Category Archives: Places in Ethiopia

Tilling the Soil (or sand)

This is an exercise in contrasts.

In the first case, I met this young man a few weeks ago while walking in an area just west of Hadero. He was hand tilling this plot of land. It was hot. The soil had just had a good soaking with rain. His tools are all that you see. No shoes. Nothing else. Hard labor. And the rewards of his labor are barely enough to get by – – the season of hunger lingers during this time before harvest.

This next image is what’s happening today at our house. Our home backs up to a park. We have a sand volley ball court in our backyard – we call it our private sandbox and hope the cat isn’t pooping in it.   Mr. SillyPants has taken the initiative and is rotatilling  the plot so that the sand is nice and fresh for summer fun and especially for long hours of sandbox fun for Blueberry. The tiller belongs to our neighbor. The choice to maintain the sand lot is ours; the city doesn’t have maintenance in the budget and Mr. SillyPants is happy to donate time and a bit of labor to public park upkeep (oh there is a lot of garlic mustard that gets picked too in the wooded area behind us). Otherwise, the sand is packed and the weeds creep into the space. Recreational choice. Ours. We had lunch before the tilling commenced – and breakfast. And the fridge is stocked. Oh, plus no shortness of fresh, clean water.

This is a study in contrasts. You are witnessing where my mind is these days. (And yes, Blue is wearing ear plugs, as is SillyPants – – the musician/physician never works without them, and neither does his little side kick).


Gettin’ Skooled on Schools – Ethiopia

I was watching Lawrence O’Donnell tonight – kickin’ back and spacing out after a lovely evening with old friends. I caught a glimpse of his ‘update’ on how the K.I.N.D program has successfully raised over $3Million to buy desks for kids in Malawi. I’m pretty excited for these kids – they’re off the floor, they have furniture to ehance their learning and inspire their dreams of the future.  One piece of furniture closer to where they need to be. Awesome.

I’m thinking a lot about schooling in Ethiopia. I visited this girl – and I asked her about  her dreams. She didn’t pause to think  even for a moment. She told me she is a top student in her 8th grade class, “but Mother, I want to go to a private school. I want to be a doctor and my school will not prepare me well enough to compete for a score for admission to medical school. I need to go to private school. I think it is the only way I can reach my dream.” She glanced over at her grandmother, with whom she lives (and with whom her 4 siblings live too), her dreams suspended by her family’s economic reality of destitution and complicated by the fact that her community has no private high school. She must have known, even as she told me her dreams, that even if funds arrived for private schooling and housing  in a community about two hours away,  her grandmother could not spare her daily help with the small siblings and  her young laboring hands needed to sustain the small family garden. Not this girl. Not this dream. Not now.

I think often about the children of Ethiopia. School is the defining dream of so many of the children and families I met in Ethiopia. It’s the dream that fuels Kololo School. It’s the dream that pushes the Mudula Mamas to build that well and free girls up to go to school. It’s the dream that fills a libary at AHOPE for Children and raises funds to send the kids at AHOPE to private school

 School boys on the way to Lake Awassa –>

You want to know what schooling looks like for children in Ethiopia? Read on. You can go to school if you can afford it  – – – IF you can afford it. Uniforms and school supplies are enough to be unsurmountable barriers to education. The distance between a daily average wage of .50cents  in the southern region and $25 needed for a uniform and school supplies can be a distance that is economically unattainable. No way to get from $0 to $25. It’s hard to imagine, isn’t it?

And, you can go to school if you live close enough to a school. A vigorous country effort to build schools is in place, but there are not schools in every place. And,  in communities where there are many children, there are often not enough schools to accomodate the number of children (many schools run a morning program for one group of children and an afternoon program for another group of children). 

It’s time to work at changing this. Now.

Children showing me a school book in Bohe


 Preschool & K1-K2

Preschool in Ethiopia focuses on all around development of children in preparation for formal schooling. Normally, preschool education lasts 2-3 years, and caters to children aged between 4-6 years. Only a small number of children go to preschools. Preschool is not compulsory to attend grade 1.  However, many private schools require K1-K2 before admission to formal education. There are no public sponsored preschools/kindergartens in Ethiopia. In the city areas, children can attend private preschools, whereas children from poor families or in rural areas do not attend preschool at all.

As in many parts of the country, there is no government sponsored kindergarten in the Kembata Tembaro region. Kindergartens are all privately run programs, and owned by private organizations or churches. They are also concentrated in town areas such as Hadero, Doyogena, Hossana, or in those villages adjacent to the city areas.

