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Our Story Through Woldeamanuel's Eyes

          A woman with the vision of success from the USA - New York- came to Ethiopia, Hossana, September 2013 to serve my people  as an IFESH volunteer. (International Foundation for Education and Self Help)  Her name is Helen Boxwill. Her duty was to train the young generation, those who came from a different culture, religion and gender, from different regions of Ethiopia, to make them future teachers. She did her best on her first mission.

          In those days my town, Hossana, was full of problems. The rainy season was filled with much mud, The dry season was full of dust that covered everybody’s face when windy, The water we had was very dirty and scarcity was unimaginable. With all these problems in place, where Helen was working was at the far corner of town. There was no taxi to transport people coming from the far corner to the main part of town for marketing and there were no buses to go to other areas. In this situation she lived and served the community. Now Hossana has made great progress. There is an asphalt road, water, and taxis are there.

          The first time she came to Hossana, there was only one internet center. The owner of the center, Mr. Woldeamanuel Abiyo is now country representative for the organization known as h2 Empower. To get connected to her family and friends, the only chance for Helen was frequently visiting this center. Helen was trying her best to share what she had in her mind to train future teachers and on the other hand she was dreaming to do something for the town regarding education. Many times she was going from a very far distance to many schools to find out what needed to be done for which school. Finally she found Alemu Woldehanna Primary School where she built a large library. The reason why she chose this school was that the school is found in the center of the town and the number of students was more than the other schools of the town- 4,500 students. Also the school community was ready to participate in the activity. The demand of the school community was to get a standard library.

          Then she finalized what had to be done, that is build a library building . She started thinking how to facilitate for that and started writing to her family and friends, everywhere she knew.

          She went back to New York with the idea of building a library. She started to organize things and got support from her family and friends . After some time she got back to Hossana with some money and got a plan for building the library from the town. Then she had to find someone who could help her as a country representative from Hossana . After many discussions, Mr.Woldeamanuel Abiyo agreed to help her .Then the actual work started: bid making, contractor selection, local committee formation and many other activities went on. It was not a simple path that we passed. Finally we got the best and standard library in the town.

          Helen collected more than 29,000 text books from New York and sent them to Hossana . These books were distributed to 40 schools in the Hadiya Zone and the library was filled with its share, 10,000.

          At the beginning, once the building was completed, it was not that easy to make students use the library. But now students from other elementary and high schools, colleges and even from the local University are using this library. The amazing thing to see these days is that the library users are not getting seats when they want. To get a space in the library, they are coming with their lunch and eating under trees, sitting on the benches that we built for the children to wait their turn to get into the library.

          Now, the library building is finished .But to fully use this important community resource, there are still a lot of things to be done yet .There are not enough chairs and tables. There is no Internet center and no computers but an empty room. Computers are becoming a necessity for children, teachers, and older students to do research and gain income generating skills. International and national newspapers and magazines should be purchased .Well educated librarians and trained persons in computer maintenance should be unforgettable For these all and other reasons, friends and donors have to work hard to raise funds to help us create a resource where the community can continue to learn and develop.




"Water , water, water, Everywhere and not a drop to drink".  You might remember that quote. It applies so very differently in Ethiopia. Here there is water- ground water, runoff water, rainwater, lake or river water, spring water. But where is it. It is not often available for the people in the rural area, which is most of the 80 million people. It is hard to imagine life without water. But when we go to Hosanna and get up in the morning to take a shower, and then say, "Oh, no!. Still no water", we have to dump a pitcher full of cool water over ourselves and pretend we are taking a shower. But we know even when that happens, we have a large bucket of water to use while most of the people have to walk miles for it.

This is often a reason why girls don't go to school. Their job is to fetch the water for the family. But that means carrying a jerry can - a large plastic can- filled with water from where ever the water may be. It may be a 5 mile walk, or up to a mountain stream, or through a village with dangerous folks waiting for you. We may have water but how about all the others.

It is this stage which we have changed for some in a very poor corner of Hosanna. We were fortunate to have a donor to give us funds to bring water to a school of over 2,000 children. We worked with the town water commission and were lucky to join with WaterAid and provide water to the school, to the science lab, for drinking and cleaning, for a future garden, for new toilets they built, and for all the community around the school. We are very excited to have been able to do this. To bring life saving water... to thousands of children. What a gift for them and a joy for us.

I hope you can help us do this again.


