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Blog category: 2013
17th Jun 2014
The work of the Corvallis-Gondar Sister Cities Association (C-GSCA) to develop sustainable programs and promote cultural awareness, respect, and understanding has been recognised by Sister Cities International, who have awarded them the ‘Best Overall Program’ award in their annual awards recognitions.Click to expand
Specific projects in 2013, for which the C-GSCA and Link Ethiopia were praised, included:
- improving the quality of student learning by promoting sound teaching practices in Gondar schools, through training and professional development,
- establishing computer access and literacy, and
- creating a culture of reading, maths and science proficiency.
You can read the full press release regarding the award over on the Sister Cities International site.
This brilliant work was made possible by the fundraising and management efforts of the C-GSCA, all the way in Oregon, USA! They work hand-in-hand with local NGOs like Link Ethiopia to implement their projects and have developed a real connection and link between communities and cultures – just the sort of relationship which we like to help foster.
Tsadiku Yohannes Elementary in Gondar was chosen as the C-GSCAs ‘Model School’ and together they have been able to make fantastic strides in improving the quality of teacher training, the school’s educational environment and improving access to computer and literacy facilities.
We look forward to continuing to work with them this year and beyond, and congratulations again for the award!
3rd Jan 2014
I’m nearing the conclusion of a stint with Link Ethiopia just shy of 3 months. I’ve been very kindly sponsored by Integrate Hands,
I’ve spent the majority of my time here sleeping, or involved in two long term projects, both education-based, a Libraries and Literacy project very directly related to education, and a project to increase female attendance at school with a broader background and impact. It is now a cliché as worn as an Ethiopian welcome mat that education is the building block for a society, or words to that effect. But it’s so oft-repeated because it’s an accurate reflection of its significance. The one disclaimer is mostly too obvious to be added, that education must be of sufficient quality. More than the presence of a student in a classroom for eight, nine, ten, even twenty years is needed.Click to expand
Leaving aside its impact in the UK, through varied methods Link is working to increasing the quality and quantity of that education in Ethiopia. And in doing so, provide the tools that today’s children will need when it is their turn to be part of the ripples of change that will overcome problems Ethiopia will still be facing in ten, twenty or thirty years.
And not that many tools are required; an ability to read and write in English (which opens a world of knowledge and self-teaching not available in local languages), basic arithmetic, an inquisitive mind, and that old cliché from a thousand commencement addresses about a liberal education, ‘the ability to think’ (actually surely gained far earlier than university). Given those tools, who knows where the next Ethiopian generation could end up.
They could be doctors, or lawyers or bankers. They could make truly dedicated teachers,
None of that is to say that present day Ethiopia does not have many of those people. Indeed I met a bunch of them already working for Link and in local schools. A group of dedicated individuals, lots of whom could perhaps be earning more money for more predictable hours (and less demands from ferengi’s like me), elsewhere. I have great admiration for their daily efforts. However, it is important too, not to deny the distance that the country still has to come, if it is to create an environment for the greatest human fulfilment, to this sprawling and at times beautiful country.
Collecting data is not very glamorous or sexy. But it’s finding what is effective. And that’s about as important as development work comes. During the seven or so months I’ve spent in Africa to date I’ve heard more than enough stories about hindsight revealing vast amounts of wasted effort and money. Therefore being involved in projects that we’ll very quickly know the impact of, know if they are implementing the change they seek, is great. And although there’s a long way between a measure of literacy and some ultimately immeasurable feature of collective human well-being that we’re striving for, it’s at least on the right road, long and winding as that road might be.
21st Dec 2013
Addis Alem is one of the oldest school in Gondar, serving 655 children from very poor families living in Kebele 03. There used to be only 1 water tap for the entire school (children and staff) which used to get quite crowded during break time. However, thanks to funds from COFRA (a Switzerland based charitable trust), we were able to change this and now they have a water station with 12 functioning taps! Thanks to COFRA, the Addis Alem students are better able to concentrate on their lessons!
20th Dec 2013
In addition to the Sounds of English training, given by Sue in Gonder, and myself in Bishoftu, earlier this term, the librarian, director (headteacher) and a few teachers form each Library and Literacy Project school were given library training by SEDFA’s Mark Smith.
This was a two day course that sought to make the best possible use of the school’s libraries. From making sure they have appropriate facilities, displays and basic facilities for lending books to setting up the library for teaching reading, establishing reading clubs, performing case studies of library users, and getting local community members and parents involved in their students library. The aim is to ensure a) that schools have well equipped libraries and b) that they use them to engender an infectious enthusiasm for reading in their pupils. In short, the project seeks to inculcate reading.Click to expand
The project funding provides a grant of 2,000 birr (only around £70, but that goes quite a way here) for library improvement. With this and the two sets of training happening right at the start of the year, it’s important that early momentum and enthusiasm is not lost, but maintained not only this year, but into the next years.
