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Lemlem Baro School 2015-2019

If you want to see the transformation that 4 people and their friends can bring about in a school project, have a look at this film. It was made for the tenth anniversary of Ethiopian Enterprises. You see the results of the transformation of a large public elementary school, including scenes from 8th-grade holiday courses, work in the permagarden, the opening of toilet blocks with innovative rainwater-systems, school prize-giving, etc. Just as you get that good feeling that now all is well, you get to see footage filmed in a neighbouring school just a few weeks ago….

Happy Birthday Ethiopian Enterprises!

Last Thursday evening more than 50 members and friends joined us in the Kulturraum Thalwil for a celebration of EE’s tenth birthday. Following the annual general meeting of EE members, our board members and helpers welcomed numerous guests with drinks and fine finger food. Then there was time for chatting, meeting new people and shopping at our Ethio-Shop. After the apéro, EE president Thomas Baumann and Mehoni School project leader Lesley Stephenson delivered a short overview of the origin and past history of Ethiopian Enterprises. EE’s current project at Lemlem Baro School was then introduced in more detail, illustrated by photos and a short film created by board member André Cardinaux. Lesley then took the opportunity to introduce and thank the EE volunteers present at the event, many of whom have supported our work as helpers and fundraisers for several years: Caroline Barlow, Maria Baumann, Alois Baumann, Jonathon Borowski, Cathy Kennard, Hong Peng, Bettina Rinaldi, Jolanta Skuratko, Gabriela Stocker, Christoph Stocker and Julia Svozil. Katarzyna Zarecka and Claudia Babock, who represented General Electric Volunteers at the event, were thanked for their multiple collections of goods for our schools in Mehoni. Lesley also paid tribute to our long-year Ethiopian manager, Melkamu Abate, for his efforts in Raya and Mekelle on behalf of EE. And then the highlight of the evening arrived: our 10th birthday cake, perfectly decorated by Confiserie Bauer in Zurich with the EE logo and Swiss and Ethiopian flags. After many questions and discussions, champagne and birthday cake, the successful party came to an end late in the evening!

2018 annual report now available

Thomas Baumann has recently completed the Annual Report on Ethiopian Enterprises’ activities in 2018. The richly illustrated report provides a detailed overview of all that EE achieved during the last year in Mehoni. Click HERE for pdf-file (only available in German)

New Toilet Facility at Lemlem Baro School

Finally. Our new toilet facility at Lemlem Baro School was opened on March 20th. A large crowd of government officials and parents gathered at the school for the opening. Not only were the visitors interested in the squat toilets with which they are already familiar, they were particularly interested in the so-called Calamino Cistern, an innovative rainwater-collection water tank which can be made by the farmers themselves using a special mold. This cistern was created during our time at Hagereselam with Helvetas, and we had always planned to introduce this innovation to Raya when the toilets were built. Rainwater in the cistern will be used for cleaning/’flushing’ toilets and hand washing, and we were very lucky this year: early rain in March filled the cisterns for us so that we could demonstrate the water flow at the opening.

The new facility with 8 cubicles for each boys and girls in two separate buildings represents a huge improvement for the school and its general hygiene level. Our thanks to all who contributed to this project.

Holiday training program in Mehoni

All public schools in Ethiopia work on a two-shift system. Students attend school either in the morning or the afternoon due to a lack of classrooms and teachers, and most public schools alternate students and shifts on a weekly basis. If a school is as fortunate as ours and has its own library, students can work in the library before or after their shift. However, most schools in the Raya region don’t have any books, let alone a library.

Given this situation, one of our concerns about running an all-day English training program for 166 8th-grade students during a holiday week was that they would get tired and cranky when attending school all day. But we needn’t have worried. When Lesley asked them on their second morning whether they had been tired the previous evening, faces lit up and they shouted ‘no’. One student even said she had hardly slept as she wanted to know what they would do the next day!

In a country where forward-planning is still largely just an idea, our responsibility was considerable. We had to create classroom teaching plans which would have the children speaking and hearing English all day but which would offer enough variety for them not to get bored. The creation of the teachers’ plans was a considerable task for Lesley but the time taken was worthwhile as all teachers learned from this.