Parents are responsible for all preschool expenses. The cost depends on the demand and quality of education provided.

  • For example, in Hadero, fees for Preschool and K1-K2  average about $23 per year (40 birr per month) plus the additional costs of a uniform, school supplies, and the ability for the family to provide a ‘sack lunch’ for the student.  These fees can be higher in urban areas.

 Primary School (Grades 1-8)

Children ages 7-14  attend primary school. Primary schooling is an 8 year curriculum, divided into two cycles: The first cycle ranges from Grades 1-4, while the second cycle extends from Grades 5-8.  Many schools combine the two cycles in one compound (Grades 1-8). The goal of the first cycle is functional literacy, while the second cycle prepares students for further general education and training. 

Admission to government primary school is open to all students and is free. Teaching is conducted in local ethnic languages. National examinations are conducted in 8th grade to certify completion of primary education. This 8th Grade National Exam is designed to ensure the quality of primary education and coverage of a nationally set curriculum. The Ministry of Education of Ethiopia ensures that private schools follow the same course of curriculum and testing. Failure of the exam means repeating a year. After a second failure the student can no longer attend a government school. 

In Kembata Tembaro region those who fail the examination each year join the ever growing ranks of unemployed youth with no future, placing an additional social burden on the poor households. There is no sufficient vocational training centers designed either by private or public organizations to absorb the unemployed but dynamic youth.

Primary school students are responsible for purchase of school uniforms, books and supplies. The government distributes a limited number of books and educational materials to school libraries. Books and teaching materials are usually scarce. Both private and public schools in the region suffer from underfunding, understaffing, and facilities in disrepair. There is an acute shortage of teaching materials that also results in poor quality of education in the region.

  • There are private primary schools in some communities. For example, in Hadero it costs about $30 per school year (50 birr per month) plus the additional costs of a uniform, school supplies, and the ability for the family to provide a ‘sack lunch’ for the student.  Private schooling is more expensive in urban areas.

Secondary School (Grades 9-10):

Secondary education consists of 2 years of general education which enables students to identify their areas of interest for further education, for specific training, and for employment. During the secondary school period, beside the core subjects of study, students are taught various academic, technical and vocational courses.

 At the end of the 10th grade students sit for the National Exam (known as the Ethiopian General Secondary Education of Certificate Exam EGSECE). This is a critical exam and cannot be repeated. Only students who pass this exam can proceed to high school. Students will be streamlined into academic preparatory courses for higher education, vocational or technical schools, based on the results of this exam.

Students who complete 10th grade can attend technical training for the development of middle level manpower or enter the local labor market. Technical and vocational training is institutionally separate from the regular educational system, forming a parallel track.

There are very few such technical or vocational schools in Kembata Tembaro region. As a result of this, youth unemployment is rampant and rural poverty is pervasive in the region. Most students who leave school have no basis of livelihood, can not support themselves, and become destitute. Some students migrate to other parts of the country seeking seasonal farm jobs. However, the government’s ethnic-based administration has restricted inter-regional movement of labor, thereby reducing their chances of employment elsewhere.

  • There are private secondary schools in some communities. For example, in Hadero it costs about $30 per school year (50 birr per month) plus the additional costs of a uniform, school supplies, and the ability for the family to provide a ‘sack lunch’ for the student.  Private schooling is more expensive in urban areas.

High School (Grades 11-12)

High School education or upper secondary education enables students to choose subjects which prepare them for continuing their studies at the higher education level or for choosing a career.

Students can attend any number of high school models, providing they are available in their communities. At the conclusion  of 12th grade students take a national exam (Ethiopian School Leaving Certificate Exam: ESLCE) that determines if they can attend one of the government colleges or universities.

If students score well enough, they can join higher education for free. Those students who do not acheive high scores can seek admission at private colleges and universities in major cities. However, it is difficult for the average Ethiopian student to afford the tuition fees of private colleges and universities. In addition to tuition, students are responsible for the purchase of books, materials, food and accommodations.

Higher Education

Institutions of higher education include universities, colleges, teachers training and polytechnic institutes. Diploma programs generally last 2 years. First-degree programs take 4-5 years of university or college studies to complete.


*Some students are quite keen to attend private schools as they are often considered to have superior academic training, thus preparing students more vigorously for high ESLCE scores and quailifing students for university placement in high status programs for medicine, engineering, IT etc.

*Please leave a comment if you have a correction/addition/or a different understanding about how education works in Ethiopia. I’m open to learning all that I can – and more than I know right now is always welcome!

(Thank you to Desta of Doyogena for providing the details regarding being educated in Kembata Tembaro. Your friendship and guidance is such a gift to me.)

