25th February – Trip to Jerusalem Primary School
The highlight today was visiting Jerusalem Primary School in Addis Ababa. More than 1,600 children go to school here every day, age 5 to 15, and the pupil teacher ratio is 80:1
You can imagine the reaction amongst hundreds of small children speeding in every direction round the school yard when I walked in through the galvanised steel gates! The phrase ‘sticking out like a sore thumb’ came to mind, and, just like small children do, they swarmed around me like bees on honey as I walked towards the school’s ‘ELC’ – Electronic Learning Centre.
It seems like kids everywhere have ‘high-five’ in their DNA! I must have been ‘high-fived’ a hundred times before I escaped through a heavy steel door to the quiet calm of the ELC. It’s beginning to dawn on me that although the surroundings and environment that these children go to school in every day would be utterly unthinkable for us, they don’t see it that way. To my eyes, everything about the school – inside and out – is so dilapidated. The grounds are comprised of solid, hard, dry earth and the smell of dry dust in the air is permanent. Broken windows don’t get replaced – they stay broken and the ones without glass get steel bars – sometimes. The run-down classroom walls – inside and out – would probably reject a lick of paint at this stage, but the kids don’t even see it. It doesn’t matter to them – it’s not even a consideration. It’s different for the teachers, but let’s talk about that later.
The children seem to have a constant air of happiness about them. They smile often, they’re so friendly to each other. I was touched by how very often you’ll see kids hugging each other and walking across the school yard with an arm wrapped warmly round a friend’s shoulder, or two friend’s shoulders, and off they go with what seems like not a care in the world.
But the teachers reminded me otherwise. Although the children sitting at their PC’s in the ELC told me with absolute pride and confidence that they love their PC’s and the lessons they learn on them, and that they realise fully these classes will definitely open doors for them to a better future, the teachers reminded me as we walked slowly towards the gate as I left the school, that they need Camara’s Educational support more and more and more. Numeracy and literacy rates are low. These children will still face incredible challenges when they leave this school. The lessons and educational software loaded on the computers are just the beginning for these children.
The last thing a teacher said to me as I walked out the gate was, “thank you, we need your help so much”.
27th February – Bye bye Ethiopia
Leaving Addis Ababa behind, my first trip to Ethiopia has been an incredible whirlwind. Four days would never be enough to see it all – it’s twice the size of France and has 90 million people – but the wonderful hospitality, dedication and hard work of Camara’s local team in Addis ensured my few days there were packed with much to do and see.
The highlight was of course visiting schools and seeing first-hand the end result of Camara’s work – children sitting at computers (kindly donated by the many Camara supporters in Ireland and the UK) learning new skills and working towards a better future for themselves and their communities.
The teachers deserve special praise too. Many have never even seen a computer before, or held a mouse in their hand, or pressed the keys on a keyboard. Their dedication to learn this new craft and then pass their knowledge on to the children is immense. They are determined that this generation of children will have better opportunities in the future than they themselves had. Camara’s ongoing support and training for teachers as well as the computer equipment is all part of the full package that each school receives across the over 1000 schools that we work with in Africa.
The Ethiopian people are inspiring: everyone I met had the same soft spoken, humble and good-natured way about them. They bring a new meaning to the word dignity. Poverty is everywhere, but since 1990 the number of people in the world living in extreme poverty has halved. Nelson Mandela said that education is the most powerful weapon to beat poverty. Camara’s educational work is helping many children escape a life of poverty, but there is still much work to do.
Addis Ababa is almost 8000 feet above sea level – that’s twice the height of Ireland’s highest mountain – Carrauntoohil – so the air is thin and sometimes you can feel a bit short of breath. I wonder what the air in Kenya has in store as I now depart on ‘Safari Njema II’.