To help with this, we have arranged regular visits, every two months, to each of the libraries. During these we assess the libraries progress on a set of criteria based on 3 increasingly difficult and sophisticated levels; bronze, silver and gold. We arrange a meeting with the librarian and a senior teacher responsible for the library, during which assess each of the criteria at one level. The presence of a senior teacher is to make sure the librarian gets support from the school, and chiding where necessary. Furthermore, the libraries must be integrated parts of the pupils’ education. There’s little point having a library with every bell and whistle allowed in your average library if it exists almost in isolation from the rest of the school and its teaching.
The bronze silver and gold criteria allows us to give the libraries clear targets for what to improve, while giving us clear information about what stages each of the libraries are at and the data to track their progress.
It’s a surprisingly tough job. We have to be clear in whether the targets are met, which involves encouraging the librarians who need it, and not letting who could do more blag their way to a certificate. Finding the line between offering an easy ride that leaves the libraries unchanged day-to-day without helping the pupils, and a ruthless hard-line approach to each target that disheartens overworked and underpaid staff, is harder than it seemed from writing criteria in Link’s walled garden in Northern Bishoftu. We also don’t want to be constrained or blinkered by the targets. As we’re often told, cat skinning can be done in multiple ways and we must be aware of the limitations of our criteria.
Our visits to date have been promising. Most of the librarians and schools have been welcoming and grateful, not irritated by the interference of outsiders without formal library training presenting them with extra work. Only a small minority took each missed target as a significant personal blow and one proved tricky to track down (we finally corned the librarian at Foka school on our 4th visit, but once there, he turned out to be excellent).
The motivation is mostly a better library, better literacy and better educated pupils, but we dangle certificates in front of them too. Just as the ‘Sounds of English’ course shows teachers will still do more things than you’d have expected for a sweet, so far librarians have shown a similar soft spot for certificates.
The visits will continue through 2014, building to a reading competition between the local schools in Bishoftu and Gonder at the end of the school year in June. There, we hope to celebrate and announce the achievements of the project while showcasing reading as the laudable pleasure it should be. Although our visits and the competition won’t alone ensure sustainability, they should keep reading at the top of the local agenda.
11th Dec 2013
Link Ethiopia is pleased to introduce you to Samirawit Ketema, a 14 year-old and her mother Fanu Girma. Their story shows the value of dedication, family unity, education and ambition.
Samirawit was born to an illiterate mother, her father left the family home several years ago. Her mother knew that education was central to improving the lives of both her and her daughter. She committed herself to setting the best possible example for her daughter by enrolling herself in night class.
She enrolled immediately determined to go school herself and help her only child at home. Fanu joined grade 1 at night program and started reading and writing and in doing so was able to her child do the same.
Samirawit’s mother wanted her daughter to be educated, to understand the value of attending school and to have someone at home who could help her with her studies. With hard work and the support of her mother, Samirawit has been scoring over 90% for her exams in English, Maths and Physics – she hopes to train as a doctor when she finishes school.
Fanu would love to continue her night classes all the way to grade 9. Unfortunately however, she has been torn between helping her daughter with her studies and supporting her financially. She has had to drop out of her night classes to concentrate on her job as a cleaner so that she is able to continue to provide for herself and her daughter. As a result of this her education has come to a halt and she is now less able to support Samirawit with her studies.
Could you help to support Samirawit and her mother to continue their education together? With a little help with school fees and the buying of essential study materials we hope that both will be able to continue to support each other with their learning.
If you would like to help Samirawit and her mother please follow this link to make a donation or an offer of support.
4th Dec 2013
Therefore after each delivery of the ‘Sounds of English’ course (four in total), we went to watch each teacher giving a lesson. It allows us to check if the course teaches what it seeks to teach, modify the course for the next batch of teachers when it hasn’t been clear enough, correct simple mistakes the teachers make, praise good work and show that we haven’t just abandoned the teachers after a week of glitzy (well, sort of) training and Tesco’s fruit pastilles. It also gave us the chance to visit some more rural areas, see the schools we try to affect change in – their resources, location, equipment, staff motivation etc.Click to expand
Our first visit was back where we’d given the training and my first assignment was watching the class star (of indecipherable speeches) teach a cover lesson. He arrived, donning his white coat dramatically and armed with a set of flashcards and his ‘Sounds of English’ notes. I settled down with our feedback sheet to enjoy a five minute lesson and whatever else he had in store…
An hour and a quarter later I staggered out into the corridor having heard every sound of English, and a few more besides, uttered by every student it the class, probably twice. He’d managed to multiply the five minute lesson by fifteen, and then some. Aside from completely missing the point of the central message for their classroom teaching, it wasn’t actually that bad… All very teacher-centric, but at least his sounds were alright. I gave what feedback I could, and wandered off to see if Sue had had any more luck.
