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Blog category: Libraries, books and literacy

Adventures with a Donkey in Ethiopia

Written by Rory

It’s 2pm in the heat of the Gondar afternoon and I’m following the happiest donkey in Ethiopia. Happy because he’s spreading the joy of reading in for Ethiopian students without libraries … and because carrying his load of books, rather than bags of cement or teff (a grain used to make injera, Ethiopia’s stable bread) that are the usual fair of his fellows, is a cushy number.


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I am at Bahire Ginb school near Maksegnit, a small village between Gondar and Bahir Dar, to see one of our donkey libraries. Link Ethiopia has three donkey libraries – two in Gondar and one in Bishoftu. Each donkey visits five rural schools who do not have a library, one a day over a week. Via our donkeys, children can access books which are usually scarce at home and at school; they are able to read reference and textbooks to support their lessons but also to read fiction in Amharic and Oromo. These free reading sessions, as well as group stories, can be a gateway for students into the world opened by reading – reading for pleasure, reading for reading’s sake.


Donkey libraries are a great service for rural schools without libraries. Teachers and students are always excited when the donkey library arrives and more and more schools request to be included. There are thousands of students who do not have access to books beyond their school textbook. For that reason, Link is seeking to increase the number of donkey libraries from 3 to 4, which would allow us to serve an additional 1000 students in rural schools. Click here if you’d like to help and support us to bring the Donkey and his books to so many more children.

At Bahire Gunb, a group of students are sitting in a circle around Belete, our donkey librarian. He is reading from a book of Ethiopian folktales and the class follow along from their own copies. Stage left, our mobile library sits in the shade of a tree job done for another day.


Posted in 2016, Fundraising, Libraries, books and literacy, Projects | Tagged , , , , , , , , , ,

Chihira Elementary School welcomes Link Ethiopia’s youngest ever fundraiser!

Written by Zemene

Its not very often that donors to development organisations get to see exactly how their money has been spent, and that’s why I was delighted that young Misha, along with his mother and young brother, were able to come with me to visit Chihira school, in rural Amhara, to see the results of his committed fundraising. Chihira school is only accessible by foot – its about a 45 minute walk from the main road. However, given that a sponsored walk had been Misha’s main fundraising activity (177 miles walking along Offa’s Dyke!) I didn’t think he would mind!

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Whilst great strides have been made in education in Ethiopia recently, there unfortunately remains a large gap in both access to, and quality of, education between urban and rural areas. The inaccessibility of rural schools makes them harder to support, and the more agrarian way of life in rural areas, where large amounts of time have to be devoted to farming livestock and tending to crops, means that rural schools suffer from limited resources.

In 2013 Misha had raised £2,534.05 and with this money we were able to build 2 new classrooms at Chihira School. By increasing the number of classrooms from 5 to 7, the school is now able to operate more efficiently, and now students are able to carry on schooling beyond Grade 5, without sacrificing the time available to the children to help with family tasks. This is crucial to ensuring that rural children do not drop out from school.

Misha was also able to fund our Donkey Library for one year, which means that the children at Chihira School have access to the wide variety of text and fiction books available from our roaming library. Our donkey carries books and an accompanying librarian, who visits 6 schools in the Northern Region of Ethiopia. For schools in rural areas of Ethiopia a library is an all too rare luxury and yet access to books is one of the most fundamental necessities for education. The donkey brings books to children in remote villages, giving them regular access to books on all subjects.

As well as spending time with the students and parents, to whom they donated some additional school resources, Misha and his family also got the opportunity to see the donkey library in action at Chihira. Once again thanks to Misha for supporting Chihira school!

Posted in 2015, Classrooms and furniture, Fundraising, Libraries, books and literacy, Projects, Uncategorized |

Happy International Literacy Day!

Written by Muna

In 1965, UNESCO has proclaimed that September 8th will be marked as International Literacy Day. Today is a day to highlight the importance of literacy to individuals, communities and societies. A day to remind everybody that reading and writing is one of the basic skills every person should and has the right to have. For over 55 years UNESCO has worked to ensure that literacy remains a priority on national and international agendas.

