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Saturday
Aug242013

This Sunday, August 24, 2013, is a very special day, The International Day for Dreamers. What a great day to celebrate our dreams, to acknowledge the possible. It is also the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington where Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King made his "I have a dream speech. That speech always moves me and expresses my own dreams for a world where everyone can be all that they  can be. I was asked to talk about my dreams by the creator of this Day for Dreamers, Richard Burroughs and he made me think more about the impact of dreams for me.

My dream is a vision of a world where the poorest children of the world have a bright future, where they can have the necessities of life and more. I dream that they can have access to knowledge and new ideas, and have the tools to use these ideas to create a better world for  themselves and their community. This dream emboldens me, moves me to work to help make this happen in one small corner of the globe. But I only hope that we can all pull together and see this dream come alive and if it can be done there, it can be done anywhere.

Check out the blog where I expand on these dreams at  http://www.dayfordreamers.com/blog/

Learn about Dream Day 2013. http://www.dayfordreamers.com/  

There are so m any great ideas here.

 

Savor your dream. Share your dreams. Live out your dreams. 

Thursday
Aug082013

A Tour of Ethiopia

 

A Tour of Ethiopia? Some say, "why would we go there"? Others say, "a waste of money". Others say, "it sounds  like too much trouble"? And there are many others with various opinions and questions. But I say is , "if you can, grab at the chance". There is so much to see, learn, connect with. It will be a life altering experience you will never forget.

March, 2013 some gallant adventurers met in Addis from New York and California to open their hearts and minds and legs to a very big diverse country filled with mystery and history, wonderful people, charming children and the beauty of Horn of Africa. We flew throughout "the historic route", which means  visiting Harar, the ancient 15th century walled city¸ feeding hyenas and seeing the beauty of the people. Lalibela showed us it's amazing churches built into the rocks of the mountain instead of on top, which are part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Axum was  filled with history from seeing the Queen of Sheba's bath and palace, the  church holding the arc of the Covenant, and  1,700  year old mysterious 79 foot stele/obelisk.   Addis Ababa, the capitol, filled with 5 million people and almost as many cars and trucks, was under construction and was exciting and an adventure unto itself.   We traveled to Awash National Park and saw warthogs, crocodiles, ostriches and more. The trip culminated with a visit to Hosanna to see the community library  and to share our individual expertise in a teacher training with 9 international volunteers presenting a variety of topics to teachers from all of the 40 primary schools in the town. This was a first time ever for this town and a great opportunity for us to see education in a rural area.

There is so much we experienced and we had so many laughs. The challenges were met with openness and the people were embraced with joy. I wanted to write a detailed blog but every night I was so exhausted having to organize it all, I have left the words to one of our valiant travelers. Maria was willing to share her own perspective on the experience.  You can read Maria's description of the trip by clicking on this link- An Ethiopian Travelogue. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. We will do this again every 2 years. So start preparing for 2015. It will change your life. Below are some pictures of the trip.

                                                                                        

Wednesday
Aug072013

US Deputy Ambassador's Visit

This story is late in coming, I am sorry to say. But I wanted to let you know about this historic event in the life of h2 Empower and the whole town of Hosanna.

February 9, 2013 was just another sunny day in a country that has 13 months of sunshine. But to h2 Empower and especially to me, it was a milestone. The library construction was 95% finished. books were all organized by subject and  new posters and maps decorated the walls. The Peace Corps Volunteer, Christina Chen, had put famous women's pictures all around the main room. Molly McPhee, the United States Deputy Ambassador to Ethiopia came to visit, her white Land Rover carried her and her team through numerous sites in the Southern Nation Nationalities Region and we were chosen to be included. The largest grant received for the library construction, was given to the Alemu Woldehanna Community Library through the US Ambassador's Self Help Grant. That $10,000 gave us the start we needed and the impetus to complete our goal. We were very grateful for this support and the Deputy Ambassador was moved by the commitment and dedication of the whole community.

Ambassador Mc Phee and the group was greeted by an assembly line of local dignitaries including town and county officials, Hadiya Development Association Director, school principal and teachers, Education Bureau Supervisors, the Dean of the College of Teacher Education  IFESH Country Director, Mamo Mengesha and the Program Officer, Lissan Gebrewold, parents, community members and the scouts from the school.

All the excited people there made the library look large in our minds and in our sight. The strong yellow facade beckoned visitors and readers, the red ash path lovingly built to enable draining on the rainy season was bordered by new plants and added to the welcome.

