A big thank you to Tina and Stephen Sommer and the rest of the team for delivering books donated from a previous Waterstones event to participating schools supported by charity – Link Ethiopia (www.linkethiopia.org). Below, Tina recalls a very personal account of their experience delivering pelican post books…
“I have never been so
overwhelmed and humbled
at the same time.”
…all arrived safely in Gondar after 1 international and then 2 internal flights. We had been warned that the plane could depart without off-loading all the luggage if time was short but this time round we were lucky and arrived safely in Gondar with all the books in tow.
Having settled in, Belayne from Link Ethiopia invited him to join us for dinner on the Thursday evening. We talked quite a lot about the work of Link Ethiopia and he introduced us to Elsa, his assistant, (a former English teacher now doing an MA) who would take us to 2 of the partnering schools. He agreed to deliver the other books to Atse Fasil as it was too far away for us to get to. The next day, Stephen and I returned to the office with Sybil (co-organiser of the trip) and carrying 5 kg of books we set off with Elsa “round the corner” to Hibret. This is an Ethiopian “round the corner”!! Remember the distances they run!
About a mile later in the afternoon sun we arrived at this large run down group of buildings set around a dusty yard with a corrugated building labeled “toilets”. The headmaster welcomed us and invited some pupils to meet with us. All the children were eager to hold the books, tell us their names and shake out hands. We were thanked and then left the school.
We took a tuk tuk back to the town centre and then a taxi to Kebele 16. The landscape was of unmade narrow roads, mud or corrugated structures for homes/shops and a total air of decay and poverty. At the school, after a few moments with the security guard we went to the office to meet the headmaster and the director who were absoloutely delighted with the books and wanted details of the senders. We showed them the Pelican Post logos inside with the personal messages written by supporters.
Again a group of children materialised and we had a great photo session – word got out and more children came! Then we were shown around the school…
…There are over 2,850 pupils who attend in morning and afternoon shifts. A classroom we went into had over 85 children seated 12 each side of 3 long tables and the rest crammed in at the top on stools or on the floor at the front. A small bookcase with half a dozen books, a blackboard, chalk and a rubber.
On the teachers table (not a desk) was a small jar. The teacher explained that when orphaned pupils needed a new pencil they could buy one using the donated money in the jar. (Naturally we put some in). When we went in to the class the children all stood up and sang us a welcome song.! We noticed that when the teacher turned her back the children remained silent until she spoke to them. The good behaviour in the face of all the poverty was a salutary lesson. We went to the library. A few bookshelves with some books and a couple of tables. The science lab again had a couple of tables, and one wall housed the physics equipment – charts on the wall and some magnets; the biology cupboard had some test tubes, diagrams of the human body and one microscope; the chemistry wall had a sink and some charts. Once children reach secondary school age all lessons are conducted in English, so to get any form of education they must understand English. All text books (maths, physics, chemistry, geography, computing etc is all in English).
The whole school was essentially a group of huts. Yet the outside of each building was painted with world maps, alphabets, periodic tables and loads of other useful information. Not a spot of graffiti in sight.
One evening we went to a class at another school where children pay to attend for 2 hours just to improve their English. I have never been so overwhelmed and humbled all at one time. These children want to learn. Some walk miles to school each day, others do evening work to pay for their uniforms (the law states no child may go to school without a uniform – and it is only a pair of cotton trousers/skirt and top) . All in all it was a fantastic experience…