Retirement – two years on.

• March 2010 – retire – on reflection happy with career, lingering awareness that never fulfilled  desire to work/live abroad again, after 7 years in France in my 30s.

• March 2011 – VSO accept us – placements offered in Rwanda and Ethiopia

• March 2012 – a “full on” working weekend on a 4 day trip with colleagues in Northern Ethiopia

Approaching Adwa

My office, of 11+ 2 had a mission. To travel to Adwa, a town on the Ethiopian/Eritrean border, famed for a battle where, in the late 19th century, the Italian army had a damned good thrashing by locals (not a properly trained army). The resulting victory was of such importance that since then it’s been remembered with an annual National holiday. Not only is Adwa famed for this victory, but also for its landscape where huge volcanic plugs tower menacingly above the arid plateau. The present Prime Minister, who led another rural army against another unwanted ruler 20 years ago, (the Derg), was born here. So, a place of great significance for Ethiopians today with both dramatic landscape and history.

Reaching the school

But we were there to see schools. Our task: to visit “model” Primary schools, rural and urban, then discuss and share good practice with “Quality Assurance” from the 46 sub-regions of Tigray. Just getting to Adwa took five hours in a large but not large enough, four-wheel-drive, with no stops on a good tarmac road. The school visits were the following day.

The Transport

The Transport

Journeys are always a “will we won’t we” make it experience. Heading out to the first school, after two minutes on tarmac, the 50-seater coach started along a dramatic winding gravel road around the base of the mountains to the turn-off.

The turning did not look like the sort of thing you would take a coach down. Judging by the expression on the driver’s face, he shared the same view. I thought we were going to have to get out and walk, but we bumped and crashed our way looking like an alien arrival amongst the local people in their mud and grass tukels.

The Director (in the doorway) and Welcoming Commitee

I just loved the school. Yes it was remote. The nearest shops are in Adwa a 25 mile round trip away on foot. It was Saturday, market day so all along the road were people on foot, off to sell something, maybe a bag of grass.

I could not believe the school. It was the simple plain block built series of classrooms which all the schools are, with a bit of a space in the middle for the morning flag ceremony (equivalent of assembly) which takes place daily outside. But it was the Community Committee, staff and pupils and the pride which shone from them which you could feel.

The Orchard to be

Onions had just been planted in the garden they had made and one day they will reap the benefit of avocados, papaya, and limes from their orchard. There were two cows – I think for milk. Two newly constructed hand pumps provided water – one for the community and one for the school. They’d also dug a well.

The new well

Onion planting season in the garden

The "not big enough" sportsfield mid-mountains

I admired the fact they’d got a sports field, whilst “Quality” told me the spec says it should be bigger. Move that mountain!

Student "Teacher" faces the masses

Student "teacher" in action

Next we saw a lesson. There was a very young woman teaching some sort of maths /geometry. It wasn’t a full class as many of the students were away at market. Despite obvious shyness, she did a great job, then faced numerous questions from the probably intimidating and threatening looking visiting party. It was only after she had finished I found out she wasn’t a teacher, but a year 10, fifteen year old pupil teaching her peers who were finding it hard to keep up. It’s a system called “networking” here. This girl had targets of achievement for all her group, and they would likely achieve them in end of year exams as she knew exactly what they needed extra coaching on.

Proud to show the resources

We saw the resources centre with diagrams, maps, models and paintings – all made by the teachers/community. There is a complete absence of any means of knowing much about the outside world here. No television, books a rarity, so visual aids are one of the very few means of getting pictures and concepts of the outside world.

The Head explains all

The final part was an address by the Headteacher  and Community Committee. I had to smile.  I wouldn’t argue with them!

My boss Alem introduces the committee

The Committee

Seems some just wanna wear hats

They are  a determined looking bunch, who were clearly deadly serious about their commitment. I think back to my PTAs and Governors, what a different picture what a different picture they presented. Also, “interesting headgear” never featured in quite the same way as it does here.

The Chair concludes proceedings

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  1. Nicola Cother

     /  04/04/2012

    Hi Barbara & John. Another fascinating account of daily life in Ethiopia. Your coach trip sounded horrendous and reminded me of coach trip I had around the mountains on Madeira. Glad you got to the school intact. I look forward to hearing about the onions too. Will you go back? One point though – your last bunch of governors never had any ‘interesting headgear’ adorning their fair heads. Maybe that’s what they were missing 🙂 Take care to both of you and look forward to the next post. Nicki.x

    • Hi Nicki
      Good to see you’re following us Nicki – yes, fun and games here. If you see Cathy or anyone else from “t’committees” mention the headgear won’t you! Yes, quite keen to go back to the school – thought maybe in the rainy season – might be good to see the well filling up and the onions growing, but do I fancy doing that route when it’s a wet slippery track? I don’t think so! Hope all is well with you and yours. Barbara x

  2. Lesley Jones

     /  24/04/2012

    Well Barbara and John,it has been a long time since I made a comment or even emailed you as we too have been travelling although in greater comfort I think than you!
    I have now caught up with your blog and am struck by how happy and fulfilled you seem. Isn’t it wonderful how when one door closes (or is closed by you) that another perhaps even better one opens up! The school visit sounded fascinating. Maybe networking by our pupils would work, I guess we did do a little with the Yr 6 helping the Yr Rs sometimes.
    I definitely think school governors should be given a hat when they take on the job! Much more colourful and interesting!
    Had a wonderful time in NZ, Oz and Dubai, will email you soon. Off to do supply for Yr3/4 in a minute! Managing to keep my hand in!
    Love to both of you. Lesley

  3. Hi Lesley – Yes, life here is fascinating and we’re enjoying it. Hope to hear more about your trip soon as well. Did you blog?!!


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