You could almost feel a collective gasp when we entered the main room, a large space lined with books on all walls, labels on the book shelves saying- history, fiction, religion, science, art, games, chapter books, reference and so much more. A large banner hung on one wall informing the community that this house of learning was made possible in part because of the generosity of the American people. With any diplomatic visit, there were many speeches and gifts to those who especially made this possible but the highlight was Molly's speech. Her friendly and enthusiastic attitude put everyone at ease, as she classified herself as a "bookworm" and talked about the importance and joy of reading She donated class sets of books from Dr. Seuss to Laura Ingells Wilder and was happy that the US Ambassador's Self Help Program had enabled h2 Empower, the parents, town and zone to work together to not only complete the construction of the library building but make this library come alive with books. The other highlight of the day was the performance of the scouts in their new green uniforms and red caps. The children sang songs, read poems, told jokes, performed short skits. To celebrate Molly and her team were all awarded cultural scarves and a cap from the Hadiya people. Then soft drinks and coffee was offered to all.

US Deputy Ambassador Molly 's joy was palpable, especially when she went off to speak to the children and got their ideas of the meaning of the library. A few students were awarded dictionaries donated by the Westbury Rotary Club for their drawings and 40  town leaders enjoyed an h2 Empower dinner to culminate the day. At the end of the day , we felt such joy to see all the stakeholders come together. The library was accomplished through a united effort, with help from the Ambassador's grant, but also through contributions from parents, the town, the zone( county), and H2 Empower supporters. Together we made it happen.

 

 

Monday
Dec102012

You Think You Have It Bad?

Try teaching 95 children in a room for 40. That is how it was in Ethiopia when I first came in 2003. I visited primary schools in Hosanna, a rural town 240 Kilometers south of the capitol Addis Ababa. The largest primary school, Alemu Woldehanna Primary School, had 4,524 students, of courses in 2 shifts. I even saw a first grade classroom with 163 children. They were sitting in the aisles, standing in the back and 6 in a bench for 4, lucky they were small. Teachers in grades 1 to4 had 10th grade education plus one year of teacher training. In that overcrowded classroom, the teacher had chalk and an attendance book and that was it. No textbooks, no manipulatives. The principal gave her chalk, 163 kids and said,” Good Luck”. Now 9 years later the story has improved. The average class size is 55. The total school population is 2,329- cut in half. (Now we are down to the size of my college)

But this is normal in Ethiopia. Recently I met with some primary school teachers of English in Addis. Most classes have specialized teachers coming in each period for 50 minutes and then the teacher changes as the subject changes. They had 62 to 75 children in each class and taught 5 periods a day. Some taught 350-400 primary school children each day. The new government policy is to have one teacher teach all subjects in grades 1-4 but it is rare and there are many complaints from teachers who say for example, “we studied mathematics. We can’t teach English or the other languages or environmental science.” And it is true. They majored in one thing and only learned to teach that one subject.

When I see the classrooms here, I am in awe of the teachers. They try their best- despite salaries almost at poverty level, despite lack of training, materials, support. Here the higher the level you teach, the higher the salary. No one believes me when I say that a kindergarten teacher in the US has to have a Masters or that everyone has the same salary K-12. A radical concept here.

Education everywhere has many challenges, but seeing schools here, my heart breaks. Teachers are suffering in poverty, trying to educate hordes of children with so little resources, sometimes no books, desks, lights, following mandates with little support and appreciation. Imagine trying to teach a subject you don’t know. Ethiopia is not an English speaking country. There are 80 languages spoken and taught here. English is taught starting in grade 1 and by grade 5, 7 or 9, English becomes the language of instruction depending on the region. But in many case the teachers have limited English skills. Students’ high stake exams are in English. What are they to do? And I haven’t begun to discuss the needs of the children.

Every effort here is to improve the quality of education. I am glad I am here to be a part of that effort. Questions and suggestions are welcome.

You are welcome to join our tour of Ethiopia from March 22 to April 4, 2013. Consider joining us and seeing the schools first hand. For more information, see the upcoming events page of the website.

Saturday
Nov172012

Our Trip to Hosanna

Working in Addis Ababa has kept me away from Hosanna for a month. There is so much to do there. A friend Arnt, flew in for a visit. So this was an excuse to go to Hosanna. Last Sunday, Arnt, another IFESH volunteer- Suzanne, a former volunteer from Australia- Deborah, and myself traveled to Hosanna. We even got to explore some other parts of the area on the way down that I had never seen. One was an ancient sight 1.2 million years old, and another grave site with stelea from the 14th century. Both were fascinating and we will get to see them on our spring tour. Luckily Deborah was with me who knew about these. I had never stopped to look around. Just always went straight to Hosanna.

We spent Mon, Tues, and Wed morning working. Arnt worked on fixing the bookcases which were made out of  thin board and the shelves were sagging. He threw his back out walking all over town with the gym teacher, Desta to find wood and get it cut- from a fallen tree-. But they did a lot and started repairing the shelving. He left wood there for Desta to finish the job.