This year’s theme is Literacy and Sustainable Societies. Projects and events are being held all around the world in dedication of this day. In New Zealand babies born on September 8th, get a free book so new parents can read to them straight away.


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Literacy is a fundamental human right and everybody should be able to have access to it. Many countries have worked on improving their education system and made many efforts to reduce national illiteracy rates. For example, since 1951 the overall literacy rate in India has increased from a mere 18.33% to 74.04%. On an average, literacy rates have went up by at least 9-10% every decade.

On education, children from Finland are more ahead than other countries. Teaching is a well-paid and respected profession and at start of 2016, Finnish children will start learning computer coding. Finland is known for their innovative ways of education. They don’t dub foreign shows, but rather use subtitles to encourage viewers into reading and learning a new language. The Scandinavian country also has a strong library culture. 80% of Finns visit the library regularly. On an average, each person borrows 10 books, DVD’s or magazines in a year. And the UK isn’t that far behind!

Finland ranks very high amongst developed countries in education and literacy. Link Ethiopia have been working hard to decrease the illiteracy rate in Ethiopia with our project work in schools. Not that long ago, Link Ethiopia started our Libraries and Literacy project. Just like Finland, our goal is to promote a culture of reading and combat low literacy levels in schools at the same time. The project’s objectives are:

  • To improve children’s reading attainment in the early grades.
  • To increase access to books and libraries for younger children.
  • To encourage reading for pleasure.
  • To improve early grade teachers’ confidence in teaching reading and English.
  • To improve the quality of teaching through adoption of pedagogies of systematic phonics and reading comprehension techniques.
  • To improve outcomes for those identified as weaker readers in secondary school.


We’ve seen success in the Libraries and Literacy. Since 2013, we have been able to expand the project over 46 schools and bringing the joy of reading to many children. Our missions continues as we try to including more schools in to the Libraries and Literacy project – join us.

Posted in 2015, Libraries, books and literacy, Other news, Projects, Uncategorized |

International Youth Day – Empowering young people

Written by Cecilia

The International Youth Day – which takes place on August 12th every year- has been set up by the United Nations (UN) in 2000. Youth is considered the time of life between childhood and adulthood (15-24 years-old). This day has different focuses and aims:

1- Bringing youth issues and needs to the attention of the international community.
2- Celebrating the potential of youth as active participants in today’s global society.
3- Stress on the rights of young people to have full access to education, adequate healthcare, employment opportunities, financial services and full participation in civil life.
4- Shaping the youth not just as passive beneficiaries of development efforts but as a force for positive social change.
5- Calling attention on the limited opportunities for youth engagement in many areas of the society.


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Especially in a moment of economic uncertainty, it is important that the international community not only pays attention to the issues and needs that young people experience nowadays, but also that countries recognise the potential of the youth in terms of innovation, creativity, energy and foresight. Young people are those people who will manage the future and they must be given the possibility to learn and grow.

Last year’s International Youth Day theme was “Youth and Mental Health”, while this year it will be “Youth Civic Engagement”. Attention is being drawn to a given set of cultural, social and legal issues affecting youth and the international community is invited to both take an action to help them overcome the challenge they face and involving them in the decision-making processes. The engagement and participation of youth in society is considered to be essential to achieving sustainable human development, positive social change and peace. Nevertheless, the opportunity for youth to engage politically, economically and socially are often low or non-existent. The International Youth Day is also an awareness-raising day where attention is called on the need to empower young people who will be managing the future of the world. The International Youth Day is a pivotal moment for action, both for youth and for countries. During this occasion, workshops, concerts, cultural events and meeting are held in order to engage the youth in conversations with their local, national and international leaders and to open up a space for young people to share their message and their stories/ideas on civic engagement activities. The International Youth Day is an occasion for young people to raise their voices and this years’ theme in particular – youth civic engagement – is about the youth taking action!

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Link Ethiopia’s aim is to change lives through education. If young people have access to education, they will even be more aware of their rights, more active within their communities and in the global system. Throughout the Sponsorship Programme every year more children are given the possibility to attend school and become more engaged community members and more active world citizens. One of many projects made possible by the Child Sponsorship Programme has been the construction of a New Library for Arbatu Ensesa School in Gondar. Child sponsorship isn’t only about supporting one child’s education, it rather helps to foster a stronger, more aware and more inquisitive group of people that one day will take active part in the community and in the broader national and global system.

