Monday, August 18, 2014

Emotional Day

I was completely unaware that I had any family in Ethiopia, but I spent a portion of my day today with my oldest “Relative!” Lucy, the famed three million year old fossil of the earliest discovered Hominid is at The National Museum of Ethiopia. Technically Lucy is kept in an air and light free casing in the basement of the museum and I only saw a replica, but I’m alright with that.
Lucy is estimated to be 3.2 million years old and was located in the Awash Valley of Ethiopia in 1974. There are a number of incredible artifacts at The National Museum of Ethiopia and the lack of funds to keep them protected as they deserve is quite saddening. Any type of casing is only present to keep people out of reach of the items, not for proper preservation. The relics of Haile Selasse and Menelik are covered with dust and visibly deteriorating far too quickly! I was slightly depressed after leaving the main area of the museum, only to receive a great pick-me-up as I was lucky enough to be there for the last day of the "Rastafari: The Majesty & The Movement" exhibit. I could never receive a good answer as to why, but for whatever reason there were no pictures allowed in the exhibit. Interestingly enough, the "No Pictures" rule at the rastafari exhibit was by far the  most strictly enforced rule I have encountered during my entire stay in Ethiopia... 
Habesha people don't smile in pictures
My "Guide" on this day was Yohana, a beautiful young lady that teaches during the day and works at my guesthouse at night. After the museum I she asked me if I wanted to go to the school where she teaches at, I was in for more than a tour! 

March 8 is located in Bole Sub-City of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It is a government-funded school that houses roughly 900 students in Pre-school through 8th grade.  This day ended up being special, it was the end of the year celebration; this includes a kindergarten “graduation” and the passing out of report cards. The report cards, much like in the United States, are signed by respective teachers, district officials and principals. Lacking computer databases and informational support outside of the school itself,  the report card must be produced in order to proceed to the next grade. Since classes are not homogenous in age (they have a crazy idea that students should progress with their abilities, not arbitrarily based on birthday...) the need for physical proof of grade completion holds increased importance. When I was told I would get to hand out the report cards to her class of fourth grade students and their parents I was quite excited... but then...
Kindergarten, or "KG" graduation!
A difference between our system and theirs soon revealed itself. A report card at March 8 actually costs families 150birr (just over $7) to receive. That day in a fourth grade class of 38 students, three families were able to produce what is visually a prohibitive cost in order to receive their child’s ticket to scholastic progression.

The reason for this cost, as with many others, i.e. uniforms, materials, Xeroxed copies of lesson books that are handed down to the point of tatters (only to receive a possible fine for poor condition upon return) is due to trying to make ends meet without sufficient government funding.

The plot again thickened when I found out that in a school of roughly 900 there are around 40 "High need" students that are identified by the staff. The staff then writes fundraising or “sponsorship” letters to local eateries in the attempts to subsidize the cost of food for those in need. The teachers pool their money together in order to provide breakfast and lunch. The combined cost on a daily basis for these students is 15birr. I wish to stress that I use the term “high need” here relative to a student’s peer group. Simply put, these are students that cannot obtain food. There isn’t a cafeteria at March 8 and that may actually make it easier to identify those that do not show up with anything on a daily basis. However, these aren’t the only students that have trouble providing nutrition for themselves, these are the most-vulnerable of a population that is by all metrics, impoverished. Without the personal assistance of teachers who themselves make roughly $110 a month, these children would starve.  

On a much, much lighter note; we decided to make some coffee upon return to the guesthouse and for the first time, I TOOK THE REINS! 
Working the Jebina


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