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Blog category: 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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20th Nov 2014
Written by Rory & Hannah
It is a time-worn cliché that you never visit the famous sights of the place where you live, focussing instead on the day-to-day necessities of life and saving the money to visit famous sights in far-flung places. Of course we are in Ethiopia so this does not quite apply, but it did take us a few weeks to get around to seeing some of what Gondar has to offer to tourists. Inspired by previous volunteer Ben’s excellent blog, Addis in a Day, which we used to navigate Addis Ababa last month, we decided to compile some up-to-date information on Gondar for visitors and volunteers (the prices have increased considerably since the publication of the latest Lonely Planet).Click to expand
Running at the Stadium
We started our day at an ungodly hour, tentatively stepping out of the Link Ethiopia compound in our running gear. The day was breaking and there was a slight chill in the air: the perfect time of day for a jog. Unfortunately, half of Gondar was also out on the streets going about their business; they were without exception heartily amused by the sight of four farenjis hurtling down the hill towards the stadium. We followed the Tarmac road as it snakes down around 1.5km, dodging sheep and chasms in the pavement as we went. Needless to say to those who know me, we did not run all the way and walked the last part into the football stadium opposite Fasiledes Secondary School and next to King Fasiledes bath house (more on him later).
The track is dirt but it is nice and flat and the surroundings are quiet and calm (at least not on a match day). We were joined by other running clubs and individuals putting us to shame but it did not dissuade us from our training for the Great Ethiopian Run next Sunday.
*Fundraising plug*… Please sponsor our team here.
Breakfast at New Day Café
This seemingly unremarkable café can be found by walking up past the main entrance to the Quara Hotel from Piassa, passing by the traditional nightclubs and the petrol station on your left and then when you see the Mega Book Store on your right, you should find it on your left. New Day was close to the previous Link office and therefore a favourite haunt of many a volunteer and we have discovered why. The makiato is top-notch and we also filled up on the typical Ethiopian breakfast foods, full (a spicy bean stew served with fresh bread) and fetira be mar (a thick pancake served with honey). Delicious!
Tour of the Royal Enclosure
Gondar’s town centre is dominated by the fortified walls of the castle complex (also called the Royal Enclosure). The walls serve to conceal the six castles built by a succession of kings in the seventeenth century who made Gondar their capital. Entry for tourists costs 200 Birr per person (just over £6 at the time of writing) and I would recommend a guide for the day, which will set you back 400 Birr, and can be arranged within the castle walls and will stay with you to guide you around all the day’s sights. We were impressed by the interior of Fasiledes castle (the only castle fully in tact), the display of traditional lime mortar being used to renovate Mentawab’s castle and by the tales of royal folly retold by our guide. If you were on a tight budget, you could forgo the guide, but the Lonely Planet (other guidebooks are available) would be indispensable because no information boards are provided.
Traditional lunch at Camelot House
Guided by our stomachs, we proceeded to Camelot House, which can be found in the old Italian Art Deco cinema on the left-hand side as you head back to Piassa from the castles. The interior is dark and traditionally Ethiopian with small tables and also grass strewn on the floor. Unanimously we decided to eat shiro, a stew containing chickpea flour and berbere, but the controversy came when deciding between tegabino (thick) shiro and feses (runnier) shiro (better than it sounds). So we ordered both and very tasty it was too.
King Fasiledes Bath
Next we decided to stroll back down the hill to our next sight. You can take a bajaj (price negotiable) but if you have eaten two types of shiro you might appreciate the walk (which was around 2km). The bath and its bath-house offer calm surroundings (we were the only tourists) and the tree roots growing over the sides of the bath are an incredible sight. I should mention that entry is included in the price of entry to the royal enclosure.
At Epiphany the bath comes alive as it is filled by river water (using an ingenious damming and pipe work system) and it becomes the site of a mass public ceremony. We are looking forward to witnessing this in January when we return from the UK (it is sure to warrant another blog post).
Debre Birhan Selassie Church
As we left the bath-house, a bajaj was ready and waiting to take us up to the church on the other side of town. We negotiated 40 birr for the four of us but I am sure you could get it cheaper with some hard haggling. It was a scenic drive around the hills of Gondar to the Debre Birhan Selassie (Trinity and Mountain of Light) church. Entry to the church costs 100 birr, which you pay at the kiosk opposite, and the beautiful wall paintings inside certainly make it worth this. Our group was momentarily separated as men and women are required to enter by different doors and all are asked to remove their shoes. Our guide was still with us and this was invaluable because he was able to tell us the story of the church and its paintings.
The day was drawing to a close and we were feeling tired but satisfied as we made our way down the hill back in to town. The options for dinner are too numerous to list but we settled on Coffee House for its proximity to our accommodation (just near Atse Bekafa School) and for its excellent and piping hot chips (we had had enough shiro for one day!).
18th Oct 2014
Written by Rory Dillon
I think Tokuma school is located in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. As we chugged up the hill in our Toyota 4X4 (which our driver swore was less than ten years old but looked like it was older than me) from Ambo to Dadagelan, the horizon opened up in an undulating patchwork of green: 360 degrees of hills dotted with accacia trees and farmsteads as far as I could see. There was something about this view which was quintessentially Ethiopian; it is what I see in my mind’s eye when I think of Ethiopia, and simultaneously an image quite far from what I would have conjured before I visited the country myself.Click to expand
Our mission was to deliver laptops, printers and solar panels to Tokuma school. I use my computer everyday at work and at home and I rarely give it a second thought – what a pain in the bum it is when for one reason or another when you can’t access the worldwide web at the touch of a button. And, if you have visited a primary school in the UK recently you will see how technology is used to enhance lessons with videos and music, to allow students to be creative and to learn IT skills that are a requirement in later life.
Our aim was to open up this world to the village of Dadagelan by providing a solar panel powered IT room. With the support of a Girmaye Deye, who initiated the project, and our donors the British Foreign Schools Society, Link was able to help school to connect with the rest of the world through the internet. When I did a straw poll of one class of 26, none had used a computer before and only 12 had ever seen one.
After two years of hard work, we finally arrived at Tokuma to deliver the equipment, set it up and give some basic IT training. I spent two days at the school and it was great for me to see the project first hand instead of as a line on a spreadsheet. In my two days, I was able to pitch in and help assemble the new tables and chairs, to set up the new laptops and to help Haile showing the teachers and students the basics of how to use and care for the computers. I was also able to see the equipment being blessed by the parents and share doro wat (spicy chicken stew) and bhuna (coffee) with them. It will be interesting to stay in contact with Tokuma and see how the school and the children use the computers and whether they experience any problems maintaining the equipment.
The village school is full of engaged students and active parents and staff who have made a success of a school that would fail without their commitment. However, the school cannot draw on large contributions from parents to fund new equipment and infrastructure. It also finds that it is expensive to transport equipment from outside; the village is only accessible by a steep dirt road which is impassible in the rainy season (on the second day of our visit, Haile, with our vehicle nowhere to be seen and the skies threatening rain, was worried that we would have to stay the night in the school, sleeping under the new tables!). One of the major challenges of this project has been the logistics of getting to the site, with project visits costing in vehicle rental, staff subsistence and time. For all NGOs the hardest schools to reach are those most in need (so, if anyone has a spare 4×4 vehicle they would like to donate it would be much appreciated).
Ciao Ambo. Hopefully, I will be back again to see all of you before I return to the UK.