, combat low literacy levels in schools. Of course, there is no quick fix, so we came up with a project that begins to address some of the barriers to literacy and enjoyment of reading experienced by children and adults alike.Click to expand
Our research told us to focus on the first years of primary school, because if children fall behind in these years, they find it very difficult to catch up later. So, we supported Grade 1 and 2 teachers by training them in how to teach early reading using letter sounds (phonics) and by mentoring them throughout the year. As well as our own scheme, Sounds of English, we also partnered this year with Jolly Phonics, who ran a pilot scheme with us, providing resource packs and a world-class trainer in the form of Shainaz Jussa. We also introduced them to picture books and how to read with their class, as well as a few songs like ‘Head, shoulders, knees and toes’.
The teachers overwhelmingly appreciated the training, because they could see how using letter sounds would help children, and because it gave them ideas for teaching in a more fun and interactive way.
To make sure that children would get the benefit of this training, we tested children’s reading at the beginning and the end of the school year. We followed up by visiting lessons regularly and listening to teachers’ difficulties and concerns, as well as giving some on-site training and lesson demonstrations. This made for a very busy year but seeing the transformation in teaching and the real enthusiasm of the children for learning English in this way made it all worth it.
There are still some sounds that teachers haven’t mastered, but squeaking like a mouse for five minutes to try and get a teacher to make the ‘i’ sound correctly is all part of the fun! Following the reading tests, we are now getting down to crunching the numbers. Children in the project schools have increased their score by 21% on average, compared to 6% in other (control) schools. So those with trained teachers are doing 15% better than they would have been without the project!
While public libraries in the UK close in their droves, we are busy widening access to libraries for school children in Ethiopia. As you can imagine, on the whole they do not have books of their own; for example, a USAID study (2010) found that 82% in the Oromia region have no book other than a textbook at home. So libraries are a lifeline for education: a place to study, but also a place to discover the joy of reading. The problem currently is that there is a shortage of relevant and age-appropriate books both in local languages and in English. Therefore, schools were given a small grant to buy the library books they needed and a further grant to make the library more attractive, especially to younger pupils. This included buying soft mats for sitting and reading, posters to decorate the walls and repairing old or damaged equipment. Schools were incentivised to make improvements through Link Ethiopia’s library awards (bronze, silver and gold). These changes, alongside raising the profile of the library at a whole-school level, have led to more children using the library and more children being able to borrow library books.
Find out more about “The regional Reading Bees” another successful Libraries and Literacy project, in our next blog post.
12th Jun 2015
By Hannah Dillon and Tefera Teklu
Link Ethiopia’s partnership with World Challenge has cemented with another fruitful year that saw a flurry of construction and painting activities. Cheers to every group of young people who did their part in making sure that access to better education in Ethiopia is fair to all, especially to girls and pupils with disabilities. We hope that you will come back some day to see the changes that have come through your invaluable support.
And here is a summary of what has been done in the summer of 2014:
21st Jan 2015
Written by Mike
(Read Part One Here)
In the towns and cities, building a library is definitely feasible. However, Link works with schools all over the country, some that can’t even be reached without a 4×4 because they’re so rural. Getting building materials to these schools can prove too tricky, and even getting books to reach them can be difficult. I’ve witnessed that kids from the rural areas tend to struggle more with basic English, especially with reading and writing things that they might have never come across before. So what can we do to try and reach as many kids as possible, to open their minds to the wonder of fiction and creativity?Click to expand
Well, that’s where “Dunky” comes in. This project was first put into place by the Gondar office a few years ago, and now the crew down here in Bishoftu have managed to set up their very own “donkey library.” What on this fruitful earth is a “donkey library”, I hear you splutter with joy and excitement! Well, the donkey library is a project that’s been set up to try and get books to schools in the rural areas, and to get kids reading from an early age. We’ve managed to secure a donkey, called Duncan, who will be travelling around with a trained librarian to deliver crates and paniers and boxes of books to the schools that can’t be so easily reached. This week saw “Dunky” Ferguson’s debut mission, which looks like it was fun (for the people at least). I can’t talk for Dunky, partly because I haven’t met him yet and partly because he’s not sporting the happiest of faces in these pictures. But I’m sure he’ll come to realise that what he’s doing is helping towards a great cause, and with little sacrifice comes great reward, so stick on in there donkey, my son!
Over the next year, Dunky, and possibly some new friends, will be travelling and delivering books for all ages to pupils and schools in the rural areas of the country, with the aim being to reach as many kids as possible starting with those in places such as Denkaka and Ude. By promoting reading to the children in these schools, we hope to show the benefits of reading to those who can’t quite see it yet. Who knows, maybe in a couple of years’ time they’ll be picking up a book without questioning it not just to study, but to learn from and enjoy!
