12 Oct 2009

"the personification of Ethiopia's hope for a better future, their children."

By  María José  28/9/09

I must admit that when Victoria asked me to go to Ethiopia to give English lessons to the teaching staff in the Birhan school in Yeka I was a bit overwhelmed.
I actual fact I had offered to collaborate over the summer period in one of Mediterranea's projects but once I had already committed myself and was getting ready for the trip I began to feel uneasy, and(yes, scared) about certain aspects of the situation.

On one hand, I was worried about the kind of reception I would receive, particularly after the problems there had been with the dismissal of the former president of the  Edir. I was apprehensive, too, about how the others who had also been dismissed, would react to me after having lost their greatly coveted positions.

On the other hand, knowing that I was the only "Faranchí"(foreigner), I realized, that in actual fact, this could have its advantages as well as disadvantages.

Next problem, I am not a qualified English teacher. Would they realize that after the first lesson?

Next potential big problem, I'm currently wading through all the paperwork that will permit me to adopt an Ethiopian child. How was I going to react emotionally when I found myself face to face with the 180 pupils in Birhan school.

But, as soon as my feet touched the center, all of my fears and all of my apprehension just vanished. I met Zerihun at the door and he introduced me to the staff, helped me draw up a timetable and organize my classes.
The staff, every single one of them, from the head-teacher to the cleaner welcomed me with open arms. All of them were fantastic, the teachers, the girls in the kitchen, the ground staff and last but not least, the children. Everyone made me feel at home.

It's up and into work early at Birhan school. I don't know at what time the first set of children arrive but at 8.15am when I started, the teachers had already been at the door for a while waiting to welcome the "early birds". At 9.00am, the children are served a bread roll with milk. Two weeks before the "Asunción"(religious festival), the older children have to "fast" in preparation for this religious event, therefore they have tea instead of milk.

After breakfast, the children would start their lessons and I would have a coffee and a chat with the kitchen staff. I would then settle down to prepare my afternoon lesson plans to be ready to teach the staff in the afternoons, once all of the children had gone home.

After playtime and then a one hour lesson, it was time to give out lunch which usually consisted of vegetable soup with lentils, or pasta or "injera"(local bread-pizza type affair), lots of "injera". (Ethiopians, all love it)
I got the impression that I was being constantly watched by the teachers expecting me to trip over spectacularly with a tray full of food as I helped give out lunch!.........and I don't blame them. I feared exactly the same thing!
Fortunately for all, I turned out to be a perfect waitress. Plates, food and utensils, landed on no-ones lap and reached the hungry children safely without any disasters!

Throughout the year the routine after lunch is; a short rest period, more lessons and a snack before returning home.

However, in the month of August, the children are picked up by their parents straight after lunch. August is the month of heavy rainfall in this part of the world. It is safer to shorten the school day to avoid problems for the parents in times of unpredictable storms.
It might sound strange to the reader but during the month of August I witnessed that when it rained heavily or there was a dangerous storm it more often than not started at the time when the children would normally finish school.

When the parents or guardians of the little children would come to pick them up, I noticed that the teachers would only hand the child over when the aforementioned produced an identity card. When I returned home and explained this to my friends with children they were surprised and felt that this system should be used in all Spanish nurseries and schools.

The Birhan school in Yeka lacks all sorts of even basic materials that we take for granted; the classrooms are dark and cold, especially during the wet season when it's damp The sky is overcast and there is only electricity every other day. In spite of this I have to emphasize that none of these conditions affect the tiptop cleanliness of the installations nor the positive atmosphere in the air which shines like a bright light. The school is very well maintained and organized considering that the classrooms are used as a dining room, that the pupils desks also serve as tables at breakfast and lunchtime. The staff treat the children impeccably. They care deeply about each child's welfare and that they are being nourished properly. The teachers are loving and affectionate. It is a delight to see that the children are so happy.

I would like to thank Mediterranea for giving me the opportunity to participate in their Ethiopian project. As a human being I have learnt a lot and feel that I have gained more than I have given. I would also like to thank, although they will undoubtedly never have the opportunity to read this message, all of the new friends I made in Ethiopia. Without their support and friendship my experience could have been very different.

I thank all of the school staff, from the Head-teacher to the cleaners, all of the teachers, the girls in the kitchen and the caretakers for making me feel welcome, for making me feel at home.
I also send thanks to, as Zerihun calls them, the personification of Ethiopia's hope for a better future, their children. I thank these children for their demonstrations of affection, their hugs and their kisses. They will never know, that a woman like me who wants so much to adopt an Ethiopian child has learnt so much from them and that this knowledge, when the adoption goes through will make a difference, one of many that help change the world.

I thank my English students for their patience and understanding.
I send thanks to Eto Ambachew for finding students who were interested in English lessons.

Thank you Zerihun for just being there and especially for helping me on my first nerve-wracking day.

Lastly, I would like to thank Getachew and Ayele. Although they are not directly involved in the Mediterranea organization, the former, my good friend Getachew, took charge of my journey to Ethiopia and organized all the logistics of my stay and the latter, Ayele, who made sure that I got to and from school on a daily basis.
I am grateful to them and to so many others. I will keep them locked safely deep in my heart for ever. I look forward to seeing them all again some time in the future.

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