Desta had organized the outside of the library. He created a large pathway and filled it with rocks and then a volcanic ash so that the water will drain and mud won’t stick to the shoes and we won’t drag in dirt into the library. Then they build cement benches all around and around some trees so people can sit outside and read. There can be programs and they would bring the microphone to read aloud and for many other uses. It will be painted and looks very good. They will be planting flowers soon as well. For all his hard work Desta received some real soccer balls from Arnt which are very precious there.

Our mission was to work on organizing the books. But before we even got down there, Wolde called me the night before to tell me that the mayor- a new one- had phoned him to say there is a new librarian assigned to the school. She is experienced in working on a library, has a degree- like an Associates of Arts, and would be there full time. We were told we could have only a teacher who didn’t know anything about libraries. So that was great news.

This librarian is eager and works hard, is knowledgeable about the system of books. Her English is weak and she can’t really enter the books into the data base. But once we do, she can put on the labels, keep things in order and do all that is necessary. There will also be 2 assistants-one am and one afternoon to help, who previously worked in the school’s little library. We moved the books from that space to the new library as well. So now there is an Amharic section and a Hadyssa section along with a large number of textbooks, both traditional and American. 

When we got to the school on Monday, we were overjoyed to see the great job they had done on the grounds and the building was 95% completed. It is big and has plenty of rooms to do so much. As soon as we got there,2 engineers came from the town. There were there to fix the road. The road to the school and library is so bad we have to park the car and get out and walk. It is steep with ruts and rocks and cows and … By noon they were putting in dirt and bulldozing to level it off and soon it will be a decent road to bring people to the place. That only took 4 years to happen. But it seemed like everything was now on the way to being solved. 

The children’s room is adorable. It has furniture made by students at the deaf school and they did the best job of anyone. There are 2 large small tables and 12 children’s sized chairs. All the pictures books are there. We sorted them out alphabetically and then 2 Peace Corps volunteers, another VSO volunteer and the IFESH folks worked at sorting, putting them in the computer and labeling. But in 2 days we could only do 3 letters of the alphabet- lots of books. Christina , a Peace Corp volunteer who is teaching at the school, is helping to type books in in her spare time. Our goal was to first get the pictures sorted and labeled so we could bring classes of children in and they can start there. Then we will go to the literature, reference, which are also easy to sort. Later the rest of the books. There are thousands and it will take quite a while to type them all in to classify them all. Simon, a VSO volunteer at the Teacher Training College, also installed another library software called bookcat and it is easier. He will get all the Dewey Decimal numbers of the books from the internet once they are typed in.

The computer room is large and spacious. Simon went to Addis and purchased cables and will install cables for 16 computers. That means all we need is the computers and to sign up with the Ethiopian Telecom system and we can get the internet at a low school based cost. He will install them free and we received a generous donation for the cable equipment.

The teachers and directors were so grateful that everyone was there to help. They asked if we could have a coffee ceremony and had surprise gifts for each of us. So very sweet. 

The library looked great when we left. There are many posters to put up that Flor gave us and all the books are in sections. But it will be long time before it all gets labeled. We will start small. The storage room is filled with textbooks and we hope to get them into classrooms so they can share them in the classes and take turns having them available for the students. The collection of books is very impressive with books on every subject-hundreds of national geographic, 3 sets of encyclopedias, and then different types, atlas and other types of reference books. Everyone is so excited. We had kids to help us move the books. They were so fascinated. We couldn’t get them out of there. Some were with me. I picked up a book about Bermuda. They were pointing to a boat and asking, “What is that”. They will be learning many things because of all your efforts.

 THANKS SO VERY MUCH FOR HELPING TO MAKE THIS HAPPEN.

We also went to visit another school, Bobicho. Arnt had 2 footballs for that school too. I had met the man who runs the permaculture training center, Alex, and he proposed to train 2 schools to have a Permaculture Garden and train the 2 students, 2 parents, 2 teachers and community. I went to ask Bobicho Primary School if they would be interested. The two schools are at either end of town. Both schools have over 2,000 students and a garden at both schools would be a great benefit for all the surrounding community. They were very excited about that. There is no water there though.

We were all so touched by the smiling faces and positive attitude and loving spirit of everyone. These teachers and students are so very grateful for everything we do and eager to learn and expand their horizons. They work against terrible odds but they don’t give up. They keep trying to give to the children whatever they have. They are truly inspiring people. 

I wish each of you could get to experience this somehow. Consider going on our spring tour. See our website for more information on that. www.h2empower.org 

There is so much more to do there. We need more furniture in the other rooms, need to keep the library open on the weekends. We need computers and to train everyone to use the library and to train the librarian to run an open library and to read to the children.We also need more funds to creat ethe permaculture gardens. With your help all this will happen.


 

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