Faculty, Global Learning

Building New School in Ethiopia

This is the path the students had to walk to get to school each day.

I have long believed that it is not enough to travel and observe. Instead, I make sure to contribute to the place and people I have come to visit. Last fall, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to Ethiopia and stay for eight weeks as part of The Northwest School’s faculty sabbatical program.

Choosing Ethiopia as my sabbatical destination was influenced by one of Northwest’s philosophical values: “The development of a sense of responsibility for the immediate environment and concern for the larger community are fundamental to the education of responsible citizens.”

That value helped drive me to Ethiopia, where I performed a maintenance audit on the International Leadership Academy of Ethiopia (ILAE) in Addis Abbas, a school founded by NWS co-founder Ellen Taussig. Originally, Ellen and I thought we could utilize my bricklaying and masonry skills to do repairs on the school building and also do a complete facilities audit, similar to one we had just completed for Northwest. On closer inspection, however, I discovered I could help in another capacity with some structural problems in the building. This will be an ongoing project that will further enhance the relationship between ILAE and Hope University, the campus that provides ILAE the classroom space.

So that is why I originally went over to Ethiopia. But as we all know in life, what we originally set out to do is not necessarily what we end up doing. While visiting the Hudad, an area in the mountains outside of Lalibela, I came upon a chance meeting one morning with a group of farmers. They were celebrating the recent commission of land from the Ethiopian government to build a new school (school's location pictured below). The only problem was that they had no way to build the school.

Current children who live on the Hudad have to walk to their nearest school down a steep ravine, usually in bare feet, for one to two hours each way. Their daily walk is a long and arduous hike, even after taking the short cuts across the hills. It’s like hiking up and over Queen Anne hill in Seattle ten times after it gets dug up with a back hoe

I learned of a group of Australians who had the same thought as mine: Why don’t we just build the school? From there, the project grew. The folks from “down under” got an architect to donate his time to design the school house. Also, they were able to secure NGO status for the project, making it possible for us to operate in Ethiopia. Currently, in spring 2016, there are two people at the site, working to bring water across the mountain so that we have the capability of mixing concrete and mortar for laying bricks.

We are planning on putting solar panels on the school to give the students electricity (no one up on the Hudad has this). We are going to put in a garden to grow food for the school and the community as a whole. We are bringing in experts to formulate a plan to attempt to reforest the area. Due to the extreme poverty level, much of the forest has been cut down for wood to cook with. In all of these ways, the project will benefit more than just the young students; it will be a sustainable benefit to the entire community.

My wife and I have put six children through schools in Calcutta. For us, education is always our focus on how to make an impact. In this case, I knew I could directly change the circumstances of those less fortunate than myself.

Of course, the project at ILAE is still very much on the front burner for me, and I have much to do there. The project up on the Hudad, however, is just one more step in developing “responsible citizens” and furthering the philosophy, spirit, and values of The Northwest School in every small way we can.

This is a video of the locals celebrating with Bob after he announced he would help build a school.