I’m writing this in the dark, since we’re in the middle of a power cut at the moment (apparently a fairly regular occurrence). Combined with major difficulties in getting internet and phone access so far, not sure when I’ll be posting this !
I arrived into Addis yesterday morning. It was great being met at the airport by one of the students, because I’d otherwise probably still be trying to direct the driver to the hostel (which, even though it’s reasonably central in the city, is in a pretty tricky to find spot, down various rocky dirt roads).
Quick background on EEF (the Ethiopian Education Foundation). It’s a small charity, set up a few years ago by a couple of guys from London, which provides support for a number of academically gifted, but economically deprived, children to continue their education at secondary level. There are amazing stories: children from extremely poor backgrounds (some without close family or with very deprived families in the countryside), who are now excelling at school (coming top of their class) and winning scholarships to university, often to study medicine or engineering. The children are carefully selected from a number of feeder primary schools, on the basis of their academic potential and their economic circumstances. EEF finds them sponsors (mainly in the UK) for their schooling at a good, local private school (the School for Tomorrow) and then provides them fulltime board and lodging in a hostel nearby.
I did visit the hostel very briefly when I was here 3 years ago, but the area has changed hugely since then. There’s a massive amount of construction work going on in Addis at the moment (the whole city seems like one enormous building site). Around where EEF is based is now covered with new housing. The streets are still unpaved, though, and it’s a slow and pretty bumpy journey (shared with not just loads of traffic but also wandering goats, donkeys and any number of stray dogs) . It will be worse, I gather, in rainy season from July, when many of the streets turn into rivers and can be impassable (that word always makes me feel I’ve slipped into a broad Belfast accent…).
I’ve joined at the same time another UK volunteer is taking over as the full time programme manager for the coming year. Together, the two of us are taking over from Nicolas, who’s been in the role for the past year and has done a fantastic job managing the hostel, working with the school, and closely managing the finances (apparently the cost of living, especially food, is rising rapidly here so working to the tight budget for the 60 or so students is challenging). There are also two cooks, but apart from that, everything is managed by the students – they each have allocated jobs which ensures everything from cleaning, to washing, to paying bills is managed without any need for paid staff and all the charity money goes directly to supporting the students).
I’m working hard on getting used to a life with fewer creature comforts ! Washing is done by hand in outdoor sinks, the ‘gym equipment’ is a set of homemade (slightly dodgy looking) barbell contraptions made from cement in barrels connected to a branch of wood, and worst of all, I can’t get onto Facebook so lots more time on my hands as a result 🙂
From what I’ve seen so far (albeit early days), the students are amazing – their commitment to their schoolwork, to helping run the hostel and also to helping each other out, is really impressive. Trying to get on top of 60 names is really difficult, though – and one of them has already been insisting on starting to give me Amharic language lessons (really embarrassing when you’re trying to remember simple vocab with a really bright teenager who has no problem doing far more difficult stuff every day at school !).
The level of poverty that you see in the streets is going to take some time to get my head around – and also hearing the background stories of the students (even though they are now really ‘lucky’ getting this opportunity, they often have parents and brothers / sisters in dire circumstances back home).
On the other hand, arriving in from Europe, the prices here are a bit of a pleasant shock (bus across town for 12p, dinner last night for three of us with beers for £4 !).
Will add some pictures in due course, when I get easier wifi access. Meantime, hopefully the electric will be back soon…