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Education: A way of thinking 100 years ahead


January 30, 2009
- by Dianne Dobbie-Legesse

Debre Zeit, Ethiopia — Yeshi is a seven year old girl who lives in Ethiopia. I first met her mother, Chaltu, out in a field collecting cow dung for fuel. Chaltu was left with two children to raise when her husband suddenly left the family. They live in a one room shack with virtually none of the basic amenities I have taken for granted while growing up in Canada: no flush toilets, no running water, no electricity.

This is a common story around the country. Yeshi had been in a local school for a short time, but she stopped attending because her mother could barely feed and clothe the children, let alone afford the modest fee to attend the government school and buy the needed work books and pencils. If Chaltu is fortunate, she can find some a day’s worth of basic physical labour that earns her about $1.20 CDN. That’s not much in a country where milk costs exactly the same as it does in Canada. When the local International School asked me to recommend someone for a scholarship to attend classes, I took Yeshi, her brother, Melese, and their mother to visit to the school. It was agreed that the children could attend. Four year old Melese qualifies for KG1, the first of two levels of kindergarten in the British system used at this school.

The easy part was the scholarship. But how do they get to a school that is seven kilometres away? How would they get clean clothes to wear, breakfast, and lunch to take along? These were some of the questions we deliberated over as September approached. There really was only one answer: We would have to help.

On the first day of school, they arrived at my door at 6 am! Baths were administered, and clean clothes applied. Next came breakfast, and then lunch boxes. Arrangements were made with a good-hearted neighbour to drive the kids back and forth to school when I had other obligations. After school they would return to our house, clothes changed, lunch boxes washed and prepared for the next day.

It’s important to adjust one’s expectations in other places, cultures, and economic conditions. As an Early Childhood educator for more than fifteen years, I was at first astounded when I handed Yeshi a pair of scissors; she had no idea what to do with them. My three year old had already mastered the skill. I doubt she had ever used crayons or markers before.

Is it worth it? I must say yes! I could see right before my very eyes the great gift of education. When education is not available or unattainable the child suffers, the society suffers and the country suffers. How can a country grow and flourish when even the simplest of teaching is not able to be received?

Just one month into the school year, I was driving the kids to school and Melese burst into song in English… “This is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it…” The best part of this opportunity for the children is that their teachers are Christians. They are prayed for by their teachers and us; seeds are being planted. One day we hope that Yeshi and Melese will have the skills to live well, have food to eat, and maybe a little extra to help the child next door.

There is a Chinese proverb that says something like, “If you are thinking a year ahead, sow a seed. If you are thinking ten years ahead, plant a tree.” But if you are thinking one hundred years ahead, educate the people. By sowing a seed, you will harvest once. By planting a tree, you will harvest tenfold. By educating the people, you will harvest hundredfold.

Dianne Dobbie-Legesse and her husband Fanosie are Mennonite Church Canada Witness workers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Fanoise teaches theology to students in the English diploma and degree programs at Meserete Kristos College. Dianne is a full time parent to their children Zachariah and Lydia, and Guest House Manager at the College, providing hospitality to visitors and guest lecturers. Meserete Kristos Church is the largest Mennonite affiliated church with 156,000 baptized members in a faith community of 316,225 persons. It is growing at a rate of 8% per year.