Link Ethiopia School Linking Programme is another important initiative that aims at creating a more aware and engaged body of young people. This project aim to promote:

1- Cultural awareness, awareness of diversity and shared aims and ambitions between UK and Ethiopian pupils and teachers.
2- Racial Harmony.
3- Exchange of ideas and thoughts about important issues such as HIV prevention or climate change.
4- Global awareness and empathy.
5- Respect of other cultures through an exchange of traditions and experiences.

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On this occasion, we want to highlight Link Ethiopia’s work, that, through the promotion of equal access to quality education, cultural exchange and respect of diversity, actively participates in the mission celebrated during the International Youth Day 2015, namely the one of creating a youth which is more engaged in civil society.

Posted in 2015, Child sponsorship, Global Education, Libraries, books and literacy, Other news, School links, Uncategorized |

Libraries – the beating heart of a school

Written by Mathilde

Running since 2013, Link Ethiopia’s Libraries and Literacy project aims to improve the literacy ability of students in more than 40 schools across Ethiopia, as well as promoting the pure fun of reading for young children. As we reach the end of the second year of the project we are so pleased to observe the dramatic and important changes taking place.

In 2013 the Waterloo Foundation helped us to start the project in 20 schools. With additional support from Jolly Phonics, from school partners here in the UK and from individual donors we have been able to expand the project to 46 schools in total, so far.

The library improvement aspect of the project encouraged schools to develop the library facilities available to their students. Each school was given a small grant to contribute to this improvement, along with guidance, training and ongoing support. A total of 4000 ETB was awarded, with 2000 ETB for books and 2000 ETB to enhance the library environment.

Some examples of the changes made possible by the libraries improvement programme can be seen below:

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The library improvement in Aste Bekafa Elementary School is clear for all to see.

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Kera Hora Elementary School have been able to build a brand new library

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The new library in Adama No. 6 Elementary school offers more space and a greater choice of books

To improve the libraries, a ‘Library Award’ scheme was also included in the project. Throughout the year, schools had the opportunity to work towards one of three library awards: bronze, silver or gold. These awards were assessed on the basis of 42 criteria points which included the number of books lent; attractiveness; usability; library club and opening hours. This scheme really worked, encouraging schools to improve their libraries across the board. In 2014-15, we have seen many libraries move up to award scale; by the end of the year over half the schools were achieving silver or gold.

The award achievements have a direct impact on the amount of students reading and the amount of books they read. Through the library award scheme we have increased the number of schools lending at least 25 books a week from 3 to 17, and those lending 50 books from 1 to 7.

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The library of Time’s Choice Academy is really busy

Focusing on one element of the library award criteria; we observed that at the beginning of the year there were just two schools where at least 80 students a week visited the library and one school where at least 150 visited. At the end of the year, these numbers have increased to 17 and 7 respectively.

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Sincil Sports College and Times Choice Academy

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Barlaston First School and Adama No. 6 Elementary

We also asked our UK schools – some of whom had raised funds so their Ethiopian partners could be part of the Libraries & Literacy project – to share images of their libraries with us to help librarians in Ethiopia visualise the possibilities for their own literacy environment. This encouragement was really helpful and now many of the improved libraries in Ethiopian schools display the images from their partner school on the walls. For larger collections head over to our photo site.

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Kera Hora Elementary and Hankham Primary

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Brackenbury Primary and Beza Elementary

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St. Stephens CE Primary and Atse Bekafa Elementary

The Libraries and Literacy project has been a real success. The children, teaching and librarian staff have made fantastic improvements over the past year, and we look forward to seeing this continue.

Posted in 2015, Libraries, books and literacy, Projects, School links, Uncategorized |

It takes a village to raise a reader!

Written by Cecilia

Within the annual International Literacy Day promoted by UNESCO, literacy has always been celebrated as an empowerment tool, a means to reach the main pillars of sustainable development: economic development, social development and environmental protection. Knowledge is power and education empowers to the extent that it enables people to determine their own destiny. Education is therefore at the basis of individual growth and international development.

