Kindergarten Ethiopian Style
Last week I told you about my trip to Nazaret to see the Tear Fund Charity at work. There was another aspect to our busy day. We were taken to see a kindergarten. It was started by Senait (the lady who was so proud of her government licence). Three or so years ago she saw the need for a kindergarten as so many members of the self-help groups had young children but also needed to work. It was with this passion to help that she used a loan from the group, rented a shelter and put the word out. On the first day, 110 children turned up. She was not a teacher so visited local government schools to find out what to do. In Senait’s words “there were no toilets so it wasn’t convenient for the children.” She was charging 10 birr (31p) a month at first but had to call the parents together and ask to increase the fees to fifteen birr. The limit is supposed to be 25 children per teacher, so government officials visited and when they saw that the children were happy they gave her two rooms in a concrete building unused by a high school. The following year the first intake needed to graduate to Kindergarten two (Year One). Another hundred children formed the new Kindergarten one (Foundation). They needed more space so moved to a larger part of the compound.
Senait proudly showed us around. She now has 260 paying pupils and for 40 of the poorest she provides places but doesn’t charge. In the younger classes the children have a chair each and that is all. They are arranged in rows. There were too many children to count as they were packed so closely together. Some rooms are dark and hot, there is a detectable aroma generated by many little grubby bodies. The children learn by rote and chanting. The older ones by copy writing whatever is written on the board. As usual individuals were called out from each class to repeat their memorised ‘party pieces’. However I was moved mostly by the presence of a little blind boy of five or six who had a plastic folder the top cover was an open grid of squares. He placed under here a sheet of thick paper. With a pin he made a series of impressions in the paper (guided by the grid). What he was effectively doing was writing in braille.
A coffee ceremony had been prepared for us under a tree in the school playground. While we were enjoying this I spotted the children washing their hands for lunch and was able to take a video. It was very cute! Lunch followed, they sat on the classroom floor to eat furfur (local food) or cold pasta and the poorest had bread and banana.
Sadly Senait told us the government have said that they want the classrooms back at the end of this school year. They will keep the children on but put the fees up. That will preclude so many from attending. Senait is not daunted. “I will look for somewhere else”, she told us. I then asked her what she usually does in the rainy season when school is out, she explained that she crochets and sells household items like bed covers. She also buys and fattens sheep to sell at Ethiopian New Year in September. She uses the money to buy exercise books and pencils for her school.
Senait has a real heart for these children and it will not be through lack of effort if accommodation is not found for her kindergarten. I hope that through Tear Fund I will learn the outcome of this amazing story.