Constructing schools closer to children's homes in rural Ethiopia
Nine-year-old Aster Arba lives in the remote village of Duguna Fango, about 450 kilometers southwest of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa. Before Concern Worldwide intervened, Aster and her friends had to walk eight kilometers every day back and forth to school.
In fact, they walked barefoot in extreme heat and risked being raped, abducted or attacked by wild animals. When I first saw the area, I was humbled by how difficult it was for a young child to travel to school in this extremely hot climate over such long distances.
In response to these difficulties, Concern and our partner organization WRDA began constructing basic education schools in villages that didn't have any. Today, Aster and her friends attend school within a short walking distance from their homes.
During our regular monitoring visits to these schools, I met with the children who are now learning better and are far happier with their new situation. When I spoke with one of their teachers, Zinash, she explained that the closer proximity of the school gives children a sense of freedom and allows them to attend classes regularly, which in turn has contributed to a marked improvement in their performance at school.
Vulnerable children benefit from basic education in Addis Ababa
Often in Ethiopia, children, especially girls, migrate to urban areas in search of better lives and educational opportunities. In most cases, these children are either entirely uneducated or drop out of school after one or two years. Children who aren't in school are forced to work as housemaids and can be easily fall prone to child labor and sexual exploitation.
Others have to support their families by running small businesses and wind up on the streets as petty traders. In these cases, there is no money or time for them to attend formal schools. Others are orphaned by HIV and AIDS, and do not have the opportunity to go to school. When I meet and speak to these children, I see that Concern's support has given them hope. They have purpose and clearly feel accepted. Without help, I know that many of the girls would face a future of prostitution and the boys would become delinquents.
Concern has responded to their needs by collaborating with three local organizations in Addis Ababa to run schools with a flexible schedule, which allows very poor children, who have to work, to attend classes at times appropriate for them. The lessons are designed to streamline children back into formal education within three years, which enables them to complete the first education cycle of Ethiopia's formal education system. To meet that goal, Concern provides free education materials, books and school uniforms and pays the teachers' salaries. As a teacher myself, I am happy to work with Concern to reach these children and their teachers.
Experience has shown that the children thrive, not just because they are receiving an education, but because they feel a sense of acceptance and receive recognition from their teachers and peers. In the last nine years (2002-2010), Concern and six partner organizations in three different regions of Ethiopia have established 22 schools where more than 15,000 vulnerable children (50 percent of them girls), who were not able to go to formal schools, have attended the first education cycle, the basis for continuing in Ethiopia's formal schooling system.
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