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Literacy is also a basic human right and it is the basic condition to enjoy all the other human rights. Literacy is a gate opener to the world to the extent that it is a tool to promote social and political participation. Apart from the social and political value conferred to literacy, it is important to underline the link between education and health as well. “Healthy learners learn better and better educated learners have the knowledge and skills to be healthy”. Furthermore, education is the social remedy to fight the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS.

Reading and writing are an outlet to people’s, especially children’s imagination. Within a reading culture, people, especially children, are encouraged not only to read, but to enjoy the pleasure of reading. The African proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child” could be transformed in “it takes a village to raise a reader”. Everyone in a community plays an important role in the welfare and development of children. Within a reading culture, reading is highly valued and appreciated in the society. A reading culture can be created by improving a reading environment in and out of school. “A socio-cultural perspective posits that all learning and literacy development occurs within social and cultural context”. Libraries are a cultural institution and play a critical role in shaping attitudes towards and practices of reading. It is important to re-think what it means to read for pleasure and to re-assess what counts as reading in today’s world..

With all this in mind, we’re really pleased to report to you the results of the second year of our Literacy & Libraries programme. Working in partnership with The Waterloo Foundation, Jolly Phonics, and our sponsors and supporters, 46 schools took part and received:

1- Phonics trainings
2- Librarian training and library improvement grant
3- Weak readers’ tutorial scheme
4- Reading bee competitions and reading clubs
5- Volunteers support

The Library and Literacy programme aims at making libraries attractive to students and transforming libraries from spaces to store books into hubs for reading. Volunteers from the UK and Jolly Phonics provided training in English phonetics and reading, participatory methods and use of resources. Librarians and directors have been trained with practical advises on how to manage the library and engage students. With a focus on extra-curricular programmes, such as reading bee and competitions and school clubs for weak readers, children have been motivated not just to read but to read for pleasure.

And the impact? Libraries and Literacy students improved their average score from 17% to 37% at the end of the year (where 100% would be expected for a student of the same grade who was a native English speaker). Students doubled their original performance and adding 14% to the improvement seen in control schools.

A record number of schools achieved gold and silver library awards in 2014-15. This led to a direct increase in the number of students using the library and the number of books lent to students. Above and beyond the data, case studies of individual teachers and students illuminate the opportunities offered through participation:


We’re so pleased to hear stories like this – and Mekdes is far from alone! We estimate that 2410 students are now attending their school library every week – an increase from before the project of approximately 677%!

We want to see the project continue for a Third year – expanding the project to more rural schools, developing the skills and knowledge of teachers and librarians at the schools already involved and involve many, many more students. Watch this space!

Posted in 2015, Global Education, Inclusive education, Libraries, books and literacy |

Success of Libraries and Literacy project

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.

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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.

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Foka dec 2014 (8)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’.


IMG_9106The 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.

IMG_9863There 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.

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Posted in 2015, Libraries, books and literacy, Projects, Uncategorized, Volunteering |

A Child Sponsorship Room in Bishoftu

Written by Mathilde & Mike

Link Ethiopia has just finished a project of a Child Sponsorship Room at the office in Bishoftu. Already in the mind of the team, this project was made possible by the hard work and dedication of a couple of long-term Bishoftu-based volunteers.

Child sponsorship room

Over the past few months Cara and Mike painted and organized the room. Several areas are available: a reading area, computers, a space for art and a studying area.

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The reading area will regularly offer reading sessions for children looking for help with their reading or those who just want to sit down and hear a story. Also, a lending library will be incorporated into this area with books in Amharic, Oromo and English. The sponsored children will be able to borrow some books and take them out at home. The library collection is formed by fiction and non-fiction books. Volunteers in Bishoftu will be able to make use of the space for teaching and training sessions.

The computer area will offer to the children the possibility to use computer help to their studies and use different programs. There are two computers at this moment but plans are already afoot to equip the space with more in the coming months. The art area is composed of drawing materials and games. The children will be able to get creative and develop their imagination. Finally, a studying area is also proposed, with some tables and chairs available for kids who just need to find a quiet place to study.

