Two years ago, in honor of the late Sharyn Mandel – a lifelong, passionate educator – we opened the doors to the Gobele Sharyn Mandel School in Southern Ethiopia, funded with love by Sharyn’s estate, and donations from family and friends.

Since 2014, enrollment has doubled to 586 students – phenomenal growth thanks to the comfortable classrooms, trained teachers, and a community committed to education.

Sam Beneft and wife Jennifer at the inauguration

Sam and wife Jennifer at the inauguration.

Ballooning class sizes meant that the original stick and mud-constructed classrooms had to be used once again. So Sharyn’s family, led by sons Gabe and Michael Mandel, saw a chance to further support the community they’d adopted in Gobele, and began fundraising for an additional classroom block. They were joined by friend Sam Bennett, whose late mother – businesswoman and philanthropist Jalynn Bennett – passed away in early 2015.

Two women; both dedicated to education and empowering females everywhere. In late September, the vision of an even bigger, brighter school, in honour of Jalynn and Sharyn, became a reality.

The furnished four-classroom block complements the previous classroom block, early childhood education classroom, latrines and playground – along with teacher training and leadership development from imagine1day.

Abshiro Abduselam surrounded by crowds at the Gobele inauguration.

Abshiro Abduselam is staying in school despite her early marriage.

Girls, in particular, are benefiting from Jalynn and Sharyn’s legacy. When imagine1day first approached Gobele, the school had one of the lowest female enrollment rates in the district: just one in three girls were enrolled in school. Today, 75% of Gobele’s girls are enrolled, and the community is championing education and the rights of women and girls.

Abshiro Abduselam is one girl benefiting from the community’s shifting attitudes. Last year, she was married at age 14 – a practice that is, unfortunately, still common in rural Ethiopia. Unlike many girls who marry early, Abshiro stayed in school, thanks to the work of Makida Adem, the local Women’s Affairs Leader. “When we found out that Abshiro got married, we approached her family and made them promise not to force her to stop her study,” she says.

Abshiro enters the sixth grade this year. “Many girls do not think that it is possible for a girl to pursue her education once she gets married,” she says. “I wouldn’t encourage girls to get married as early as I did, but if they do, I think my story encourages other girls not to give up on their education.”

Abshiro doesn’t want her marriage to prevent her from achieving her dreams. Indeed, she is inspired by the stories of Sharyn and Jalynn, saying “I want to become a teacher.”

Read more about the inauguration with Return to Ethiopia: In honour of fierce women, by Sharyn’s daughter-in-law Amanda Burgess.