Sunday, 20 February 2011
This mural was drawn and colored by the second-year kindergarteners at the Shiro Meda school, everybody pitching in and drawing a little piece of it. It was made as a thank-you for the UK donors and board who have supported them all year. The pictures are of candy canes and candles, candies and Christmas trees, all in 5 year-old style, of course. Ethiopian Christmas is January 7th and, what with the slow international post, the children's package didn't reach us until February. Sorry for the late Christmas wishes, but the gratitude at the school is heartfelt.
Monday, 11 October 2010
Addis Ababa: October 9, 2010
by Karin Lohmann
It is Wednesday morning in the Ethiopian capital city, Addis Ababa. The time is six in the morning and the sun is about to rise over the local district of Piassa.
It is cold, and the city's residents are only starting to wake up, but five girls are already dressed in shorts and T-shirts, ready to run. They look like ordinary girls, but they could be Ethiopia's future superstars.
“I will be a famous runner, not only in Ethiopia but throughout the world,” says 16-year old Berkinesh.
Berkinesh is like the four other girls selected to be part of Team Tesfa's teen program. This means that they now have a safe home, and they get training and food, three ingredients which are essential to become professional athletes.
“If I eat a lot, I run faster,” says Asnakech at 16 years of age.
This morning the girls are doing a photo shoot with the Danish photographer Soeren Malmose and myself, a Danish journalist. In about two months the pictures of the girls will be shown in an exhibition in the capital of Denmark, Copenhagen.
“Look in the camera, put your chin up and smile,” Soeren is telling the girls, while two of the male athletes from Team Tesfa are trying to hold back the curious passersby.
The girls must pose like stars in a running shoe advertisement, and it can be quite a challenge to do a photo shoot in the middle of the chaos of Addis Ababa. But the girls are already professionals. Even the youngest girl, 14 year-old Fantu, seems to have forgotten the heavy personal problems many of the girls are facing as she is running in front of the camera.
We stay in Addis Ababa ten days, following the runners. We have joined the training with their coach, visited the teens' home, taking pictures and conducting interviews about their backgrounds and dreams.
Being part of Team Tesfa will change their lives.
“If I was in my village, I'd be married now. I'm 16 years old,” says Asnakech.
And that is the situation for most of the girls. They come from poor backgrounds. They have come to Addis Ababa hoping to get a better life, and they have chosen to run to reach their dreams.
“When I lived in the village, I heard about Haile Gebreselasse and I wanted to be like him,” says Meseret who has been part of the Team Tesfa program for some years.
Haile Gebreselasse is the world's best marathon runner. Runners in Ethiopia are as famous as singers and actors, and for the young girls running can be a way out of poverty and early marriage.
“I'm happy when I run, and I know that tomorrow will be a better day if I reach success,” says Asnakech.
And hopefully the photos in Piassa can help to make a better future for girls. The photos in the exhibition will be sold and the proceeds will go to Team Tesfa.
Addis Ababa: October 7, 2010
by Cien Keilty-Lucas
At the base of the esteemed Entoto mountain, the district of Shiro Meda imparts a unique sense of calm. Unlike many of Addis Ababa’s neighborhoods, the residences and businesses seem to be woven into the environment. As I walk down newly paved road, I am absorbed in my meditation of urban structures and natural landscape. Mud and thatch houses stand beside cinder-block barber shops, sharing the foothills with towering eucalyptus and native flora. But as captivating as the scenery is, something cuts through the serene surroundings.
A faint hum of joyful cheers captures my attention. The further I travel down the hill and into the neighborhood, the more pronounced and contagious the shouts become. I find myself smiling, and anxiously looking forward to sharing the joy that spills over the school walls of the Tesfa Foundation's first school.
As I enter the compound, half of the school's 70 kindergarten students stuff the remnants of 'snack time' into their mouths and rush toward me. I am engulfed in a sea of bright eyes and extended hands. The dozens of handshakes turn into lifting dozens of kids into the air, and finally I've become just another piece of the brightly colored playground equipment. I am covered in cookie crumbs and can barely move among the mob of children, but I am having a wonderful time.
The last hand is shaken and the last 'ciao' yelped out, and I step out of the school yard and back into Shiro Meda’s distinctive environment. The euphoric cheers and squeals fade as we climb up the hill toward the main road.
I reflect on my experience. I am truly privileged. And it is not my background or upbringing; it is that I am able to take part in this work. The collective spirit of our children resonates in me, and now, wherever I go, it pushes me to make the most of my time with the Tesfa Foundation.
Through this work, I have been exposed to some of the strongest and most inspiring individuals I have ever met, our students. And I look forward to their future, as well as my own.
Addis Ababa: October 6, 2010
by Menna Alemu
Beti is in her second year of kindergarten at the Mercato school in Addis Ababa. She is five years-old. She's a beautiful little girl. But in her first few months in school, she was very quiet and distracted. She was prone to fits of crying. The teachers were concerned, and so were we, the administrative staff.
Lots of children at the Mercato school come in with problems. Their clothes are tattered. Some have no lunch. Some have had no breakfast. They haven't been bathed. When they are not in school, they are left to play in the street. Their parents are laborers and have no time for them.
But Beti was an extreme case. Even among these children, she was obviously neglected. She was hungrier and more unkempt.
When we investigated, we found out she has lost both parents to AIDS. She lives with an aunt now. We had to argue with this aunt to keep Beti in school. The more we tried to reason with her, the angrier she became. She remarked that she wished Beti were dead.
