Andinet School AidCamp

Ethiopia - February 2016

This report was written by a returning volunteer, Katherine D. Katherine left a gap of just over ten years between projects and this is her account of what she thought of AidCamps on her return and what participating in our first project in Ethiopia was like for her.

"I did my first AidCamp in Nepal in 2005. We were building a school, and mine was the second group, so we finished it, and had an opening ceremony. We had trips to see temples and elephants, and the whole experience was wonderful.

I did my second AidCamp this year (2016) over a decade later. So what took me so long? Well, I got involved in other projects, with other people, doing arts for peace in Sierra Leone, Haiti, Somalia, and Nagorno Karabakh, so for a while I seemed to be collecting conflict zones. I kept an eye on AidCamps, but for some reason nothing quite grabbed me. Then last year the website said Ethiopia. Abyssinia! I had been so close in Somalia – which has not got the amazing history and culture; I decided to go for it.

This was AidCamps' first project in Ethiopia, and our partner charity was Link Ethiopia, who have a number of schools in the district, near Gondar, and also sponsor individual children, as well as starting mobile libraries, taking books to remote villages by donkey. We were providing a new classroom block for an existing school, some of whose buildings had become unusable. When we arrived the basic structure was there – wattle and daub walls and a roof. We were to do the floors and all the painting, while the builders rendered the walls and did the ceilings, made of suspended cloth. The project turned out in some ways to be tougher than I had anticipated. Camping – not student accommodation like Nepal; squat loo – my ageing knees did not take to it! The heavy work of making the floors – shifting soil and rocks (my most memorable Amharic word is kabad – heavy) – went on into the second week, and I am 10 years older than I was in Nepal (and was by no means the oldest in the group). So I think we all found it exhausting, but it was great fun.

The company – just 8 of us – was great; the children were initially shy but always delightful; the adults – builders, staff and villagers - very friendly and hospitable. We had lots of coffee ceremonies – coffee washed, roasted and ground; popcorn; a large flat loaf of bread; 12 little cups; incense burning; 3 rounds of coffee. We also enjoyed the many local birds, especially pretty, sparrow-like cordons bleus, who ate the ants round our tents.
The project was very worthwhile, and now we have pictures of the classrooms in use – and there's my friend Teodorus (who had the wit to identify me as ‘Katerina' and hence remembered my name) still in school at 13. Without the new classrooms he, and many others, may well have left education this year.

Ethiopia is fascinating, with amazing landscapes, and long, long history. Having been in Somalia, I was surprised how green it was, with thriving crops and lovely trees, and water in some of the rivers, even in the dry season. And it has lots of historic buildings – castles, churches and monasteries – some of which we visited in Gondar.

Our weekend trips were to the Simien Mountains and Lake Tana, source of the Blue Nile. In the mountains the vistas were amazing, with almost hidden valleys, and seemingly inaccessible villages, just visible. Our guide Emanuel told me, rather matter-of-factly, ‘You can only get there on foot, and in some places they use ladders to climb the cliffs'. No access for Link Ethiopia's donkey libraries there!

Lake Tana gave us a boat trip to a monastery, where a young boy sat painting angel faces on bark, with next to him a display of the plants his pigments were made from.

Back at the camp, I was very happy with my tent, but disliked my camp bed so much I bought a mattress in the market. One of the group at the same time bought a wheel, and the chaps set to and made a wheelbarrow to carry our water containers. The water pump was close to the school and attracted a continuous procession of villagers throughout the day, most of whom carried their water containers (20-25kg) on their shoulders. When we left, someone in the village was delighted with the mattress, and the wheelbarrow was left at the school.

Our school, who we were building the classrooms for, and on whose land we were camping, was next door to St George's school, where we had our meals. This was set up and funded by an independent school in London, and was run on the same lines, but was for children from the most deprived families, providing everything for them, including their (very English) uniform and two meals a day. Some families had children at both schools. Although it was tempting to attribute the sort of rivalry and resentment that might arise in a similar situation here, I saw no sign of either. They had a sports day, with a football match, which St George's won – not surprisingly, as they had trainers on their feet, not flip flops! - but again I detected no ill-feeling, even though we felt it on their behalf.

The other memorable feature of the trip, for me, was the moon. For our first couple of nights there was no moon; it was very dark and we enjoyed the stars, but on the first night, needing to venture from my tent across to the far side of the field to the toilet, I was anxious - my torch was bright, but its range was small. Was I going in the right direction? would I trip over a rock? what might I meet on the way? After two or three days a new moon appeared. Each evening it, of course, got a little bigger, so that quite soon there was no need for a torch at night, and just before we left it was full. I don't think I have ever been so conscious of observing a moon cycle night by night before, and it was quietly thrilling.

So would I go again – to Ethiopia? Yes, definitely if I were younger, but there are other places that will take precedence. Another AidCamp? Yes, definitely, and India is a distinct possibility. Should you go to an AidCamp? Yes you should. You will not regret it."


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