A Welcome to America

You can tell I am now in "America". Those words may sound strange. But I arrived from Africa in JFK Airport, looking forward to spending the holidays with my family and then returning to work in Ethiopia. I had been dreaming of seeing my grandchildren, wrapping presents, shopping for food- not my favorite job- cooking a nice Christmas dinner, playing games with the kids and seeing how they had changed and what they were into. The hardest thing about being in Africa is being away from family. Nothing else really matters.

So picture this. I arrived at the airport after 2 days of traveling. 2 long flights from Addis Ababa to Frankfurt, Germany and then from Germany to New York  Long flights is an understatement. Sitting in a crowded plane and trying to sleep all night is the toughest part. We left Addis at 10:30 at night and arrive in Germany at 6:30 am. That means sleeping all night on a plane. They actually woke us up 3 times to feed us. Last thing I wanted was dinner at 1 in the morning when we left Khartoum. Then walking what seems miles to the next gate and waiting hours for a connection, wishing you could just sleep. Next trying to sleep on the second leg of the trip is just as hard. Obviously I was very happy to land safely. Especially since I had a travel alert that there would be terrible storms in the US which would mean lots of canceled flights. Luckily the storms weren't effecting me, only made a delay due to winds in Canada. So I was very happy to be "Home".

If you have ever gone through US customs, you may know that there are long lines to wait for, sort of like being on a bank line, inching up as folks ahead of you see the officer and get their passport stamped for entrance into the country. After this tiresome process we walk throughout windy corridors to the baggage claim. It had been so long on the customs line that  the bags were already on the carousel. Finding a clear spot not too far from the start of the bag's round trip, I eagerly watched for my red bag and black bag.  Sometimes the suitcases are all on top of each other and they all seem the same. It is hard to tell whose is whose.

The people next to me caught my eye. There was an airline worker pushing a wheelchair- the women in the chair was older, her brown woolen kerchief seemed a sign that she was from eastern Europe or western Asia. The bags started coming faster. The airline worker put the brake on the chair and said, "Get up and get your bag". Startled,I looked back at them. The older women was trying to  stand.

 "How can she get her own bags", I asked the worker.

"We are not allowed to get their bags, We can't be responsible if something happen to the bags" she said. Her navy blue uniform, with gold stripes on the arm, seemed fitting for the law, but how about fitting to help, little old ladies in wheelchairs.

 I was speechless. What about who can be responsible if something happens to the women in the wheelchair, I wanted to say. But instead I just starred and shook my head. "I can't believe this" I said loudly to myself. The women tried to get up. Luckily she could. Then she spied her bag and tried to grab it. I jumped in and grabbed it for her. It is always a challenge to get the bags off of the moving carousel. They are going round and round and they are always heavy. Usually some nice gentleman or young man helps me take my bags off. You have to sort of run with them around the carousel and heave them off the ledge. I bumped into my cart which I had gotten to carry my bags. They are free in all the other airports but $5 in the US. Who has $5 coming from other countries? Another question I always ask. I have dollar bills. I have a credit card but new entrants problaby do not. But anyway.. I managed to get the bag down despite almost losing my balance. She eyed another bag that I grabbed.

There, I thought to myself, here are her bags, now what. The worker started closing the wheelchair up. She asked if I could speak her language. I had no idea where she was from. The lady was saying, "baby"¸ seemingly the only English word she knew. So we both figured her child was picking her up.

"Take them outside "the worker said. I was again stunned. Wasn't she supposed to help her. That is what the airline promises people when their family asks for assistance. How is this help? The worker looked at me, shaking my head and muttering loudly about humanity.

" I am not allowed to help them. What if something happened." she said. I just couldn't imagine that logic. Yes. What if something happens? The old women leaning on the suitcases, tried walking and pushing them. Luckily she could walk.

Welcome to America. How heartless!

Just then another airline worker came to the same spot wheeling an older women, this time with a cap and blue coat instead of brown coat and headscarf. The worker put on the brakes of the wheel chair. She asked the women about the bags. The old woman pointed and the worker got each one. I just starred.

"It is great that you are helping her." I said.

"I always do", she replied. and wheeled her off.

 I stood there starring at suitcases going round and round. People grabbing their belongings. Mine were nowhere in sight. I watched the 2  women wheeling toward the door, seeing the cold wind make scarves swing in the breeze. I too was frozen at what I had seen. Two women, both Caribbean American women, with the same job, about the same age, but such totally different responses. I couldn't help but be devastated at how someone can be so heartless to another person. I decided to wait for the second worker to come back and to talk with her. I got my bags and she headed to the ladies room. I waited for her to exit. I had to say thank you for what she did on behalf of all the helpless people in this world.

