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What Can You See?

It has been a long time since I have written a blog. I am way overdue. I have been so busy doing things, I just couldn’t stop to write about it. Now I am back to normal, if that is even possible.

I can’t stop thinking about these children. Once I saw them, those innocent faces, looking at me with a distant longing. I saw the possibilities for them. I saw the potential. We never know what they could accomplish for themselves or their families or their country. But now they wait, taking care of their cows, doing household chores, asking for a chance to have a better life.

What do you see when you see this picture? Cute kids, smiling, and holding up a sign. Did their teacher’s write it for them? Is this staged for an American to tug at the heart strings? Do they even know what the sign says? Maybe yes to all of this.

Let me tell you about the context of this picture so you can imagine the pangs in my heart.

Last fall I was in Hosanna. I work closely with a man from the Education Burueau. He helps me get information and connect to the system so we can plan and accomplish things together. He kept telling me about a school that he visited that I should see. He invited me to go to a meeting of the Education Bureau, where they give the yearly report on the progress and status of the education system in the city of Hosanna. They reported on dropout rates, passing rates, teacher’s certification rates and other such things. At the end one female teacher- the only female to speak the whole day-stated, “These statistics aren’t true. You have never visited our school. You don’t know what is going on with us. People ask, ‘Is this a school or a farm?’ We need so many things and you don’t even care.”

I asked the man next to me where this school was and if he could take me to see it. He said, “You can’t get there. Can you ride a horse?” I answered, “Yes, if you can get me on the horse and off the horse”. Or maybe you can take me in your motorcycle.” He looked horrified.

But to make a long story short, we got the town truck and made a visit to that school and another equally remote school. Both at different corners of the town. But it was not really in town. They both were in the fields, surrounded by farms or small huts with many families – a few miles from the main road.

One school was surrounded by potato fields. They will sell the potatoes to fund a building project they are doing. They were building more classrooms and had a nice library room there. The principal met us with the community leaders, the outspoken teacher and parents. They had drinks and a wonderful thick homemade bread for us. Everyone gave a speech sharing their dreams that this school could one day even be a university. After the sharing of food and sharing their ideas, they did the ask.  “We need water and latrines for our children. We need electricity and we need a road to the school.” There was certainly no dispute. They needed all of that. But I can’t possibly do all of that.

For me, this was such a common experience. Seeing great needs, and people looking to me, an American, to help - not for them personally but for their community. People aren’t asking for me to give them personal money. But people are asking for the children. And what they are asking for is truly needed. This is also when I feel helpless. I don’t have that kind of money to solve all these problems. But I do have ideas and connections. And maybe we could think of something.

One the way back to the main road, we talked in the car. The head of the education bureau, Fikre, was there, witnessing the needs with me and seeing the eagerness in the community. He told me, “you can’t build the roads but we can see what we can do together. You can’t bring electricity but we can see what we can do.” Then he stopped. We had just put in water in another school in another part of town. It seemed like we were all thinking the same thing. I knew what I had to do next.

We headed to the next school, another remote location, in another corner of the town, far from the main road. This one didn’t have big farmlands, but small plots with small homes and people carrying water jugs, or wood, or bundles of things to sell. When we finally got there- Yes- there was land, growing some wheat to sell. But this school was small, and the area for the school was smaller. The fence was half open so a small goat could easily come visit the kids. We headed to meet the principal.

He had been waiting for us, sitting behind a large desk surrounded by charts on the wall describing the statistics of the school, Amharic inspirational sayings, and bags of books. Leaning on his elbow, he welcomed us and invited us to visit the classrooms.

We waited while the guard unlocked the classroom door. There was a tiny room with a few bench type desks. The mud walls were thick and darker than usual. Probably because there was only one window in the back and only a bit of light shown through the cracks of the wooden cover. There is a standard size for all classrooms in Ethiopia. The principal explained that they had cut the room in half so that they could fit more classrooms in the school. 40 students were assigned to that room, a room that could comfortably fit 15. The rest of the school was in the same shape. 4 tiny rooms that housed 400 students in shifts. The latrine was open on all sides and the blackboards were broken. There was no library or laboratory or staff room. The floors were made of dung.

A few months later we were given a demonstration of what a dung floor meant when a girl was washing the floor by hand and rubbing the dung to smooth it out and keep the bugs and dust from coming into the classroom.  We were also to witness the community leader pour the river water into a glass so we could see how they get their water. A clear glass held a brown thick liquid. It was mud. This is what they drink from. No wonder the children looked sickly.

Now you know what I see when I see these children. Not just adorable happy go lucky kids. They are counting on me to communicate to you their reality. They can have a better life and we can make that happen. I have pledged to help build them two more classrooms.   The community has also pledged to build one more. Other friends want to help get them clean water. All this is possible. I hope you can join me and help us help them. With decent classrooms and clean potable water, they can help themselves. Please donate to the MisrackBirr Primary School classroom project. Your donation goes straight to the school project. I dream we can give these kids a better chance in life. Poverty is their lot but not their destiny.  I thank you for your help in the name of these c

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