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A New Decision to Work on the Ground


I have decided to go to Ethiopia to spend the year working on improving reading in the primary grades. This has always been my passion and it is one important reason I have been working on building the library and sending books. It is essential that children learn to read. Then can they discover solutions, ask questions and find ways to solve them, become critical thinkers and lovers of learning. But in Ethiopia children are not being taught how to read and extensive studies have just been done that demonstrate children by grade 4 are not learning to read in their mother tongue or in English. This is not surprising to me, having seen classrooms and the lack of anything to read and the lack of training the teachers have in this area.

When IFESH (International Foundation for Education and Self Help) decided to concentrate on this and send their volunteers to help develop reading departments in teacher training colleges and to have one person working on Early Grade Reading at the Ministry of Education I first went to Ethiopia as an IFESH volunteer. I decided that this was what I must do now. I was accepted to represent IFESH at the Ministry of Education and am now in Addis living and working on this full time.

I am very excited to be given this opportunity to apply all my experience in teaching reading- and, of course, writing, in working with Ethiopian colleagues and others to help improve the quality of education for the children of Ethiopia. This is quite a challenge- requiring careful long and short term planning, training at all levels, developing reading material in many languages, curriculum, and new ways of thinking about teaching in the early grades. Educators here now recognize the importance of a strong foundation of learning and reading in the beginning grades and I am happy to be working on this effort.

At the same time I will be working on our library project and am planning to get the library really functioning shortly. I will report more on that soon. Meanwhile I thank my family and friends who are doing things at home so that I can be in Ethiopia at the forefront of this important work. Thanks to all.

I will be blogging more often now that I am settled here and have figured out how to use the internet. I am full of hope.


Why are things so slow in Africa?

Ever hear of African time? When we encounter another culture we discover things that we assume in our everyday life that are very differently operated in other cultures. Time is a great example. We don’t think about time. It is just operate with a concept of the importance of time. We all have some device to wake us up at a certain time. The time is on our phones, on our TV’s, on walls, on our computer. Everywhere we are regulated by time and most have a calendar to schedule our appointments and dates from doctors’ appointments, children’s play dates, meetings, social activities, people to visit or call, birthdays and more.

None of this is a part of life in Hosanna. None of it. Many people have watches but rarely are their clocks on the wall. The cell phones don’t have the time. People have plenty of meetings and social gathering but they are often spontaneous or given little notice and everyone attends with no problem. Work breaks are scheduled for 15 minutes but rarely end at fifteen minutes. Greetings last a long time and are very important, wishing family members well and giving blessings and best wishes. No two letter- “Hi” for them. But kisses on both cheeks and a warm welcome and acknowledgement.

What is important in Africa is not TIME but PEOPLE. That is a totally different from our way of life. We are happy to see people but schedule visits, have phone calls to check in but conversations have time constants. How many of us have friends we haven’t seen in years? How many have people we would like to check in on but we never do. Sometimes we meet for dinner so we can converse for an hour- maybe hour and a half tops. Then we can go on with our life. That is just the way it is.

But in the country of Ethiopia life is built around the coffee ceremony. This is a very important time to sit and spend time with people, to share ideas and friendship, to discuss problems or just enjoy each other. Coffee making is from scratch. Coffee is roasted, ground by hand- all prepared with love by a female and you must have 3 cups of coffee, rather than the 3 cups of tea enjoyed in Pakistan. This process takes two hours usually. It makes us stop. Stop running here and there. Stop working. Stop trying to accomplish things. Stop doing things. None of that is important. What is important is the relationship, the conversations, the caring about each other. That is what is important.

One of the biggest things I learned, living in Africa, is that our relationships- people- are what is important.


Parents’ Commitment

The parents of Alemu Woldehanna Primary School are very excited about the library. They know that their children’s future depends on them receiving a high quality education. They also know that education is the way out of poverty. Each year the parents have donated money towards the construction of the library. This has meant that over the past 3 years the parents have personally donated 80,000 Birr, almost $5000. This is lot of money for very impoverished people. Each family makes a sacrifice to give what they can and together it adds up to a very helpful sum. This year the parents have agreed to give 70 Birr each. That is a lot since one teacher I met was very proud to claim that he had given 10 birr to towards the library.  A manual laborer might make 35 birr, which is close to $2 in one day. So if you think of a father giving 2 days salary, when he has many mouths to feed, that is a huge sacrifice. h2 Empower is very grateful to the parents for their constant support of their children’s education.

I was very inspired when the PTA president told me, “You could have given us jobs and then we would have spent the money right away. But giving us books- they will last a long time and have long term results. There is nothing more value than books”.




The books are in the library

Many know by now that our library is progressing rapidly. During our trip in November 2011 we were thrilled to actually complete the main reading room. We celebrated with a wonderful coffee ceremony attended by teachers, town officials and friends. We had our first class come into the room and explore the books. It was moving to see those eight grade students staring at the pictures, seeing snow on a mountain for the first time and the glories of the temples in Egypt. They children were spellbound and speechless, waiting for us to explain what they were seeing. It was like walking into a mysterious garden filled with new sights and ideas. I knew we had given them something significant- an opportunity to expand their minds.

The library building has a number of rooms but the centerpiece is a large reading room with one wall of windows, tall walls leading to windows all around giving light and air and a feeling of expanse and openness. This room was mostly complete, just awaiting a few finishing touches. We could bring in the books and furniture and start creating a useable community library.

There are a few more unfinished rooms- the computer rooms, the staff and storage rooms, a periodic room and a special young children’s room. We are hoping that they will be ready within the month. We do need donations to help make the rooms complete with bookcases and furniture as well as some last minute construction costs.

We were also excited to meet Sashenka Lopez, the new IFESH (International Foundation for Education and Self Help) volunteer Librarian giving of her talents for the year to get the library functioning. She started right away reading to children and bringing in books and helping direct the process of creating a vibrant library to service the community.

If you picture the smiles at hearing a good story and power of discovering something new, just imagine the mental explosion the first time you see a roomful of books. All of us are very excited.


Burundi Women’s Literacy Class Will Begin

We are very excited to announce that we raised over $3,000 at our Soundscapes for Africa Concert and Dinner. That means that we can start the class in January and Burundi women in a microloan program will now have a chance to become literate. The event was great fun with wonderful international food made with love and a wonderous variety of beautiful music. People came from near and far- Burundi, Maine, NYC- and Brooklyn. All enjoyed a spirit of caring and support for women we may never meet but whom we share our hope and belief that they will find success for themselves and their family as they learn to read, write and develop their business. If you want to support this program, just donate at  and let us know that is for the Burundi Literacy Program.