Merkato School, TESFA – Addis Abeba

Kololo School, TESFA – Kololo

School for children –  Entoto Mountain

School runners – Road to Hosanna

A Mudula boy and his school books w/pen

School girl in countryside near Yirgalem

Hope for Hosanna School

Dream Walkers

Images taken:  1. Mudula  2. Wondo Genet  3. Bohe  4. Yirgalem

Mudula Fig Tree – called Degale

There is a tree in the center of Mudula. It is enormous. I have written about it before (see Mudula posts in the index). The tree has a story, a story you need to know. And, I want to share a video of the tree embracing it’s village.

A young man from Mudula writes this about the tree: “This tree has got its own name “DEGALE”. This tree-DEGALE, has special historical and cultural attachment to TEMBARO-the general naming for all the people living in Mudula/ Tembaro wereda. There is only one and one DEGALE in the world, the one at Mudula. Understanding the story of DEGALE means knowing the whole story of people around there. When the community elders want to make some decision about the society they use DEGALE as  their gathering place/ meeting hall. The decision that they make under this tree is considered as very serious and serve as a rule/law of the land.”

Witness Degale – –Mudula Tree called Degale

A Coffee Drying Center & Google Earth

Driving south from Hosanna, and taking just one right hand turn, you’ll be well on your way to Mudula, Ethiopia. It’s an astoundingly beautiful drive through rolling hillsides of fields of grain, enset, some maize, coffee, ginger, and some other crops.

Half way between the right hand turn and the first town,  Hadero, is a new coffee drying center. It’s a large center and just a few weeks ago community members were hard at work preparing the facility.

See if you can find it on Google Earth. The coordinates are below.

It looks like this coming off the Garmin –  N7 11.653 / E37 41.937

It looks like this typed/pinned into Google Earth – 7 11.653 N /  37  41.937 E

Ethiopia: Facts from my notebook

1. There are 57 types of acacia trees in Ethiopia. 7 are endemic.

I never tire of the acacia tree (hello blog header) – here is one in Wondo Genet

2. There are over 6000 types of plants in Ethiopia. About 600 are endemic.

Chat isn’t endemic to Ethiopia – but it’s everywhere in the Sidama region. After having watched the spectacular documentary, Black Gold, I understand why more and more coffee growers are adding chat to their cash crop efforts. In about every plot chat was mixed with coffee trees.

My Wondo Genet guide explained that these young men were herding animals and chewing chat. (It was obvious, but he was doing a good job of guiding).

And then they shared a bit of their ‘narcotic’ with me. I was unimpressed (meaning, I didn’t feel a thing – but I did hike an hour longer than I planned). 


Dereje, my guide (in blue t-shirt) was a very motivated young man. He had spent a year following tourists and to improve his English and to learn birding. He could bird by ear and by sight – no binoculars, no bird book. I can’t bird by ear to save my life. I really admired his effort. He was a terrific guide – gentle, kind, attentive (we didn’t have to cross any rivers, so I can’t comment on his strength), and hopeful about his future. He plans to continue improving his guiding skills. I admired how he walked the entire day in flip flops. He then carefully washed his feet in the hot and holy spring. Had I had a bit more time, and been a bit deeper into my ‘experience’, I would have joined the local people in the hot spring (if invited). I can imagine their reaction to my large, soft body. Their giggle over my gear was funny enough, but a hot and holy spring would have been just totally divine. I hope Dereje accomplishes his goals – and I look forward to meeting him again in the beautiful Wondo Genet! You bet I plan to go back and walk with him another time – this walk will include a hot and holy dip in the spring (I didn’t take pictures of the spring, there were many people in it and they declined my request to take pictures there – I respected that entirely and without hesitation).

3. 55 years ago over 43% of Ethiopia was forested. Now, only 3% of Ethiopia is forested.

Lake Langano was particularly dry and deforested – some of that is about the shifting ecosystem as you drive south, some of it is about land use/population/resource depletion in the areas just outside of Addis. (That, and an enormous number of flower plantations that are surely poisoning the groundwater and devastating the soil in the area).

A view from a Bohe tukul. You can see the farms everywhere.

Bohe Children Wave Hello – Tumma!

Mihiret, in the yellow and white striped hoodie – total rockstar in her effort to speak English. The kids gathered right outside their school to say hello (Tumma, in Kambatissa) and find out why we were walking down their footpath. “To see you!” was my response. It’s true. To see them.  15 seconds of video isn’t enough – I know.

And so I have another 5 second clip of these lovelies.