VSO – “Sharing Skills – Changing Lives”

When you start out doing VSO you feel a bit like an explorer discovering new places, seeing things that few have seen before and some start off wishing to “change the world”. That’s a huge misconception. The truth is that it’s all new for you. Others from numerous walks of life have gone before, whether as volunteers or working for any number of organisations. Since we’ve been here, we’ve met quite a few who’ve been before.
December 5th is “International Volunteers day”, so we were involved with big celebrations throughout the town. In this blog, I’d like to celebrate the work of an ex VSO.
Richard is an Assistant Head teacher from the UK. When he was in his thirties he volunteered with VSO – that was about 12 years ago. He actually worked at my office, the REB, and created an IT network which we still use, hooray. That was the start of a long and continuing relationship with Ethiopia.
One significant project he initiated was the creation of a centre for homeless street children, the “New Day Children’s Centre”. Anyone who has visited Ethiopia will be aware of the poverty and struggle for basic survival. Richard recognised this and as a result established the centre. It’s not a home, nor a school, but gives whole care. Young people, usually homeless or orphans, are supported with shelter, food and education. The staff seek out families who will give bed space to a child, whilst the centre provides 2/3 meals a day and boosts their English by giving supplementary English lessons. Katy, my VSO Education Bureau colleague and office share, whose role is to develop English, has worked on the English teaching program at the centre too.
An important spin-off of the centre is the sense of “community” the children feel by having a family peer group to share their lives and common experiences with. It’s a bit like a home combined with a youth club – and somewhere to find a table and chair to do your homework. It‘s holistic care – there’s a counsellor and medical support too.
The centre is currently located in a couple of houses with tree shaded gardens – and about 500 meters from where we are living now. Rents here have risen, so the plan is to move and build new premises on land allocated by the municipality. Richard took a year out from his assistant head teacher post last year to be in Bahir Dar and be in a better position to move things on. The land has been granted, but there’s still a long way to go. Again the complexities of Ethiopian bureaucracy are holding things up in the final stages.
When we’ve visited we have been really impressed with the quality of care the centre provides and the sense of place and pride in the place the students have. Their English is great too. A challenge is when they leave school and fend for themselves. We came across one of their ex-students quite by chance. Bahir Dar is the Bajaj (tuktuk) capital of Ethiopia. There are hundreds swarming through the streets, driven with varying degrees of safety. After our Bajaj accident in Mekelle we are now quite nervous passengers. One day, when we hadn’t been here long, we hailed a Bajaj randomly in the street and were impressed with how well the driver drove and how pleasant he was. He is now our regular driver. It turned out he is a former “New Day Children’s Centre” student and we are really pleased to give him our custom. His efforts to learn English well and treat foreigners with courtesy paid off.

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We recently attended a special event at the Centre to celebrate the graduation of some of the students (one of them was Abraha the Bajaj driver). It was a delightful evening with food and entertainment provided by the students. One of the girls has a beautiful voice and her unaccompanied singing is haunting and magnificent (see video).
The centre is best described by the students. The website includes some short videos. An introductory one is found through this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=00HuS_kSNM0
Other videos and further information can be seen through the website http://www.ndccethiopia.org.uk/ By the way, the Bajaj driver wearing a red shirt in one of the videos, is Abraha, our driver. Although by then we knew Richard, we’d no idea we were riding in the Centre’s Bajaj!
Of course a centre like this needs support. Our last two sets of visitors have both supported it. One family, with two teenage children, brought a bag of good quality clothes they’d outgrown, which was very well received. Another generously gave a cash donation, through the website.
If anyone would like to donate, the donation would go directly to where it is needed and to a centre we can vouch for. Also, clothes especially for teenagers, are very much appreciated. Clothes donations could be sent to the centre by posting them to our post box which is John Crisp, PO Box 1595, Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.
Happy Christmas Everybody, from Bahir Dar, which is where we’ll be spending our third Christmas in Ethiopia!

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