JULY-AUGUST 2012 TRIP
Five of us went to Mekele this trip. West, Marie, Jennifer, Sierra and I spent our time there befriending the children and assessing needs at the school. Jennifer and I spent a lot of time in meetings with the Regional Bureau of Education and with the MBS principal and administrators. There is a breakdown in communication between the two, so we did our best to try to understand which avenues are best for the success of our efforts there.
Jen brought 50 yellow t-shirts that were donated to her by a friend in the Boston area. The shirts read, “The great thing about learning is that nobody can take it away from you.” B.B. King. Each child that is forced to remain at the school during the summer months (due to a lack of parents and/or family) received a t-shirt. They truly appreciated the sentiments of B.B. King’s words!
We carried over 35 collapsible walking sticks, donated by two members of the Torrington Rotary Club. These will be distributed by the school administration to older children when they finally leave the school. The canes will help with their mobility, and give them greater freedom and independence.
The children are often sleeping on filthy and urine-soaked mattresses, so we replaced 20 of those. We also handed out 35 hygiene bags handmade by caring members of The Church of Christ in Falls Village, CT. These fabric bags are filled with necessary things like washcloths, lotion, toothbrushes, combs and soap.
We also added another 50 Braille books to the growing collection in our Braille library there.
Our new gardener, Haile, gave us a tour of the extended gardens he has been working on. He has created vegetable gardens on every little parcel of land that is not in use! It’s amazing!
Every time we go, we meet with the Union of Blind Mothers and renew our commitment to covering the public school tuition for 50 of their children (all sighted children). School costs $10.00/annually, which is a prohibitive amount of money for these blind, homeless mothers.
Sierra, West and Marie’s 12 year old grand-daughter, made extra special connections with these children, many of them peers of hers. She danced, played games, laughed and read with the children for the time we were there. It was wonderful having someone so young along on this trip.
We’ll be going again in the summer of 2014. So, until then, we’ll continue to send Braille paper, canes, Braille books and learning aids for the library. We will also continue to pay the salaries of our gardener, and our two librarians, Assefu and Gebre. Thank you for your concern about these wonderful little ones.
JULY 2010 TRIP
In July, 2010, a mall group of Friends of Mekele Blind School spent 3 weeks making further needed improvements at the school.
We installed an extensive rope-rail, which is proving to be a huge confidence builder for the children.
It is now much easier for them to move around the 10 acre compound more independently. New students are especially lost when they first arrive at the school. Now, once they know where the rope-rail is throughout the property, they can easily get to the dorms, classrooms and the dining hall on their own.
In addition, we replaced a collapsed ceiling in an otherwise useless classroom, and put glass into classroom windows to cut down on dust.
The best part of the trip was spending many, many hours with the children, laughing, playing games with them, listening to them read to us from the Braille books we have provided, and simply befriending them.
Our Rotary-sponsored garden is thriving, and our young, hired gardener is doing a wonderful job for us. Cabbage, chard, onions and tomatoes are now available to the two cooks, Latish and Hadera, adding needed vitamins and minerals to an otherwise bland, lacking diet of njera.
We continue to provide fruit delivery 3 times/week, which amounts to each student getting an orange or a banana. We continue to pay the salary of our librarian, Gebre, and for our gardener, Gebrazgi. Equbay, the senior teacher there, is finishing his bachelor degree with sponsorship from us. He has been blind since childhood, and is a strong role model for the children. We are proud to have offered him this chance to realize his dream of finishing his degree. He emails his school results regularly, and is receiving honors for his work.
Congrats in advance, Equbay!
JULY 2014 TRIP
Our 2014 trip was an incredible trip filled with many updates. We saw that construction on the new Perimeter wall, a project overseen by SENTigray was well underway. The wall was of excellent quality and should last a good deal of time.
As usual, we filled our suitcases with Braille books, tapes, and games for the children of the blind school. We spent a great deal of time with them, reading together and practicing English. They astound us every trip as they show off their knowledge and ask incredible questions.
The garden within the school continues to thrive and we were thrilled to see what a great job our gardener, Berhanu, was doing to maintain it. He seems to very much enjoy interacting with the students as well. We look forward to seeing how this progresses.
We checked in with the Blind Mother’s Union and brought stuffed animals for their children. To see their faces light up when they each received one was incredible! Their children continue to thrive in school and we are incredibly proud to continue our sponsorship for their studies.
We made a special trip to the University of Mekele where we met some of the older blind students that have since left the blind school and gone on to university. We are incredibly proud of them! We handed out canes to all of them, which will be a great help as they navigate not only the college campus, but the city as well. We wish these young adults much luck and a bright future!
AUGUST 2016 TRIP
This trip was one of our busiest in quite a while! We also had a wonderful, large group – I was accompanied again by Jen on her third trip and also my niece, Laura, and Stephen (both from Ireland) for their first trip. Gina, a great friend from Ireland who spent several years living in Addis Ababa, also met us for a few days. West came along as well. We couldn’t have put together a better group!
It was great to see the students again, although there were few living in the school for the summer. It turned out that budgeting cuts meant that the school was only able to house the most desperate children with no place to go. The rest were sent to live with family or friends. We were disheartened to hear this and will be seeing what we can do to help alleviate this issue.
On a positive note, the perimeter wall is complete and is a huge upgrade to the security of the students. An engineering group of students had gone over just before us and helped with the drainage of wetlands in the school as well. It made a noticeable difference!
Stephen also oversaw fixing the swing set on the school grounds. We had originally installed these many years ago, but as with many things, they fell into disrepair and were not used. With a simple roll of duct tape (and great ingenuity), Stephen got them up and running again. You can imagine the laughter of some of the children using swings for the first time! Laura gave the students their first lesson in Irish Gaelic. They soaked up the new words and it was amazing to see how quickly they picked it up! They are truly sponges for knowledge.
A major update from this trip is that we’re partnering with SENTigray. This is a huge step forward! We’ll be helping to pay the salary of Masho (a former student at the blind school who went on to university and graduate top of his class) who will help to monitor our projects on the ground. It is a relief to have someone who knows the school and can oversee our work when we are not there. We are thrilled! He will also assist in hiring a new librarian to assist Gebre.
The Blind Mother’s Union continues to thrive and grow. We are now sponsoring up to 100 children of blind mothers each year to go to school. We had a very large turn out when we met with them this year. We also visited the home that we built as part of our work with the Blind Mother’s Union. It was great to see a family that was on the verge of losing a roof over their head be upgraded to a solid home. A truly tangible outcome that we were happy to organize.
A lot of changes over here, but we’re excited to see where they lead! We can’t wait to keep you all updated. We hope there are many good things to come.