15th February 2019
For most of us travelling is, at the very least, thought-provoking and inspiring, but for some, it can be the catapult that sets them on an unexpected path.
The latter is definitely the case for Wild Frontiers frequent traveller, Sue Eland, whose African adventure propelled her out of an easy retirement and headlong into building a school, that will educate up to 500 children, in northern Ethiopia.
Sue travelled with Wild Frontiers to on the Ethiopia: Northern Explorer tour for the first time back in 2012. While in the highlands, through the contacts and friends of our tour leader Dario, the group had the opportunity to meet members of communities and students at village schools.
With Sue’s extensive background in education, including years spent as a head teacher and school improvement advisor in the UK, the limited education and school facilities didn’t escape her attention.
With an idea of building a school niggling away at her for a number of years, and sensing the desperate need in rural Ethiopia, Sue decided it was the right time and place to pursue the dream.
Returning to Ethiopia on several occasions, talking to local people and meeting with a well-informed ex-pat who had worked on similar projects, Sue realised it was an uphill battle to go it alone and contacted a UK based charity called Link Ethiopia.
‘It was a eureka moment’, Sue enthused.
Partnering with Link Ethiopia drove the project forward. With their knowledge, contacts on the ground and within the Ethiopian education department, the project was becoming a reality.
Together they have big plans.
‘Selecting the village in which to develop the school was not easy’, Sue said. Working with Link Ethiopia and looking at the need across different regions, the decision was whittled down to four locations around the northern town of Gondar.
In June last year, six years after the initial idea, Sue and representatives of Link Ethiopia spent five days visiting the villages, looking at facilities and talking to elders and members of the communities.
‘It was an unbelievable trip. Everyone was so enthusiastic and full of life. It was overwhelming and very humbling.’
After much deliberation, they decided on a location in the village of Gendit, where two previously sponsored concrete classrooms stood accommodating over 50 kids in each class.
Determined to make it work, the plan is to develop the site to give up to 500 children, from seven villages around the area, the opportunity to attend primary school.
‘Without an education, the future of many, particularly the girls, would be household duties. Or worse, they are left vulnerable to forced marriage or even trafficking.’
Sue is so passionate about the project that she has invested a significant amount of her own money.
She knows it is a risk.
She is all too familiar with that after another project she got involved with in Kenya some years ago turned out to be a scam.
The hope of offering young people a good footing in primary school, that will inspire and enable them to go into secondary education far outweighs the risk for Sue.
This was another factor in her decision to develop the school in Gendit as there is a secondary school in a nearby village, about a mile away.
‘Following their primary education, the students will have the opportunity to carry on into secondary school without having to travel miles,’ Sue explained.
Working together, Sue and Link Ethiopia have the funding in place for refurbishing the existing two breeze block classrooms, building six new classrooms, a toilet block, a staffroom and library. The Ethiopia Education Department has also committed to paying the teachers’ wages.
But the plans don’t stop there, Sue is looking to raise a further £50,000, which will enable the three-year plan to include additional classrooms and a science laboratory. She is also keen to develop outdoor classrooms, teaching the children how to grow crops and learn about animal welfare.
The ultimate ambition is to create a model that other future schools can be built on.
‘One of the village elders in his forties told me that if I were to build to a school there, he would come back to learn how to read and write’, she tells us with a smile.
It’s clear to see how passionate and determined Sue is about this undeniably challenging project.
At the end of February, Sue will be back in Ethiopia for a laying of the stone ceremony which will officially launch the project.
As Sue says, it’s a team effort, and the more awareness garnered and the more people willing to help, her goal of building bright futures for the children of Gendit will no doubt be reached.
We’re excited to keep up with the school’s progress and endeavour to support Sue where we can.
You can read more about Sue, Ethiopia Link and their plans at Building Futures Ethiopia.
If you would like to help this grassroots education project, you can donate HERE.