The students were taught two grammar blocks a day, and one new vocabulary block. Beyond that, they had art classes, dancing classes, library reading classes, cleaning classes (maintenance at the school is still a core concern), and saw films – all in English. While we were unable to provide lunch for so many, in the mid-morning break they received a different treat each day: dried fruit and nuts, health bars, chocolate biscuits, bananas and oranges driven down by mini-van from Mekelle, and on the final morning their own wonderful local bread. At the end of the afternoon on Friday we had a closing party at which they worked on the ‘ferengi’ dance they had learned with passion in their dancing classes (with music by Michael Jackson) and then did some traditional dancing. At the party they also each received a soft drink (more expensive than a biro pen and therefore rarely consumed) and some of the wonderful locally-grown peanuts for which the area is well-known.

Lesley was assisted by the Lemlem Baro English teacher, 7 preparatory school student teachers with very good English skills, and a Swiss-based Eritrean teacher who joined us for the week as a volunteer. He was a life-saver. As Eritreans speak the same Tigrinia language as people in Tigray, he was quickly accepted at the school, and demonstrated maturity and very good teaching skills. The students loved him.
The training program was a huge success. We saw real progress in the students’ work, and their delight was obvious. This was the first time that they had ever received such personal attention and recognition. We can only hope that it will help as many of them as possible to pass their external 8th-grade exams coming up in early June.

Reflections at the beginning of the year…

In Ethiopia, Christmas will be celebrated by those who are members of the Orthodox Christian church on January 7th. However, in many of the hamlets in rural Raya-Azebo in southern Tigray, there will be no gifts and no special food. Many families simply don’t have money to purchase anything special.

For the hundreds of young orphans in the region, a safe place to sleep in the coming weeks will already be a gift. There are no orphanages in Raya-Azebo. And while this year’s harvest was better than many, without suitable storage facilities and rainwater collection systems, the next disaster may loom again in a few months. This is no time to sit back, there is work to do.

It is often tough to work in Raya-Azebo. There is so much need everywhere, but in order to really help we have to stay focussed on sustainable goals. This past summer in particular, the deaths of a dozen high school students from our area who had been lured into illegal migration by traffickers showed clearly how important our education support and new high school scholarship program is becoming. When teenagers have a hope for the future, they are less likely to be seduced by lies.

This past year we have widened the scope of our activity. We have erected a rainwater storage facility at another school in the region, and have supported our two regional high schools with many issues. We have provided school furniture for a group of schools who had no desks for their students, and given clothes and sports goods to community groups and schools. We have taken a firm and visible stand against corruption. We are currently tackling the growing hygiene problem around Lemlem Baro School and through the Mehoni community by financing and overseeing the building of a toilet facility within the school so that our students don’t contribute to the problem. This is an expensive but crucial undertaking and we have become toilet experts over the past 2 years in preparation for the work. For this project we are urgently seeking further funding.

As we approach 2019 and our tenth year of work in northern Ethiopia with Ethiopian Enterprises, we have done some research into our impact. We can proudly claim that our efforts in these 9 years have positively impacted the lives of 50’000 people, and this is a conservative estimate. We will be publishing the details behind this claim when we enter our tenth year in January.

People in our area do not want to migrate, they do not want to become refugees. They want to stay in Ethiopia and create better lives for themselves and their children. The only way to help them do so is to help provide better education and better facilities, better training and know-how. That is what we are doing, with your help. We are immensely grateful to every person and institution who has donated to our work this year. On particularly tough days, it is your support which keeps us determined and focussed. While EE board members cover all their own costs, often for weeks at a time while working in Raya, the costs of our construction and other support work are significant. Every franc donated goes directly into our projects, and we hope that those of you who helped us in 2018 will stay with us in the coming year as we follow our path of endeavor. Our journey in Raya is not yet over.

Thank you all so much and our best wishes for a happy, healthy 2019.                                                                     Lesley, Thomas, André,Tatjana

Results are out !

