He is just six-years-old but Muressa Muhammedhussein can count to one hundred and cite the entire English alphabet from A to Z.

Just one month ago, he was completely illiterate. This September, he will be clamoring to come to school.

At least that’s the plan.

In the districts of Dello Mena and Meda Welabu, teachers and school principals struggle to recruit kids to attend Grade 1 each year. Of those who attend their first year of school, a staggering 23 per cent drop out because they are simply unprepared to sit through class.

A crowded group of Ethiopian school children in an open air classroom

Children would cram into Seffo’s “dass” open-air school


As a result, there are more than 12,437 kids between the ages of four and six who aren’t attending Grade 1.

The biggest obstacle to enrollment is a lack of awareness; mostly illiterate themselves, parents often don’t understand the benefits of education.

Why should I send my kids to school if they can help me in the fields? Who will watch my cattle? Collect our firewood? Fetch the water?

Fortunately, the staff at imagine1day discovered a secret weapon that helped us recruit 6,348 new students for this September in the past four months alone: teenagers.

At least most of them are teenagers; some, like Arafat Abdulrauf, are just 12-years-old.

“We want to see these kids go to school next year. We want to make it easy for the teachers when they join Grade 1. They are our sisters and brothers and we want to support them,” he says.

In March, Arafat was one of 412 top Grade 5 students from the districts of Dello Mena and Meda Welabu to receive a small chalkboard from imagine1day. In exchange, our request was simple: gather up your younger siblings and neighbours, find some shade and share your knowledge.

It’s called Child-to-Child Networking, and so far, the results are astonishing.

In the town of Sontikera, Arafat and his fellow student-teacher, Sibiray Jemal, stand under a mango tree each Monday through Friday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. Together, they teach kids aged four to seven-years-old basic ethics, how to read the alphabet, and how to count.

Sontikera’s Child-to-Child Networking supervisor, Kabtimer Kumsa, is convinced this program will make Grade 1 recruitment a breeze. “The teachers like it because collecting children from parents was very difficult before. Now getting kids to school will be much easier.”

“Before two months, the parents and children were hesitant. Now that it is started, they are happy to come here,” he says.

“We [used to] collect children door-to-door. Now we have seven different Child-to-Child Networking sites. So now, instead of going door-to-door the children from Child-to-Child Networking will come.”

The town of Sontikera is just one example amongst many. There are a total of 6,348 students from 83 communities participating in Child-to-Child Networking classes—and this is just the beginning.

We hope to expand our Child-to-Child Networking this fall, either with more training for our student-teachers, or with more chalk boards.

For fathers like Tayib Adam, these afternoon lessons under a mango tree are setting the foundation for his two sons’ futures.

“Before they didn’t know any letter now they say every letter. Before they could not say any number now they can say every number. I hope for my children’s future; maybe they will become doctors or engineers,” he says.