One of TeamKinetic’s founding Directors, Chris, has joined the School Under the Tree to explore future voluntary opportunities in Awasa, Southern Ethiopia. In his latest blog, Chris shares his experiences and what he has learnt so far.
Over to you Chris…
Hello from afar!
In my last blog, I set the scene and expressed how we wanted to identify opportunities to develop this small and underprivileged town with a sustainable funding model for its school.
So as I reach the halfway point of this amazing experience, I wanted to reflect on what I have seen and learnt as a volunteer. I also want to ask you for your thoughts on how we make our projects more sustainable and resilient.
Day 2 – A Bumpy Arrival
After the 11 hours of flying, and 5 of the scariest hours of my life driving, our guide dropped us at our first hotel. Tired and a little travel sick from the journey we settled in for a few beers before calling it a night.
To welcome us into Awassa was Belay, the founder of The School Under The Tree and its head teacher. It didn’t take long before we started discussing the challenges the school is facing, and how with little funding, time or resources they have been coping.
We quickly got into discussing the many issues the school faced, and much like the English primary schools I’m more used to working with, it had neither the money or time to solve many of the problems. Despite being thousands of miles away, Belay was describing the same fundamental issues of many British Primary School.
It also became clear Belay was wary of the four strangers from England, promising him the world. But once we began sharing our past experience in Schools, mine teaching PE, we started to build a level of trust. One of the most important lessons from this trip has been the building of trust and relationships. If we want to make this project a success, then we need nurture our relationships with the locals. In the evening we said our goodnight to Belay and our guide, settling in for a decent night sleep.
Day 3 – Just a little disruption
I was woken at 5:50 am by the crowing of a Cockerell, which I am convinced was positioned on my window ledge he was that loud! We convened at breakfast to plan our day.We convened at breakfast, making our plans for the day. It was far from the usual two pieces of toast and jam in the UK, but that’s not to say it didn’t do the trick.
There was a mix of nerves and excitement to start our volunteering at the school, we did not know what to expect or how we would be welcomed. But what a welcome it was – excited, giddy, full of smiles and fun. The children were just as curious as those in the UK, and with many of them not having seen an Englishman you can imagine the amusement. Unfortunately, the school facilities were unlike any I had taught before. The school had just one toilet, a description I would use loosely and is without a playground or books. Instead, the school relies on enthusiasm and a desire to learn.
It became clear that we were going to be a bit of a distraction, I suppose if are going to be, you might as well make the most of it. So Wayne, one of my group’s volunteers, began leading a rendition of Heads, Shoulders, Knees & Toes and so it began.
After lunch we sat down with Belay and picked up where we had left off the night before, discussing the issues he faced. Together we identified the following challenges the small private school faces in delivering an education to the very poorest children in the area:
- There are far more children than spaces available in the school.
- Property values in Awassa are seeing a significant increase under the pressure of urbanisation making rent very expensive.
- The school is fully dependent upon charitable donations.
- The local tax regime treats private school as any other business and the corporate tax on income is high and treats charitable donations as part of their income.
- Children who graduate from the school can access free government school places at Grade 1 but many don’t seem to do this and right now we don’t know why that is.
I would love to speak to other organisations or individuals who have experience of working in Africa and Ethiopia who might be able to share their experiences with regards to these issues.
Our solution is to develop a volunteer tourism service for students. We want to recruit up to 20 students in 2019 to visit Awassa for two weeks and work at the school and orphanage as teachers and youth workers. We would train and support the students prior to visiting Ethiopia and they would help promote the charity to their friends and family.
I can say this experience has been truly amazing and has altered my perception of Ethiopia and Africa so much. As a relatively cynical 39-year-old businessman, I have found myself moved to tears by some of the wonderful stories I have heard this week. I think anyone who visited this amazing place would go home a more humble person.
This is our first venture into this type of activity and we are driven to succeed, The School Under the Tree deserves to succeed. I would love to hear peoples thoughts on using charity tourism to help fund this project, and your experiences of the dangers and un-foreseen impacts volunteer tourism can create.
Please feel free to reach out to me: email@example.com