Computer areareading area

The room will be looked after by Woynishet, a support assistant in the Bishoftu office who has a qualification in computing which can be put to good use. For the moment, 35 sponsored children will benefit of this room. Future volunteers will also have the opportunity to run their own sessions and use that room to improve their lessons.

Thanks to donations from supporters and sponsors this project has been succeeded. The entire cost of the project was only £260. The room is now ready to welcome the sponsored children. The grand opening will takes place this week. The sponsored kids, volunteers and staff of Link Ethiopia will soon enjoy this room.

Mike – volunteer for Link Ethipia

“Cara and I were working at Link Ethiopia’s Bishoftu office and we suddenly thought ‘What’s that room over there used for?’, as we spied this empty space, the walls long forgotten with old felt tip soaking through and dolphin stickers peeling away. Well okay, it wasn’t quite that bad, but we felt it had a great deal more potential!

‘What’s that room over there used for?’ we asked Haile, the regional manager. ‘It was being used as the main office before but we’re planning on turning it into a room for our sponsored kids and young people’ he tells us. ‘But we need help to get it ready’. Bingo! The Bishoftu Sponsorship Room – our latest challenge.

Painting the room

We’d heard about a similar idea while in Gondar. The idea of a lending library combined with reading area and space for learning to use computers – what a great combination.

Over the past few months, Cara and I have painted the room white (twice), then painted it yellow (twice), then created the desired areas we needed for the plan to go ahead! We also built shelves to put the books on.

Setting it up in the first place has been such a fulfilling experience for me, and I know for Cara too, and it brings a tear to the eye to see the room completed and ready for the Grand Opening next week!”

Congratulations to everybody involved, including those who helped us raise those final funds, and those who will benefit so much from using the room in the future!

Posted in Child sponsorship, Libraries, books and literacy |

A New Library for Arbatu Ensesa School, Gondar!

Written by Cecilia

Link Ethiopia has just finished a project of construction of a brand new library building for Arbatu Ensasa School in Gondar, Northern Ethiopia.

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Nearly finished!

The new library replaced the small, ill-equipped older facility at the school, which was very inadequate for keeping up with the demand of the schools and students, and failed to match the school’s growing ambitions for improving the reading and learning ability of their student body.

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The beautiful new library in all its glory!

The construction of this library, as well as other important projects, has been possible thanks to the supporters of the Link Ethiopia Child Sponsorship Programme. This programme is not only supporting one child’s education; it is helping to formulate a stronger foundation for a whole school. To help foster a stronger, more aware and more inquisitive group of young people that one day will take active part in the community and in the broader national and global system.

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Students learning in Arbatu.

This new library also fits in the broader project focus we currently have at Link Ethiopia with our Literacy and Library project, in partnership with the Waterloo Foundation. You can read more about this project here.

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Posted in 2015, Child sponsorship, Global Education, Libraries, books and literacy, Projects |

Link Ethiopia & Nisir put pen to paper to promote education!

By Tefera Teklu

Link Ethiopia and Nisir Societal Development and Environmental Protection Association signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) to work together towards the promotion of education and the culture of reading.

the signing ceremony

The signing ceremony

The agreement initiates cooperation between the two organisations to the advancement of reading culture in Ethiopia, research and community service. They have also agreed to look for opportunities to support each other financially by pursuing governmental, non-governmental and private funding for joint-projects.

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kids from the neighbourhood reading

Kids from the neighbourhood reading

Speaking on the occasion Mr. Rory Dillon, Project and Finance Manager of Link Ethiopia said:

“When I first saw the book box in Gondar I knew that Link Ethiopia and Nisir should be working together. I think it’s natural that we support each other. I hope in the future we will help turn Gondar into a town that loves to read.”

Link Ethiopia donated books at the ceremony

Link Ethiopia donated books at the ceremony

He also added he shares Ephrem’s idea that people in Gondar should see reading as fun is “exactly what Link Ethiopia is trying to achieve in schools.

Mr. Ephrem Biadgign, President of Nisir, for his part stated:

“Reading makes people better global citizens and the creation of such citizens will make our country’s future brighter.”

Posted in 2015, Ethiopian news, Libraries, books and literacy, Other news, Projects, Uncategorized |