I love the countryside of Ethiopia, with its rolling hills and open spaces. I relish in escaping the urban chaos of the capital, Addis Ababa. So it was with a smile on my face that I arrived in the rural village of Ekodaga to the north.
I had come to this Tesfa Foundation School to teach an art class. Ekodaga is a very small village, a cluster of huts about a half-hour walk from the town of Chancho. There is no road leading to Ekodaga, just a vast field with some cows, a few shepherds, and in the dry season, our mini-van, much to the dislike of our driver.
Happiness came over me when I saw the school. A school where none had been before. A school the Tesfa Foundation had built. It is painted bright blue and green. There is no electricity, but with the African sun shining brightly through the sky lights, that doesn’t matter.
The children had prepared for our visit, welcoming us with a traditional coffee ceremony and song and dance. Their little faces with big beautiful brown eyes had broad smiles spread across them, and something else, too: pride. Pride that comes from a village that has a school, and they were attending that school.
After spending some time getting to know the children, we focused on the business of making art. After I explained the lesson and did a brief demonstration, the children plunged head first into their art. The lesson was to think of their surrounding landscape and paint it. Once they began, we rarely saw their eyes again, just the tops of their heads as they immersed themselves in their little masterpieces. It is pure joy working with kids who have not yet learned to be self-conscious about their artwork.
Reluctantly, when our lesson was complete it was time to leave. I felt that familiar tug on my heart that means I’ll be back another day, but not soon enough. I was sad as our mini-van pulled away, leaving my new friends behind. I was comforted by the work we do at The Tesfa Foundation, knowing that without our generous funders, this organization, and the hours of volunteer labor, these kids would not be in school at all, and my visit to Ekodaga would have been very different.