A great reason to smile

A great reason to smile

Kendahaw has the type of smile that is truly genuine. He poses for photos, but he never forces a smiles. It just comes naturally. Perhaps for a good reason, because life has changed dramatically for the 12-year-old in the past year.

Nine months ago, Kendahaw spent his days tending to the family cattle. He had never been to school and never had much of an opportunity to gain a proper education.

His Belago community was a neglected outpost for education. The satellite school featured just two classrooms for Grades 1 and 2. When our Community Development Officer visited, he described a scene that no child should experience at school: “They learn in very dirty classrooms and lack much needed facilities and supplies. The two classrooms that do exist currently are make-shift open air structures. There are no desks or other educational materials available and the children are left fighting for space on a dirt floor or wooden logs.”

For the children that completed Grade 2 – children as young as nine – they then faced a 12-kilometer round trip each day to the nearest school that offered Grade 3 and above.

Children running outside Belago School.
Children running outside Belago School.

The reality is that many children did not bother with education at all.

In November that all changed. We opened a brand new school, with classrooms for early childhood education up to Grade 4. We built latrines, equipped the school with furniture and supplies, and constructed a playground.

We commenced training for teachers, so they could better engage their students. We provided leadership training for community members, so they inspire their neighbors to value, support and take advantage of their new school.

There are now 230 children enrolled in Grades 1-4 in Belago – an increase of 85 in just nine months. And since the school opened, not a single child has dropped out – in a country where 22% of students drop out after just a year of school.

Kendahaw is one of those new students to enroll.

“I am very happy that I am now in school,” he says, with his trademark smile. “I want to grow up and become a teacher.”

***

The Belago School is about so much more than building walls and providing books. It is the tale of a community coming together to map out a new future.

At imagine1day, we don’t do handouts: so we told the community they need to have their own skin in the game to partner with us. We set them a target to raise at least 10% of the construction costs.

And they did.

The community donated land and money for school income-generating activities.
The community donated land and money for school income-generating activities

It was 15 farmers who first stepped up, donating 2.6 hectares of land so the school had a home. The community then bandied together, raising over US$9600 for construction, along with income-generating activities that will allow the school to thrive sustainably for generations.

These are impressive sums for this remote community. They showed commitment, and together with support from our donors, the school could be a reality.

For Amarech Teka, a single mother of four daughters, it was less about the money raised, but the changing attitudes.

“The community’s awareness of the importance of education is growing. The community giving away its farmland to the school is a good example of that.”

Until the new Belago School opened, Amarech was worried. She worried for her daughters’ safety taking a 12-kilometer round trip to school each day, and she worried about her ability to support her four daughters alone, with them away from home so long. With a school now only a short walk away, things have changed.

“I do not want my children to miss out on school as I did.  It’s difficult to raise kids on my own. However, I paid all the prices needed to keep all my children in school.

“I used to be worried about my children going to school in the past. Their attendance was very poor because of the distance. Thanks for this school I am not worried about them missing school anymore.”

Asadi, 8, is one of Amarech's daughters, who now does not have to walk 12 kilometers to school.
Asadi, 8, is one of Amarech’s daughters, who now will not have to walk 12 kilometers to school.

School Director Berhanu Kebede says these stories are not unique. The new school is transformational, encouraging more students like Kendahaw to attend. It offers a much better environment to learn in than the previous school.

“The rooms were very small. There were no proper desks. The class was so crowded which makes it difficult for the teacher to move around the classroom and manage his or her class properly.

“Now, the children are sitting on proper desks,” he says, smiling.

This, he hopes, is only the beginning.

“‘I imagine a day when this school grows to Grade 8 to accommodate the needs of more of the children in the community.”

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