Building a better world

10.04.2018 - 08:54 | Bianca Schellander

The Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation recently visited its two projects in Ethiopia, a country with nine UNESCO world heritage sites. The main goal of this visit was to improve inadequate school infrastructure. A safe and suitable environment for children is essential for ensuring long-term education quality at the schools supported by the foundation.

Children such as these at a primary school in Bena Tsemay district in the south of Ethiopia benefit from the Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation’s projects.

The foundation’s first project is located in the north of the country, in the Afar region, and is being implemented by the Afar Pastoralist Development Association, a local partner organization. This area is known for its important fossil artefacts; the more than three million-year-old bones of «Lucy», humanity’s oldest ancestor, were found here. The region shares its name with the nomadic Afar people, who travel through the hot, dry, uncultivated landscape with their goats, donkeys and camels.

A typical «alternative» primary school, Afar region.

The Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation is supporting 34 schools through this project. Of these, 31 are «alternative» primary schools: institutions without permanent buildings, located at strategically important sites for the nomadic Afar. Our project trains teachers for these schools, despite the fact that they have not yet received support from the local government – an issue that is currently being worked on.  The other three schools are state institutions built in permanent Afar encampments. The education of Afar children is the focus of all the schools in the project. The project’s activities primarily help teachers to improve the quality of their lessons by actively planning them and creating and using lesson materials in the local Afar language.

Preschool classroom in Talalak, Afar region. Renovations are no longer possible here.

But even the best lesson won’t provide much benefit if the appropriate infrastructure isn’t in place. The three state schools in our project with permanent buildings are ramshackle, poorly furnished, and, in places, built in a way that makes them vulnerable to the next strong gust of wind. The main goal of our visit was therefore renovation work: windows were replaced, walls strengthened and painted, doors installed and latrines planned. This created the necessary conditions to guarantee high-quality education. The Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation was actively supported in this by a consultant from Skat Consulting, St. Gallen, which enabled us to define further steps. The headteachers and community representatives from each area were also involved. They assured us of their continued support and were able to strengthen their interest in the collaboration.

The destination for our second visit to Ethiopia was Bena Tsemay district in the south of the country, where we met our local partner organization Center of Concern. As the name suggests, more than 45 indigenous ethnic groups live in the «Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples' Region». Seven of the 12 state project schools being supported by the Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation in this region are still in the planning stage. The collaboration with Skat Consulting allowed us to develop an individual plan for each of these seven schools after our visit, defining precisely what is to be implemented in 2018. Among other measures, badly needed classrooms for the youngest children, who are often taught outdoors or under trees, will be built. The possibility of securing access to water is also being discussed in order to meet the basic needs of the children and adults at the schools. Although this area has better infrastructure than the north and even appears green, drought and water scarcity remain major problems. Over the past two years, the Ethiopian population has experienced these issues not least as a result of the weather phenomenon El Niño, which – according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs – left almost 18 million people dependent on emergency aid.

As a result of these two visits and the intensive collaboration with our partner organizations, involved school staff and decision-makers from the local communities, the Pestalozzi Children’s Foundation is able to offer efficient help where it’s most needed, laying the foundations for better-quality education and a better future for children.

Outdoor lessons for the youngest pupils in Bena Tsemay district.