We gave Beti new clothing. The teachers washed her. We made sure she was fed. Beti is now happier. She participates in class. She smiles. And given a chance, Beti demonstrates a sharp mind and an eagerness to learn. Every day is a battle to keep Beti in school, but we are committed.
When I visit the Mercato school, that's what I see: all the smiles. That is our success. Outside the school, the children's lives are miserable. But inside, for six hours, they are safe and happy.
I have worked with the Tesfa Foundation for three years this month. During my time as program director for Tesfa Tsegereda, we have opened five of Tesfa's seven funded schools. We have founded the Team Tesfa teen program. We have hosted dozens of volunteers from Europe and America. I've learned a lot.
I believe we live worthy lives as people by helping others achieve the glimpse of hope they've had that has been killed by difficult lives, helping them take steps toward their dreams that they never thought could come true. Tesfa has been an institute where I've learned endurance and perseverance. I've learned that love and caring always has big rewards, the reward of seeing others have hope. Tesfa means hope in the Amharic language, and Tesfa is about people with big hearts reaching out to the underprivileged ones who are forgotten but have big dreams.
I'm happy to be a witness to the lives Tesfa has changed. I believe many more will be able to change their destinies because of what we can provide as individuals.
Thursday, 8 July 2010
Sponsor a Teen
The teen program has always been at the core of the Team Tesfa program. This program provides safe housing and education for girls who are homeless and vulnerable. Please volunteer to sponsor one of these girls for the coming year. Get to know her; get to know the challenges she faces. Above are three of the six new girls, ages 14-16, who have moved into the Tesfa safe house this summer: Merron, Birkenesh, and Fantu.
In Ethiopia, long-distance runners are heroes. Every year hundreds of teenage girls come to Addis Ababa from the surrounding regions to train as athletes, hoping to escape poverty through their talent. At the least, they hope for education and employment in the capital city. The majority of them have no friends or family to support them. Many of these girls will be victims of sexual violence. Many will be forced into some form of servitude and possibly prostitution in order to survive.
In Addis Ababa more than 30 per cent of girls aged 10-14 are not living with their parents. Twenty per cent of these have run away from child marriages. Twelve per cent of adolescents aged 10-14 surveyed in Addis Ababa were domestic workers.
The athletic team serves as a powerful medium for reaching these girls. It becomes a support structure in a dangerous and alienating environment. It’s a medium for providing vulnerable young girls with the skills and confidence to lift themselves out of poverty and become self reliant models for other women.
Tuesday, 25 May 2010
May 9: Construction comes to an end this week on Tesfa's seventh school in the village of Ekodaga. This will be the small farming village's first school. The Selam School, a successful partnership with the Resurrection Catholic Parish in Green Bay, Wisconsin, will be opening in the summer of 2010. It will serve 50 village children with a kindergarten education, and 150 children from the region with nonformal primary education. 'Nonformal' education is formatted to adapt to the needs of farming families and of children who arrive with varying degrees of literacy. In the long term, this project will also endeavor to provide adult education for parents, and to bring light and water to the school and community. Cien Keilty-Lucas, Minnesota contractor and Master's student in public health, spent four months supervising the construction project. He writes about his experience:
Building a School
by Cien Keilty-Lucas
A whip cracks and an afternoon wind whistles up the hill side. Twelve chiqa- (or mud-) toting donkeys lumber toward the school. The wind exhales an ominous misty breath, predicting afternoon showers. With a clattering of hooves atop a newly cement-paved classroom floor, the donkey train squeezes into one of the seven school rooms. Fellow workers usher the animals to where the mud is mixed with hay, and water. Leme and Mesfin distract one of the animals with a steady "whoooooosh" and a handful of grass. As the animal impatiently sways, the two massage nearly 80 pounds of chiqa off the donkey's mud-caked back and drop it onto a light bed of hay with a plop.
The chiqa process has been ongoing for the last month. In total, the people of Ekodaga – and of course those donkeys – have schlepped tens of thousands of pounds of mud from nearly a kilometer away to form the smooth and straight walls of the school. The entire build has taken three months of continuous labor by upwards of 35 people a day. The building of Ekodaga's first school has been a testimony to the incredible worth ethic, commitment, and determination of the people of Ekodaga. The community works, sings, and even drinks together (usually just on Sundays) from 8am to 5pm seven days a week. Together, the community reformed a rocky hillside, built a waist-high rock wall that wraps around the entire perimeter, and perched 5,000 square meters of finished school atop the carefully sculpted hilltop. The school will assist men, women and children alike achieve educational betterment for years to come, and I believe the building process itself will resonate within the Ekodaga community just as far into the future.
During my time working with the Ekodaga villagers, I have witnessed a tightening of the community, as well as a growth of dedication to the school. Before the build, the villagers relied on one another as neighbors and co-workers. Even the school project seemed just business at first. But as the build progressed, I saw an immense shift in solidarity and care among the community. When we asked for volunteers, toddlers and village elders alike volunteered and diligently worked. When one member of the community is ill, others pitch in to help purchase medical care and transportation. There is a pronounced cooperation with one another in sharing work. Everybody gets to work on the school. There is a constant dialogue about the school's importance for not only the children but all of Ekodaga. The school has not only become emblematic of the community's hard work and dedication, but the community's interest in personal growth.