I think I’ve rambled enough. But before I go, I do just want to point out that we were given some huge golden Crimbo tinsel and some hats to decorate the office with just before Christmas, by a chap working for Pelican Post. They’re a company who’s been donating books to libraries and classes here, one of which we’re teaching with at the minute. Anyway, the point is that I got all excited to show my fellow volunteer our Crimbo decorations when she got home, but I noticed that the tinsel had been pilfered. “Which one of them took that?” we pondered to ourselves cluelessly before Dawit sent me these pictures:
Classic Dunky! Neigh! Ee-aw! Whatever the sound is! Peace out!
16th Jan 2015
Written by Mike
(Read Part Two Here)
So, they’ve asked me to write a blog. I’ve got plenty of adventures stored up on paper so maybe some sort of anthology is in order! Here are my experiences so far with Link Ethiopia, the wonderful charity with whom I’m volunteering in Bishoftu. I’ll start by telling you about the schools and libraries.Click to expand
One reason why it’s important for kids to read is so that they can balance out the “facts” and politics they’re taught with creative thinking. In the UK, reading stories is something which happens from the minute you’re born. Yet here, that’s not really the case. Sure, a few of them know a traditional Ethiopian tale or two and a couple have read the occasional novel here and there, but when I ask what ‘what have you read?’, the majority reply with things like “textbooks”, “history” and “non-fiction.” Where’s the fun in that? Where’s the creativity?
It’s clear that these kids have got imaginations – how could they not, in a place like this? They just need to let those imaginations run free, and develop a new outlook which helps them realise that being creative and telling stories is not a waste of time. That’s what we’re working on together. During the first week of class, we spent a lesson-and-a-half creating our own characters and character backgrounds before a few of the girls asked if we could change the topic. It seems that the girls lack the drive for creativity even more so than the boys, who thankfully get stuck in with this kind of thing.
So over the last few lessons we’ve been doing something called “What’s Next?” in which I give them the introduction to a story and they’ve got to write down what happens next, with illustrations of course. A lot of the kids have been finding inspiration from their favourite television and movies from America, which definitely helps when they come to write a story. We have got some cracking stuff, although we’ve only heard from the boys so far – I’m pretty sure one group of girls has written nothing at all because they don’t see the point. They did draw a funky picture of me though, so thanks for that!
People need to read stories, especially kids, so they can learn about the world around them in a different way. “Oh, but we’ve got Geography textbooks galore!” Yeah, that’s great – we can read about how many square kilometres the rainforest takes up or the population of China – but we’re not learning about characters! About people! How do we share our life experiences and relate to others? By telling stories. Therefore, getting these kids to pick up a story and actually want to read it will be beneficial.
If you walk around a school in England, one of the most dominant places you’ll find will be the library. A room stacked wall to wall, floor to ceiling, with stories! Now, I’m not saying that libraries are always fun, because let’s face it, they’re not. While I was at school, I don’t think I ever once willingly chose a book from the library, but that’s because the ideas we are fed about libraries are so dull – too much paper, too many written words and not enough spoken. Risk opening your mouth in a library and you’ll get a disgruntled librarian telling you to be quiet! Who wants to spend their time there? No-one that I can think of. But that’s because we’re so used to hearing stories and reading books anyway, that we take the place for granted. In contrast, the kids here don’t have libraries in their schools. They don’t have anywhere to choose a fictional piece of fun and sit down with it!
Okay, well some of them do. We’re getting there. Slowly, but surely. That’s what Link have been working on with their recent Libraries & Literacy project. The project involves going round the schools, building a library if there’s not a free room, donating books, and setting up a library-level reward scheme.
For instance, I had the honour of rolling with the library crew (more exciting than it sounds) last week while they checked in on each school’s library, ticking off a check-list with points such as “working librarian at all times”, “wall displays”, “books put in some kind of order”, etc. Once a library can tick off everything on that check-list is promoted from Bronze to Silver, and then to Gold, but no Platinum, unfortunately. I wonder what a Platinum status library could look like… maybe you’d walk in and instantly absorb all the information without having to flick through anything…
So, what’s the benefit of getting libraries set up in these schools? Well, not only does it give kids a place to go and pick out a book to explore, but it’s also a place where kids can go to study and carry on learning outside of class. “Oh, great, yet more studying!” I hear you thinking. Well here’s the thing: kids in England, they don’t really want to be in school, whereas kids do. My afternoon class was originally scheduled for one hour, but the kids asked for longer so we’re now on one-and-a-half. These kids are keen to learn! What did we all get up to on the weekend? Studying. What are you going to get up to now that we’ve finished class for the day? Studying. What will you get up to when you’re home tonight? Studying. They study too much if I’m honest with you, but it’s good to see them so keen to learn new things.
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