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Andinet School AidCamp

Ethiopia - February 2018

This was a two-week project at a rural village primary school in Andinet, near Gondar, northern Ethiopia. The project took place between 10-24 February 2018.

The following review was written by Jennie, a returning volunteer to AidCamps. The review is in Jennie's own words and is her personal view on the project and her time in this amazing country.

"Andinet 2018 was my 5th Aidcamp, after Nepal, Tamil Nadu and two in Malawi. This was a two-week project so most of the group, who had already met on Nepal or India Aidcamps, decided to tag on a few days sightseeing at the end, and visit Lalibela and Axum. Ethiopia is a beautiful country, most of it high on a plateau, and the middle weekend spent in the Simien Mountains really helped us appreciate the rugged terrain.

There were eight of us in the group with the excellent co-ordinator, Gillian Wright, making the ninth. We worked with Link Ethiopia to build two extra classrooms for Andinet School near Gondar, adding to the building project of 2016. These two extra classrooms were to enable the school to teach Standard 5 children, to save them a long walk to another school, and encouraging particularly girls to continue their education.

Link Ethiopia twins 86 schools with 100 schools in the UK, and has a staff of eight, six in Gondar and two in the south of the country. They exchange letters with their partnership schools, and run a sponsorship programme.

The first two days a guide showed us round Gondar; the seven castles of the Royal Enclosure , King Fasilidas' baptism pool, and the historic and highly decorated Debre church. This last has a ceiling decorated with faces of angels, with beautiful heart-shaped faces, and we saw many children with these same angelic faces.  Ethiopia seems to have so much cultural and religious history, and without a colonial past to influence or denigrate its development.

On the morning of Monday 12th February we went to Andinet School site in the village of Ayermareffia, (meaning ‘plane landing' in Amharic as it is near the airport). The builders were behindhand with the work as a water shortage meant they had been unable to make the mud daub for the walls. (The water shortage was because the construction of a nearby road cut through the water pipes leaving the village without water).

We camped in the school grounds on camp beds. The school lent us the nursery classroom, and there were cooking facilities and two girls who prepared lunch and dinner. Their education had been sponsored by Link Ethiopia; one had already graduated and worked in a hotel in Gondar, the other was still training. The food they provided was lovely, and we were able to order chilli-free omelettes or pasta (most Ethiopian food seems to contain chilli) and lots of salad. In the evenings we played cards in this classroom under candlelight, and mostly went to bed by 9pm, as we had to rise about 6.30am.

Toilet facilities had been adapted from a hole in the ground. A plastic chair with a hole cut into the seat was cemented on to a bottomless bucket, which was in turn cemented round the hole in the ground.. The hole in the chair could have been a little bigger, and took some careful positioning, but it saved the strain on the knees from squatting.

Water facilities were a bucket of water warmed in a solar shower, in a tented cubicle. All primitive but adequate.

The work was quite heavy, for us geriatrics, either ramming down stone and earth floors, or carrying makeshift stretchers of daub and straw into the classrooms, where the builders chucked it at the walls and smoothed it down. We couldn't carry as much as the builders; they could carry seven shovel–loads, we could only manage three. Ramming was even harder; a six-foot long fence post which had been cemented into a large tin can, was used to ram down the floor. Two of us, in rhythm, held this to ram down the rocks before the next layer was added.

After a morning's work on pancake day, appropriately, we were shown how to make injera, the carbohydrate staple, which is a pancake made from fermented tef flour (a type of rye grass). It is a most unprepossessing colour, sort of grubby dishcloth grey, with a slightly sour taste. We also made coffee which is very important here. As well as being the main export crop, the coffee ceremony is something to offer friends, family and honoured guests. The beans are cooked over a charcoal fire, ground in a mortar with a length of piping, boiled in water, then served in special little handleless cups, with three cups offered; it is polite to have all three. There are added rituals about fresh grass spread on the floor as the spirits are at home in nature, and the cups and kettle are overfilled so there is spillage for the spirits.

Each morning we walked through the village to a café run by the mother of Elsa, the Regional Manager for Link Ethiopia. On the way we met children who go to Andinet School, or the neighbouring school of St George's. The children were very friendly and tried out their English, while we tried out our Amharic. We had learned various greetings, but mostly said ‘Salam' which everyone understood more easily than our tortured attempts at something more complex.

Six days into the project everything stopped. A three-day general strike organised as a political protest halted work. Frustrating for Link Ethiopia and for us, though a day or two spent reading in the shade of eucalyptus trees with interesting cloud formations scudding across the sky compensated me for the frustration.

At the end of the second week we organised a sports session for the school children, devising relay games, which they loved, the sack race proving to be the most popular.

Several of the group contributed towards books and equipment for the school, and towards the donkey library, which is a mobile library lending books to outlying villages.

Because of the water shortage and the strike, the project didn't get finished within the two weeks, but Link Ethiopia and the builders promised to complete the work and send photos to show us."

... You'll be pleased to hear that the local team of builders have since completed the project and Link Ethiopia have shared the photographs of the finished building with us at AidCamps and with our intrepid volunteers. A successful conclusion to another great project!

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