Some of our successful 10th grade students

Mehoni School Project leader Lesley has sent us some exciting news from Mehoni. The results of the highly competitive 10th grade high-school exams are now out. These results determine the future of Ethiopian students to a large degree. Those who pass with a high score have the opportunity to move on to so-called Preparatory School for two years, 11th and 12th grades. At the end of 12th grade, they then have a fiercely competitive examination to determine who can attend university.

Those who pass with slightly lower scores may have the chance to attend teacher training college. Those who don’t pass at all will need to try again if they want a chance to enter any adult education institutions.

Of the students in our pilot scholarship program, in which all but two students (11th grade) were in 10th grade, 50% have made it through to Preparatory School. In a rural region where most high schools only get 10-20% of students through to 11th grade, this is a sensational result. What is not sensational is that of these 11 students, only one was female.

Some of the remaining students may receive the option this month to attend teacher training college. They, like their colleagues at Preparatory School, will continue to receive support from us. In addition, we have selected 10 new students for the program who will be sponsored by a number of our members and donors.

The students reported to Lesley this week that their scholarships helped them focus on their school work and contributed greatly to their success. Perhaps equally important was the encouragement they received from Lesley and EE president Thomas Baumann, and our sponsors. This helped them stay at school. Many of them are orphans or half orphans who often have to support younger family members, and to have someone to share the burden for the first time in their lives was a very special experience for them.

Scholarship programm proves its value

This is how our scholarship students looked after a few months of receiving support for the first time in their lives.

Earlier this month we posted some details about our new high school and preparatory school scholarship program in the Mehoni region (Illegal Migration article from June 28th). The impact of the first year of this program is now clear to all, with good news reaching us from Mehoni a few days ago.  Of the 25 students we assisted in 2017-2018, 10 finished their final high school year in the top 5% of all students ( 2’200 total!) and were celebrated in the final prize giving earlier this month. Our two preparatory students also topped their classes. This means that at the very least, half of the sponsored students will go on to preparatory school in September, and we are hoping that several more will make it as well.

All the students have thanked us for the opportunity they were given this past year, and claim that their success was greatly enhanced by the scholarship support they received. With your help we hope to at least double the number of scholarship recipients for the coming school year beginning in September. Please contact us at if you would like to sponsor a student for the coming year.

The holiday break has started and we  wish you all a wonderful summer. Thank you so much for your support.

Prize-wrapping under guard!

Last week, the much awaited end-of-year prize giving has taken place at Mehoni schools, including our project school Lemlem Baro. Getting the prizes ready this time around was more challenging than usual, as Lesley reports from Mehoni.

‘Due to my early arrival in Mehoni, school exams were still in progress. There were government stewards monitoring the 8th grade government exams at all schools, and no one but the exam candidates and stewards was allowed to enter the school. For three half days and evenings I worked in a small extra room our hotel let me have for this purpose. We had wonderful prize material, some of it from GE Electric Volunteers’ group, some from EE board member Tatjana Meier and her colleagues from IBM, some from Swiss Re and even the Limmattal Bahn! I wrapped over 200 prizes for Lemlem, difficult in a small room and without help as the teachers were monitoring exams at other schools on the exact days we had set aside for this. We even had enough material to make 20 lovely prizes for the top ten 9th grade and 10th grade students from Mehoni High School where we are running our scholarship program. The school was delighted.

Thanks to a good supply of coloured pencils and colouring-in sheets, we were able to give two other primary schools from our sub-project school group a large box of the pencils and a healthy pile of the sheets, plus sharpeners. They were thrilled. And while I was packing, I got another thrill. On one of the packing days, the new Ethiopian Prime Minister visited Raya and of course Mehoni as its main town. He came to lunch in our hotel (CHF 25 per night which is a lot in Mehoni but our preferred, cheaper family hotel is being renovated). When I heard all the commotion, I slipped out of my room to photograph the courtyard where lunch was being set up. As the hotel is open plan, I was observed. The next time I came out of my room, I found an armed guard sitting on the balcony opposite my room!’

Many thanks to all those who donated this high quality and truly helpful material.

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