Editor’s note: a group of ONEMoms are in Ethiopia, and we will be running updates from them daily. Here’s the first installment. Read more here.
I need to go back to Tuesday. Wait, was it Tuesday? It’s now early Friday here, but it’s getting hard to keep track of days and events as each day feels like a month. So many people, so many stories, so many emotions. So many gorgeous, warm people. So many holes in the ground to pee into. And such maddening little Wifi to keep up with it all.
Tuesday we visited the Mojo Primary and Secondary school, and if that’s not the best name for a school ever, I don’t know what is.
What’s amazing about here–about everywhere, from government officials to farmer children–is just how warmly we are greeted. And it’s not just because it’s ONE. It’s because it’s a culture of incredible graciousness and respect, especially for foreigners. We drive down streets that are barely streets in our rickety bus (bless you, Sea Bands and Saltines) and children just run out into the road, taking a break from herding cattle or carrying grain on their heads. They wave, they smile, they jump up and down.
And all we are is some big bus filled with women, passing through on our way from somewhere to somewhere else, tossing up dirt dust into the air.
So imagine when we’re actually invited guests, as we were at the school.
There’s this remarkable and strange formality of presentations, as we’ve learned. One administrator will introduce “his excellency the director” and proceed to tell is in great detail complete with 68 PowerPoint slides, five years worth of quantifiable improvements since receiving a $33,000 foreign aid grant.
Do you know how far that would go in a NYC school? Not that we can’t use it. But it’s hardly years worth of unbelievable successes.
Here at Mojo, over a five year period, it meant a library, computers, private latrines for the girls and teachers (evidently a shared latrine is one of the biggest reasons girls skip school, especially during their periods). It means significantly more teachers, more programs, and expansion of the school from 600 to 4,000 students. It means a science lab that the teacher was so proud of, he kept rushing out the door after we left to show us more experiments. Look, this one is solar power! Here is a circuit board!
Most of all, the grant it means improvement for which they are very accountable; a change from 60% of seniors passing the exit exams, to a full 90%. In just 5 years. You can’t even imagine how that delivers on thousands of parents’ dreams for their children that many never thought possible.
While the statistics are, with good reason, what the administrators are proud of, it’s the children–the joyful, amazing, energetic children–that demonstrated to us in the most basic way, that things are going well thanks to grants from the US.
These are kids who may walk miles to get to school each day. Even the five-year-olds. By themselves. (Hear that, helicopter moms?) They spend their days their happily and eager to learn. The sounds of kids repeating after teachers or singing from inside their classrooms, joyous voices echoing through the walkways between buildings put a lump in all of our throats. It’s the same sound–here, in the US, everywhere.
I found myself missing my own girls terribly. I kept thinking, “oh this one in the green dress and Thalia would totally be friends…I know Sage would love playing with that boy the Spiderman shirt.”
We heard kindergarteners sing a song about the five senses, and watched high school kids take on (and sometimes miss) geometry questions. If you closed your eyes (and had the lessons not been taught with strong Amharic accents) you wouldn’t have seen the peeling paint or the rickety desks or the flies swarming around the windowsills. You’d have just heard something that sounded a lot like home.
“Amma, do you know the answer to this equation?”
“A over B times C squared?”
“Is your name Amma?”
Of all of it however, I think the image burnt in my mind forever is saying goodbye. Literally hundreds of small children swarmed us, grabbing our hands to shake them or kiss them, stroking our hair, stroking our arms, shouting CIAO! Or THANK YOU! Or even I LOVE YOU!
So many children, I couldn’t see my way out of the crowd. So many children the who wanted a touch or a word or some acknowledgment from these visitors, the teachers had to physically push us through the throngs of outstretched palms and small wiggling fingers or we might never be able to leave.
These are the healthy ones. These are the 4,000 kids who are going to make it. But there should be more.
Asha (one of the most beautiful souls on the planet) asked one aid worker today on a different visit what all these children knew of us. He said, they just think you are visitors from America and perhaps you have some money which means good is coming to the community. Whatever it. is.
You can imagine why the tissues always come out the second we all step on the bus to head to our next site visit.
Some of the staff of USAID in Ethiopia were kind enough to have a drink with us this week. It was remarkably enlightening. pointed out that there’s this misperception that foreign aid is some sort of frivolous handout. I learned that it’s really not.
It doesn’t just mean solving some short-time crisis to save people from starving, noble and essential though that is; it means education. Which means skills. Productivity. Exports. Trade partners. Which means stability and security of our fellow UN nations. Which means fewer military investments later.
I’m personally all for that last one.
Also, as they said, it means humanity. We all have it. We don’t want to see people suffer. We are overjoyed to see them thrive and succeed even halfway across the globe. We are overjoyed to see it in their children.
Now think for a minute: if someone were to ask you, “what do are your dreams for your own children?” what would you answer?
We’ve asked many mothers here what they hope for their children. The answer tends to be the same everywhere: food, an education, a position of some stature in the community. As Asha pointed out, no one says, “I want them to be happy.” “I want them to pursue their passions.”
First, they just want them to live past five.
It puts a lot in perspective, doesn’t it.
Written by Liz Gumbinner
Photos from Liz Gumbinner, Karen Walrond