She’d had a mixed bag, and over the weeks she and I have seen our share of missing letters from the alphabet (no x or e was a nice effort, p and q have also been reported missing), classes chanting the alphabet 8 times, flashcards held at angles and pointing in directions I barely knew existed, (then usually dropped all over the floor), 16 repeats of an incorrect ‘a’, teachers asking us to teach and most other things in between.
But we’ve seen some great stuff too, and have adapted the course as we’ve gone to cut out the mistakes and misunderstandings. We’ve seen perfect short lessons leading into the national curriculum, great correction and encouragement, lessons plans, material carefully prepared in advance, new activities designed, and most pleasingly, activities that get the pupils to think for themselves rather than the national blight of being lectured at.
The worry is that the teachers we observe end up teaching to us, not their pupils. That they know what we want to see and can put it on for us, but do they abandon activities or a short recap of blending as soon as we’ve left in preference for something they know better?
It’s difficult to protect against this. It means that the most important part of our teaching has been convincing the teachers and schools that we’re not imposing some unwanted external programme onto them, but that our interests are aligned. That the ‘Sounds of English’ course and the larger role of the ‘Library and Literacy’ project, will help them improve the education and reading of their pupils. To date the teachers and librarians have seemed enthused. It appears we’re pulling them willingly towards a common goal, rather than pushing them reluctantly to a goal they neither understand or wish for.
We’re likely to find out in June. In the meantime I’ll just hope not to hear too many more alphabets.
20th Nov 2013
BUT. Travel lets you see a new perspective (you learn much more about your own country and own life back home from being able to see them from the outside). New experiences appear to take longer, they don’t slip by as quickly into amalgamated memory, but the memories stand out and when reflected on later, fill more space, and apparently more time in your head. The routine and monotony of daily life is broken – you don’t have time to get stuck in monotony if moving on to new places, while routines are so much easier to break when you’re forced out of them, I often don’t have the strength of will at home. Then there are the stunning views, new friends, new food and drink, new experiences you wouldn’t dare try at home. Plus I can grow a beard and wear my cricket hat without looking any more ridiculous than I already appear.Click to expand
The worst thing is missing people back home. At times while travelling I’ve felt like a paraphrased version of a Californication quote, “It was the best of times, if only someone had told me. My family and friends go on without me; while here I am, rotting away in the warm African sun…”
At times, I’ve wondered if I’ve been lonely. I was sadder than I expected when Sue left after 4 weeks. It may have been exacerbated by spending half an hour of the same day looking for a copy of a children’s book called “Where is my book?”, but I think it was mostly knowing I would miss her company and having a fluent English speaking companion. I went back to the accommodation at lunchtime after she’d gone and wandered aimlessly around the house, wondering if Sue had just played a trick and was actually hiding under the broken table. She wasn’t. Though checking seemed to help.
In the UK you need not just English-speaking company but company you really get on with, can share what you like with, without the need for any masks. Abroad it’s often nice having any English speaking company, a break from either your own head, or misunderstandings and communicational effort. Someone who can easily understand jokes and can relate to experiences compared to home.
I’m long convinced that the phrase ‘You can laugh or cry’ is much more than a throwaway cliché, but a valuable insight. Here, it is borne out in the choice of laughing at delays, hastily re-hashed or haphazard plans and misunderstandings, or crying at them, being frustrated and irritated by them. I’m so much better at the former when with someone. In fact, with someone I barely get frustrated or irritated at all. But it seems I, or my ego, needs an audience to bother even trying to make jokes, however dreadful they are, and that they, and the feeling of solidarity they bring, are my main source of relief from petty daily travails.
Perhaps the question of loneliness is easier thought of in terms of opposites; I’m not surrounded by the close friends from back home, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been lonely. A lot of that is down to the Link staff, they’re friendly and welcoming and kind. They’ll make jokes with you and do everything they can to make your entire stay as rewarding as possible, not just your time working on Link projects. Elsa, Zee and Eyayaw took me out to dinner, Haile introduced me to his friends (and hairdresser), the Bishoftu office invited me to Habtamu’s wedding 3 days after arrival. That’s not to mention their daily help, appreciation and friendship. The warmth of Link’s staff, here and in London, is undoubtedly one of its strengths.
Elsewhere, as in most of Africa, the parallel to being famous when you’re evidently a foreigner is overt. People gather round you, shouting, yelling excitedly, the more daring trying to get close enough to touch you, or shake your hand. And you’re admired for something as fatuous and arbitrary as real fame. Here it’s because you’re white, rather than because you conform to certain standards of attractiveness, can sing, or hit a ball a long way. The feeling is therefore as empty, as unwelcome and at times as plain irritating as fame must be to those who see it for what it is.
Perhaps my biggest reason for travel is that it brings my experiences closer to this Christopher Hitchens quote than I can ever really muster for life back home, “Life on this earth, with all its mystery and beauty and pain, is then to be lived far more intensely: we stumble and get up, we are sad, confident, insecure, feel loneliness and joy and love. There is nothing more; but I want nothing more.” Thanks to Link for letting me have a bit more of those things.