… I’d like you to hear this quick example of the type of backgrounds some of the students at the EEF (Ethiopian Education Foundation) hostel here come from. I’ve changed the name of this student, who is currently here at the hostel, to protect his confidentiality.
Samuel was 13 when his primary school brought him to the attention of EEF. His father had died when Samuel was very young. His mother worked hard to support them. However, as Samuel (battling back tears) explained to the EEF manager who visited him back then, she got sick and after two years died when he was 11. He continued living in the same one-room home, relying on neighbours for essentials (including his food and water). His typical day, when EEF found him, was to wake at 6am, wash, check his homework and, if there was food available, eat breakfast. He would then walk to school (about 45 minutes). If there was food at lunch he’d eat, otherwise would study. He’d return home after school and make shiro (typical Ethiopian chickpea stew), then study until late at night. Alongside all of this, he was conscious that, come the next rainy season, his slum home would probably be washed away completely, leaving him on the streets.
Despite all of this, Samuel was raved about by his teachers at primary school. He managed exceptional performance (was coming first in his class), had been ‘group leader’ in his classroom for the past two years and was helping tutor other students in his lunch break. His English, at the age of 13, was practically perfect: he loved reading poems and books – in particular, ‘Peter Pan’. Chatting to EEF, he explained that he felt students should be focused and work hard at their education and that this was why he liked to help others. In exchange for his hard work, the teachers would reward him with notebooks, lunch, or money for his uniform. The EEF manager interviewing him at the time was struck by his level of determination and how he had inspiringly managed to create a kind of survival technique: he put in the hard work to receive his basic needs.
Samuel would not have been able to continue into secondary education (with no money for fees, books, uniforms, transport, it would have been impossible). But with EEF’s help, he is now living here at the hostel and attending the excellent, private ‘School of Tomorrow’, where he is performing superbly. Samuel’s ambition has always been to study Chemistry: specifically, he wants to find a cure for HIV/AIDS (perhaps this was the background to his mother’s or father’s deaths). He would love to discover vaccines that he can ‘send to the world’.
What makes Samuel’s story so moving, and humbling, for me is that when you now see him around the hostel, he is such a balanced, well-mannered, chatty, helpful and likeable kid. He goes out of his way to help both Caspar and I in running the hostel, and to help his fellow students: off his own bat, he’s again now tutoring a number of others who are struggling with particular subjects. All the immense difficulties he’s been through seem to have left him with, not bitterness or resentment, but rather a real passion, drive and determination, grasping fully all of the opportunities he’s given. And not only that, he’s looking to help others along the way.
As I said, I am humbled by Samuel’s story: by how he has continued to battle through, still with a smile on his face. And it makes me wonder how, given the same circumstances, I’d have reacted myself. EEF can only support a small fraction of the millions of kids in similar circumstances here (despite the really impressive track record of the Ethiopian government over the past few years on primary education, secondary school participation remains really low: in some of the countryside regions, only 2.7% of children get the opportunity to continue school at secondary level). Looking at Samuel today, and at how his potential is now being allowed to flourish, makes me realise how incredibly valuable the work is that EEF is doing. Truly ‘life-changing’!
Thanks for reading 🙂