4/28/2011 - This past March I traveled with a team from Elpis International to Awassa, Ethiopia. The purpose of this trip was to get to know the children for whom we are building a school. I wanted to see where they currently attend school and find out their needs. What I learned was so much more. After visiting their current school I had to sit back and take a deep breath. I had to remember where I was and not be critical. I needed to put into context what I saw. Ethiopia is the 12th poorest country in the world! I think the part that struck me the hardest was there were no books to be found. The lesson being taught before I arrived was about reptiles. I know this because information was written in English on a blackboard. It explained how turtles lay eggs on the sand. So I have to wonder, if a child has never seen a turtle, or even a picture of a turtle, how would they ever know what one looks like? Now, imagine trying to learn every subject without pictures, videos, posters, or books to give you visual information. Now imagine learning like this for twelve years. Remember, the literacy rate for Ethiopia is 37%. Now I understand why.
One day I was talking to a group of children. I was showing them a picture on my camera of my mother holding a shark's tooth she had found on the beach in Jacksonville, Florida. The ages of these children ranged from around 5-14. I tried to explain to them what a shark was but to no avail. It was not a language barrier. It was a prior knowledge barrier. They simply have never been exposed to information relating to ocean creatures. All of their learning is memorization.
NOW, imagine taking these children and giving them books. Imagine letting them see videos about nature and all kinds of things. I am taking about really expanding their learning resources. Imagine their potential. Imagine opening up a completely new world to them. These children have never left Awassa. These children would drink up knowledge like water if they were given access to it.
We can do this!!! We can give these children the tools to learn. We can help them reach their potential. We can provide them an education that will help them break their cycle of poverty and continue their studies. We can help these children to be the next leaders of their country.