Semere Iqubay has never flown in an airplane. Indeed, the last time he saw a plane, he was four years old. His remote village sits near the border of Ethiopia and Eritrea where a no-fly zone has been in place due to simmering tensions between the neighboring countries.

Yet Semere, now 16, dreams of being a pilot.

imagine1day is building a brand new school in Semere’s village, to extend the existing education opportunities from Grade 5 to Grade 8, so children won’t have to walk 20 kilometres a day to continue learning. We imagine that one day, dreams of being a pilot can become a reality.

Far away from Semere’s village lies Mount Entoto. Atop this mountain a dream even more ambitious has come to life. Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world, has opened its first space observatory.

Ethiopia's new space observatory on Mount Entoto, Addis Ababa.

Ethiopia’s new space observatory on Mount Entoto, Addis Ababa.

It’s a remarkable – and surprising – feat to see Ethiopia join the ranks of 70 countries with a space program. On the surface, it’s a challenge to reconcile the two worlds within one country: A school made of sticks and a shiny new space observatory.

But looking deeper, you can see the truly exciting opportunity. The Ethiopia of previous decades – of famine and disease – is fading. No longer is this about aid to help people merely survive. Now, this is about investing in people and unlocking incredible possibilities.

“They call us crazy because they think we’re [only] exploring outer space and gazing at the stars. But they can’t see the bigger picture[i],” says Abinet Ezra of the Ethiopian Space Science Society, which owns the privately-funded $3 million observatory.

Space research, you see, is not just about searching for aliens or landing on the moon.

“We are using space applications in everyday activities, for mobile phones, weather – space applications are fundamental,” said Kelali Adhana[ii], the International Astronomical Union Chief for East Africa, which is based in Ethiopia. “We cannot postpone it, otherwise we allow ourselves to live in poverty.”

Through space technologies, Ethiopia can:

  • identify early warning signs for natural disasters and droughts and subsequently limit their impact
  • provide farmers with a better understanding of agriculture techniques and allow them to manage their water more efficiently
  • utilise satellite imagery assists with construction projects, like the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
  • end the brain drain and provide employment opportunities for talented Ethiopians who study astronomy and related fields

“Science is part of any development cycle. Without science and technology, nothing can be achieved,” Mr Ezra. “Our main priority is to inspire the young generation to be involved in science and technology.”

Back in Semere’s remote Ethiopian community, he and his classmates are jostling for space on the dirt floor of his cramped classroom. We know that a new school will be a beacon of hope for this rural community. Just as this observatory is a beacon for the future of Ethiopia.

Indeed, that is why we working to ensure quality education in Ethiopia. It is within our grasp for this to be the last generation in living poverty. One day, Sereme could be flying the skies and his classmates exploring the stars. That is something truly special.

[i] The Guardian

[ii] Science Alert