 She said, "I always get their bags. I think, what if it were me or my family. I would want someone to do that for me".

Then it dawned on me. That was one reason why I was so disturbed. I had seen my mother in those wheelchairs. We had traveled like that. And I would have counted on someone being caring and helpful to her, even if they didn't know her. And some people care about others even when no one is looking. That is the true spirit of this holiday.


Beautiful and Rich Diversity

Africa! Just got an email from a young man, a senior in college. He asks, "Is Africa as bad as everyone says it is"? Made me sad to think of a person with an education, in an historically. black college with no knowledge of Africa. That is common in the west. So now let me answer that question.

Last week there was a celebration of Ethiopian cities held in Bahir Dar where I am Irving now. Just outside the football stadium (soccer) in a gigantic field were hundreds of tents, one for each city. A city maybe 40,000 people or millions. But each one held  displays of the environment- lakes, mountains, savannah- products they make- from textiles, to biscuits, machinery to even a hybrid car using water as fuel.  Each would proudly tell the visitors about the industry there and how many people were employed. One major goal throughout the country- employment. But 150 people working in a local plant is a great accomplishment but doesn't begin to meet all the need.

A powerful aspect of the display was culture. Each place had its own language, dress, food, artifacts. The pride and joy on the people's faces as they showed the baskets of food and explained how it was made and showed us the use of various headrests or beautifully beaded containers, the beautiful dresses of the women, all eager to share. They were happy for us to take their pictures, happy to explain their culture, happy that we were interested and all insisted that we write a comment in their book about our experience with them. In just one field in one place there was such rich diversity-of geography, language, culture, history, food, dress, tradition. And all of this from just one country in Africa out of 54 countries. I felt very fortunate to have learned so much that day (and enjoyed the dances too). I hope that you also may have a taste of the beauty of Africa.




Life is full of them.  Here is one for me. I am now sitting in Bahir Dar, actually with my I pad functioning. (I have sort of learned to use it this summer.) I am surrounded by large, impressive Royal Palm trees, gazing at the orange flowers shinning under the street lamp at the Jacaranda Hotel in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia. I can say that life has changed.

This fall I am in Ethiopia again but under another program. I have been hired as an independent international consultant, working with an American organization charged with creating a whole new approach in teaching languages throughout the country- at this point focusing on 7 mother tongue languages for Ethiopia's primary school children. We are currently working with grades 1 to 4.

Last year I was part of a team of linguists and other experts that developed a totally new curriculum framework for teaching which has been approved by the government at all levels. It includes an emphasis on explicit instruction in reading and writing skills, teacher modeling, lots of student teacher interaction, awareness of the sounds of the language and learning high frequency words so that children can read as soon as possible.

There are many new strategies presented for teachers to use to help them teach children how to read in their own language. Previously teachers mostly just assumed children would automatically learn to read. Testing in 2010 throughout the country demonstrated that most children were not learning how to read in their mother tongue. Now USAID (United State Agency for International Development), the US agency working on all foreign aid, has dedicated itself to making a change in the way children learn to read in Ethiopia and the way teachers teach reading and writing with the hopes that this will improve children's success in reading and thus help children to read to learn as well as learn to read.

This may sound simple, or even again colonizing but it is neither. As for simple, there has been a complex process of developing a national curriculum in conjunction with language experts from the 7 largest language groups which could apply to all languages spoken in Ethiopia. There are over 80 languages spoken and 23 are the medium of instruction for children in primary schools in various regions. I was part of this project last year and it was truly a democratic cooperative effort on the part of so many people with different backgrounds and expertise.

It was very impressive to see how all of us worked together, united among different religions, ethnic and linguistic groups in order to develop an improved way of teaching the children to read. Eventually this framework was adopted by the Ethiopian government and then approved by each region with minor revisions. Next the national framework was brought to the regions and each language group and they developed a process to clearly articulate which skills are taught when and daily lessons. Now we are ready to write the student books and teacher guides.

That is where I come in. I will be the consultant to one region, the Amhara region, as they write these books and guides in line with the curriculum, their language needs and the number of teacher strategies designed to have greater impact on student learning. For me this is a great opportunity to share my teaching experience with others, support the mammoth efforts to teach children to read and write in ways that teachers can easily incorporate into the classroom. The team is writing many types of stories and the children will have many chances to read different types of print material and to improve their skills.

I am very excited to be a part of this process and looking forward to meeting up with some old friends here, making new ones and most importantly to contributing my knowledge and skills as together we create a rich learning experience for the children here.