Tag Archives: education

Ethiopia, Day 3: I Have Taught My Hands How

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ImageIt’s an hour and a half drive to school everyday. That’s how long it takes to get from the area’s only reasonable hotel (“reasonable” meaning no fleas) to the Kololo school. About half of the way is a Ethiopian massage road — that’s code for a very bumpy dirt road. It’s beautiful countryside the whole way, and my artist mind is taking it all in the whole way.

ImageToday, driving back from another lovely day making art with the sweet ones, seemed extra long. It could have been exhaustion, maybe a full bladder; it was extra hot today. I don’t know why, but it felt longer, and that got me to thinking. Before this school was built in Kololo by Ethiopia Reads, there were only schools that took hours to walk to and, as I understand it, one or two kids actually did that. Remember when your parents used to say, “I used to walk hours to school in bare feet, uphill both ways”? Well, some kids pretty much do. At least half of the students in Kololo are in fact barefoot, and had they walked hours to school in this mountainous region, it would have big hills both ways. Yet, some kids consider themselves lucky for that opportunity.

I’ve spent the last two days in a community overflowing with gratitude because they now have a school. Oh, the things we take for granted.

ImageThe children were as brilliant as ever. So patient and eager to learn. So unaffected by Game Boys, iPhones, iPads, television — I could go on, but the idea is: It’s refreshing, this ability for children to just sit and be. No need for constant stimulation here, just gratitude for learning.

That’s not the whole story: Life is not easy in this rural community, no need to sugarcoat it, yet there is happiness, there is a certain romance, something they could teach us in the West. We painted we sang, we danced and we sat outside under a big shade tree. My heart is full.

ImageIn the evening, we four artists traveling together to share and create art located the quietest spot we could find and set ourselves up to do just that. In Ethiopia, you are never alone, and soon we had a audience. As if we were rock stars, the children of all ages soon surrounded us, then settled down and sat for over an hour, watching us work, patient and entertained by the plein air painters. It was pure joy to be outside, gazing upon the crazy beauty of rural Ethiopia, doing what I love best to do in this world: paint.

ImageAt the dinner that followed, we were joined by other volunteers here on behalf of Ethiopia Reads, and we heard their stories. They all were moving, but my favorite was a story of a little boy who was asked, “What do you like about art class?” His answer I will loosely translate as: “Art makes me happy. Now that I have been taught how to draw, I have a new way to communicate. If I want to draw something, I have taught my hands how, and expressing myself is easy. I want to, and I didn’t feel like that before.”

Um, yeah — so be still, my beating heart: A 9-year-old boy from a very rural farming village in Ethiopia speaks my language, he gets it, he speaks creativity and it has changed him.

That’s all, that’s enough!

Thank you for coming along with me on this incredible journey!

Stephanie

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Ethiopia, Day 2: A Tree for My Garden and an Education for My Child

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You know that feeling you get when words seem inadequate? When it feels foolish to try to give life to an experience that has moved you so profoundly?

Well, today I ask you to bear with me, because that is exactly how I feel.

ImageTo arrive in a village in rural southern Ethiopia that until recently did not have a school — no school at all — and to see a newly built school; to shake the hands of the beautiful sweet children who are so completely happy to be attending class; to meet the parents glowing in the joy of a child who is being educated, and proud teachers who are doing an amazing job of educating over 200 of the area’s youth — well, I have no words for that. I am simply humbled.

I fight embarrassment for every single time I gave my mom a hard time about going to school, complained about homework, but I remember that does no good, so I just offer up a deep, deep bow of gratitude for my education and every single teacher who helped me along the way.

ImageThe community has been changed by this school, which was built by Ethiopia Reads, funded by private donations from the states and our friends at On the Ground. Hope now abounds. There are still problems to be solved in this extremely poor area, and that school costs money every year to run — right around $10,000, which is why I set that goal to raise. I figure my community will do that much; they will donate $5, $10, $20, until we can keep that school open another year, or the equivalent of that.

Ethiopia can seem far away if you haven’t been here, met the people, traversed the land and felt the need, seen what truly poor is. When a $1 a day is a lot of money to you — well, I am so very humbled by that.

A sign at the school read, “A tree for my garden and an education for my child.” WOW. Simple pleasures. Education should just never ever be about whether your parents can afford to provide one for you. It’s not right — not even close.

So now I know, and now you know: The world is vast and unfair, and as for me, I have $20 in my purse right now that will send a child to school for a month. That I can do.

I have to add before I sign off how truly lovely this community is: gracious, smiling children who are SUPER eager to learn, neighbors looking out for neighbors, nothing taken for granted. Yes, they have so much to teach us from the west. But for now, I want to know all those transfixing beautiful eyes I looked into today can continue to be in school. Then I will ponder gratitude, the kind that has nothing to do with what possessions I have and everything to do with how full my soul is. I’m just so damn grateful, so, so, so full of thanks, because today, I met a beautiful community; today, I was expanded inside.

Love from Ethiopia,

Stephanie