“Not again!” I remember exclaiming, a few months after we arrived in Ethiopia in 2013. It was coffee break at Bingham Academy, and I had joined Andy and Clare (two Bingham staff at the time) sitting on the wall by the field. They were lamenting their application for a licence to set up a new school being delayed yet again. They shared a vision to start a school for middle-income Ethiopians and both were eager to begin. Eventually the RICE (“Reach International Centre for Education”) school became a reality, and Andy and Clare left Bingham to run it full time.
Their first building was small when I joined them to offer teacher support one afternoon every week. Year 1 at the time were in a room, formerly an injera (the local bread) kitchen. The concrete cooker was still in place and used to store the children’s backpacks. The staff were Ethiopian and would deliver the lesson content, then hand out plain paper or cartoon character outline sheets for the children to draw or colour until the end of the lesson. A mixture of Amharic and English was used.
The school moved again - this time to a compound with two buildings, one with three storeys. For one year I worked on the second storey in a bright classroom where the full sun would cause the temperature to rise inside. The following year I worked in a downstairs classroom with little natural light. I well remember an occasion during a storm in the rainy season when the power had gone out. The two teachers and I were huddled as close to the window as we could be, so that we could see the words in the books the children were reading to us. Despite challenges the teachers were always in good spirits; much more English was being spoken to deliver the lessons and more resources were being used. Having built up trust, the teachers seemed to appreciate the simple practical tips that I could give, demonstrating things that would make life better for them and the children. I was particularly encouraged to see the teachers praising individuals for their efforts - something that is not naturally cultural - and regularly using planned follow-up activities related to the lessons.
This academic year I am unable to go, as the school was on the move again. No mean feat, because now they are up to year 6. The school was moving a significant distance away from Bingham, so I could no longer travel to the new premises and have time to make an effective contribution in an afternoon. I wondered if they would lose some families who would now have further to travel, but I was told that the parents continue to be very appreciative of the school and only one or two families left.
Last Monday I had a day off in lieu of working all day Saturday for the Bingham sports day, so I visited RICE school in its new premises - a six-storey building with additional out-buildings standing in a much bigger compound than those before. A lift shaft is integral to the main building but not used when the school is in session (who would trust a lift in Ethiopia with such frequent power cuts?) I had coffee with one of the teachers I used to work with, and the clarity of her English was striking. Andy then showed me around and as he did so I became more and more thrilled by the potential they now have for the future. What a privilege I have had to witness this project develop from an idea to where it is today. I am truly thankful to have been able to play a small part.