Probably the most remarkable thing about Ethiopian children is that despite all the hardships they suffer, they always wear the most wonderful warm smile.
For most in Ethiopia, to be rich is to have a large family and wealth is measured by the number of children. Fuelled further by the lack of eduaction and religious beliefs, most couples do not practice birth control (less than 8%) and as a result it’s not unusual to see families with 10 or more children.
The average age in Ethiopia is a mere 17 compared to 39 in Europe. Most children are destined to a life supporting their family with no chance of going to school to get an education. Older boys look after the family’s cattle whilst the girls help with the other children, or with household chores ,preparing meals or fetching water from wells, a task that often takes up several hours each day.
Recent Government legislation has enforced primary schooling for children, legislating that at least one child per family attend school. In most families it will only ever be one child who gets the chance of an education and with it the tools to fight their way to a better future.
Despite their individual hardships, the students that are accepted onto the eef scholarship programme are achieving fantastic results with many achieving grades above 90% (some of them above 95%!). Without our programme none of them would be able to continue their education after grade 8 (aged 13).
Many of our students are orphans or separated from their parents by poverty and living on the streets. Those that have made it to school often work 6-7 hours a day 7 days a week to earn a small amount of money to buy food.
What all our students share is an unbreakable desire to learn and a drive to succeed and change their lives for the better.
The following are the stories of 4 of our students written in their own words and told anonymously to protect their privacy.
I used to live in the countryside in the north of Ethiopia with my parents and 6 brothers and sisters. My family was reliant on farming. We used traditional methods, hence day to day life was hard and the rewards for our efforts were little. My parents are illiterate. Despite the fact that my brothers and sisters were interested in learning, I was the only one allowed to go to school. My school was about one hour walk away from my home and I enjoyed walking there each morning. We were taught in classes of 80 children for 4 hours a day, we didn’t have any benches to sit on and we didn’t have many books to read but I always enjoyed school and I was a good student. The school near my village is a primary school – up to grade 8. I knew that if I wanted to continue with my education after grade 8, I would have to leave my family and move to a big city.
Just before I turned 13, I decided to move to Addis Ababa in order to find a school where I could continue with my education. As I didn’t know anyone there I had to find somewhere to live and I needed to find work to be able to buy food. I found myself a government school as well as a job as a kitchen porter in a restaurant.
Each day at 4pm, straight after school I started working. I didn’t get paid any money but I got some food and shelter for the night. At 1am after work, a little van used to pick me and my friends up from the restaurant to bring us into a compound where I shared a room with 8 of them. The room had no electricity and we all had to sleep on the floor. At 7 am I got up each day to walk to the school which started at 8.30.
Now I have a little room with a bed and a desk to study. I do not have to work anymore to get food and instead I can concentrate on my studies.
I never knew my parents. They died when I was 2 months old. I was brought up by my grandmother who was a well-respected woman in our community. She worked hard selling items in the market each day. My grandfather had died and the only other member of our family that was left was my aunt. My grandmother was not a very emotional person. She was quite cold on the outside but she helped me with everything, including my schoolwork as she wanted me to do well in life.
One day she became ill and she could not run her business anymore. She decided that we would move to the countryside to find a cheaper living. It wasn’t much cheaper to live in the countryside but my grandmother started to work as a cleaner each day after the market in order to earn a bit more money.
A few years later she became quite ill and she couldn’t look after me anymore. So I moved again, this time back to Addis Ababa to live with my aunt who was now married. After a short while I learned that my grandmother had died and I was very sad. My life was at the time quite safe but there was not much happiness.
In 2004 my uncle died and I am now left with only my aunt who has no children of her own. She loves me very much and we survive on USD 20 per month. My education is very important and I am working very hard to be a good student and to become a doctor one day.
My parents divorced when I was 5 years old. My father left us and I have never heard from him again. A few years later also my mother left and made me stay with my grandmother. Each day I dream that one day my parents will come back and that the family will reunite, but it doesn’t happen.
I still live with my grandmother and two of my uncles. My uncles smoke a lot and they drink and there is not much happiness in my life. But I am a very good student and I study each free minute of the day so one day I will be able to go to university and lead a better life.
I have 8 brothers and sisters, four of them live with my mother in the countryside in Northern Ethiopia. Two of them live with my grand parents and the other two live with an uncle outside Addis Ababa. The family split because my parents could not afford to feed all the children anymore. I live with my father in Addis but I haven’t seen my mother or my brothers and sisters in over 3 years.
My father is a good man. He has 3 jobs so that he can earn enough to be able to send some money home each year. We live in our uncle’s house. My uncle also has a shop and my job is to sleep in the shop at night in order to guard it. I sleep on the floor but sometimes there is electricity so that I can study at night.