Written by Rory Dillon
I think Tokuma school is located in one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. As we chugged up the hill in our Toyota 4X4 (which our driver swore was less than ten years old but looked like it was older than me) from Ambo to Dadagelan, the horizon opened up in an undulating patchwork of green: 360 degrees of hills dotted with accacia trees and farmsteads as far as I could see. There was something about this view which was quintessentially Ethiopian; it is what I see in my mind’s eye when I think of Ethiopia, and simultaneously an image quite far from what I would have conjured before I visited the country myself.
Our mission was to deliver laptops, printers and solar panels to Tokuma school. I use my computer everyday at work and at home and I rarely give it a second thought – what a pain in the bum it is when for one reason or another when you can’t access the worldwide web at the touch of a button. And, if you have visited a primary school in the UK recently you will see how technology is used to enhance lessons with videos and music, to allow students to be creative and to learn IT skills that are a requirement in later life.
Our aim was to open up this world to the village of Dadagelan by providing a solar panel powered IT room. With the support of a Girmaye Deye, who initiated the project, and our donors the British Foreign Schools Society, Link was able to help school to connect with the rest of the world through the internet. When I did a straw poll of one class of 26, none had used a computer before and only 12 had ever seen one.
After two years of hard work, we finally arrived at Tokuma to deliver the equipment, set it up and give some basic IT training. I spent two days at the school and it was great for me to see the project first hand instead of as a line on a spreadsheet. In my two days, I was able to pitch in and help assemble the new tables and chairs, to set up the new laptops and to help Haile showing the teachers and students the basics of how to use and care for the computers. I was also able to see the equipment being blessed by the parents and share doro wat (spicy chicken stew) and bhuna (coffee) with them. It will be interesting to stay in contact with Tokuma and see how the school and the children use the computers and whether they experience any problems maintaining the equipment.
The village school is full of engaged students and active parents and staff who have made a success of a school that would fail without their commitment. However, the school cannot draw on large contributions from parents to fund new equipment and infrastructure. It also finds that it is expensive to transport equipment from outside; the village is only accessible by a steep dirt road which is impassible in the rainy season (on the second day of our visit, Haile, with our vehicle nowhere to be seen and the skies threatening rain, was worried that we would have to stay the night in the school, sleeping under the new tables!). One of the major challenges of this project has been the logistics of getting to the site, with project visits costing in vehicle rental, staff subsistence and time. For all NGOs the hardest schools to reach are those most in need (so, if anyone has a spare 4×4 vehicle they would like to donate it would be much appreciated).
Ciao Ambo. Hopefully, I will be back again to see all of you before I return to the UK.