Friday, March 26, 2010

Guest Voices: Concern Worldwide building schools in Ethiopia

Here is a look at efforts to improve education in Ethiopia by Concern International. Getinet Leweyehu is the manager of Concern's education program in Ethiopia. Getinet describes how the construction of the schools close to villages can help improve the children's eduction. Concern is also participating in a unique fund raiser today called Twestival Global.

The Impact of education on children’s lives in Ethiopia

by Getinet Leweyehu

Schools are constructed nearer to children’s homes in rural Ethiopia

Aster Arba, aged nine, lives in the remote and rural village of Duguna Fango, about 450 kilometers southwest of Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa. Before Concern intervened, Aster and her friends would walk eight kilometers every day back and forth to school.

In fact, they walked barefoot in extreme heat, and risked being raped and abducted, or attacked by wild animals. When I first saw the area, I was humbled by how difficult it was for a young child to travel to school in this extremely hot climate over such distances.

In response to the difficulties of these children, Concern and our partner organization WRDA began construction on basic education schools in villages that didn’t have any. Today, Aster and her friends attend school within walking distance from their homes.

During our regular monitoring visits to these schools, I met with the children who are clearly learning better and are far happier with their new situation. When I spoke with one of their teachers, Zinash, she explained that the sense of freedom thanks to the proximity of the school, made children attend classes regularly, which in turn has contributed to a marked improvement in their performance at school.

Vulnerable children benefit from basic education in Addis Ababa
Often in Ethiopia, children, and especially girls, migrate to urban areas in search of better lives and educational opportunities. In lots of cases, these children are either entirely uneducated or have dropped out of school after one or two years. Out-of-school children are forced to work as housemaids, and can be easily fall prone to child labor and sexual exploitation.

Others have to support their families running small businesses and wind up on the streets as petty traders. In these cases, there is no money or time for them to attend formal schools. Others still are orphaned due to HIV and AIDS, and do not have the opportunity to go to school. When I meet and speak to these children, I see that Concern’s support has given them hope. They have purpose and clearly feel accepted. Without help, I know that many of the girls would face a future of prostitution and the boys would become delinquent.

Concern has responded to their needs by collaborating with three local organizations in Addis Ababa in running schools with a flexible schedule, which allows very poor children to attend classes at times appropriate for them. The lessons are designed to streamline children back into formal education within three years, which enables them to complete the first education cycle of Ethiopia’s formal education system. To meet that goal, Concern provides free education materials, books and school uniforms and pays the teachers’ salaries. As a teacher myself, I am happy to work with Concern to reach these children and their teachers.

Experience has shown that the children thrive, not just because they are receiving an education, but because they feel a sense of acceptance and receive due recognition from their teachers and peers. In the last nine years (2002-2010), Concern and six partner organizations in three different regions of Ethiopia have established 22 schools where more than 15,000 vulnerable children (50 percent of them girls), who were not able to go to formal schools, have attended the first education cycle education, the basis for continuing in Ethiopia’s formal schooling system.

Getinet Leweyehu has been working for Concern since 2007 and has managed the education program for Concern Ethiopia. Now, in his role as Education Advisor, Getinet is driven by the commitment to help enable rural children to acquire basic education skills and to provide a bright future full of hope to vulnerable out-of-school girls in urban areas. Concern Worldwide is this year’s Twestival Global recipient in recognition of its work in education.

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