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transportation to Wanis school

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My second visit to a rural school outside of Asaita did not involve a 4×4, but rather a horse-drawn carriage known locally as a ‘geri’.  I have ridden geris around town a few times, but usually only for short jaunts.  This time was a 45mins geri ride each way.  The unforeseen reality of this mode of transport was the metal bar digging into my lower back as we bounced along bumpy dirt paths.  The geri is good for short trips, but long trips are not so comfortable.

The geri followed the same road as the 4×4 going to Mamole, but pulled off the unpaved road after around 1km.  We followed a pathway through a fallow field until we reached a narrow dirt road on the other side of the farm.  We bounced along this dirt road for some kilometres and passed through some small Afar villages until we got to the first of two schools on our itinerary.

We were lucky because the geri  knew the shortcut through the fallow field, and this allowed us to reach the narrow road that led to Wanis.  The previous week visitors the visitors had to walk the last 5kms in because the cart could not get through a flooded part of the road.

shortcut through the fallow field

Bagusafar Primary School

Bagusafar Primary School has a student population of 200.  There is no electricity, and no library.  The setting is very green, and it is easy to forget the school’s proximity to the desert.  We dropped off Yitagesu to conduct his teaching practicum observations, had a quick look around and then continued down the narrow path to the next village to visit Wanis Primary School.

Next to the road were traditional Afar homes, known as ‘ari’.  The families living in these villages sent their children to the two schools that we visited on this day.

Afar ‘Ari’

At Wanis school I sat down and had a chat with the Director (Principal) about life at the school.

Ato Mohammed faces the challenges as Director of Wanis PS

The challenges faced by the school were similar to those expressed at the other rural schools in the area.  There is no electricity.  There is no library.  There is a teacher’s room that is meant to house teaching resources for the school staff, but the room is used as a dormitory by members of the teaching staff because there is no transportation between the school and Asaita. 

Attendance at the school is also a problem.  On the day that we visited only about 40% of the students were present.  It was a Wednesday, and Tuesday is market day in Asaita, so a lot of families had made the trek into town and had yet to return.  Unfortunately, challenges like this abound for the people in this locale, and each challenge takes up quite a bit of time.  Logistical challenges are coupled with the lack of value place on education by the local people.  Getting a job at the sugar plantation that is opening up here is not an ambition held by many.  Surviving in

riding the road between Asaita and Wanis

tough conditions takes priority.  Nevertheless, the school perseveres and slow progress is made.

Solomon and Ousman were the College Instructors that I accompanied to Wanis.  They interviewed the student teachers and their school supervisors, as well as observing classes taught by College students.  The College students had to live at the school for their month long placements.  There are no shops within 10kms.  There is a tap with water, but the groundwater in the area is too salty to drink.  This left the students with river water to use for their cooking and drinking.  This cannot be good for them.

Solomon consults with a member of staff at Wanis

We returned to Asaita in the geri we had come in.  It was lucky that he had waited for us because otherwise it would have been a long walk back.

Ousman prepares for the bumpy ride back

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The first order of business with VSO Ethiopia has been to create an Action Plan that outlines my role with the organisation for the year ahead.  Basically it is an opportunity to write the job that I plan on doing, and I have tried to be realistic and diligent in writing it.

The centrepiece of my project is achieving 10 general objectives.  Each objective has a more comprehensive explanation of action that will be taken to achieve the aim.

handing over the keys to the toilet

Objective 3 is ‘Promoting inclusive education and diversity in the educational sector of the Afar Region’.  The most glaring lack of diversity in Ethiopia’s post-secondary education institutions is in gender representation.  In fact, girls are grossly underrepresented at all levels of Ethiopia’s education system except for early primary.  There are many reasons for this:  work, marriage, and financial strain are few worthy of mention.  Another reason is the lack of toilets for female students.  The argument goes that adolescent girls are unlikely to attend school without having a toilet to use.

VSO Ethiopia has facilitated the building of girls’ toilet at Sinble Elementary School in Asaita, Ethiopia.  Last week my fellow volunteer Peter and I attended the ‘key ceremony’ for the girls’ toilet and the key was handed over from the contractor to the school officials.

The girls present at the ceremony expressed their happiness at having a new toilet to use.

Focus Group discussion at Sinble

Our visit also furthered achieving Objective 6 – ‘Building Community Relationships’.  Handing over the keys in front of the toilet are teachers from the school, the principal and vice principal, as well as an official from the local woreda office.  A woreda is a district in Ethiopia.  Building a professional relationship with people in the community is to be accomplished through visits to local institutions, observing the learning conditions and giving these people and institutions a voice which they would otherwise not have.

The Sinble Elementary School that received a new girls’ toilet is housed in a fairly new building.  Windows do not last long in this town.  They are not really needed as the prevent what small amounts of breeze are around from getting into the classroom, but the glass shards that are left over do not look very safe for the students.

The new school does look like a more modern facility than what was there previously.  The old schoolhouse may have had better ventilation than the new, but there is no electricity in this building and the teaching and learning resources are sparse.

former classroom at Sinble

Another planned action for completing a needs assessment of education institutions in the local region is to hold focus group discussions, and the visit to Sinble  School provided the first opportunity to do this.  Prior to the ceremony handing over the keys to the school administration we gathered with some female students at the College to hear firsthand how pleased they were to have a toilet block for themselves.  The arrival of a new toilet block meant the end of a 200m walk to some bushes at the edge of the campus.  As girls get older they get more and more reluctant to come to school under these conditions.

My contribution to the discussion was the insistence that universal female literacy is a prerequisite for development and that having half of a country’s population undereducated and underemployed is not doing anyone much good.  I encouraged them to continue studying and expressed my hope that they graduate from high school and contribute to Ethiopia’s development.  Peter explained VSO Ethiopia’s role in the project and did an excellent job promoting the organisation.

The male students at the school had noticeably more confidence (at least these ones did).

Sinble students eager to pose for a photo

Another project that is underway here falls under the Objective for promoting diversity and inclusivity in the Ethiopian education sector.  Girls are underrepresented in Ethiopian post-secondary education, and in an effort to help female Afar high school students to pass the university entrance examinations, VSO Ethiopia s arranged to fund extra tutoring sessions for the female students at the high school.

Mohammed Humphries High School

Monitoring this project provided another opportunity to visit a local institution.

The high school is in better shape than the elementary school.  The facilities in the classroom were simply desks, chairs and a blackboard, but it was a classic classroom from a bygone era.  The medium of instruction in Ethiopian high schools is English, and the students are expected to take all of their classes in this language.

old school English teaching

I sat in on an English lesson.  Since part of my mandate here is to promote student-centred pedagogy, it was a little painful to watch the teacher turn around and write two pages of a grammar textbook onto the blackboard and then to read it over with the students.  But on the other hand, the teacher is teaching to a test, and the objective is to give the girls at the high school an opportunity to get into university.

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