Exemplary Association Deserves Support

The Monitor (Addis Ababa) March 6, 2000

By Our Staff Writer

Addis Ababa - The strain that the rising size of population has on various services that people should get is increasing. One such vital service is education.


Resources are strained so much that the level, quality and extent to which this particular need is being met is getting thinner by the day. "The population of Ethiopia was not more than 20 million 20-30 years ago," said one professional who used to work in the Ministry of Education for years-back in the days. The occasion was an open house by the Kidane Mehret Student's Self- help Association. The NGO located in Aware has around 100 beneficiary students. It is organized to help the students in that area that come from poor families to get assistance with their studies, to train them in vocational skills, to give them guidance and counseling on various issues, as well as to find jobs for those who have completed their academic training.


 It has, so far found jobs for over 20 beneficiaries. The open house was organized to show various organizations, NGOs and the media the facilities that are available to the students as well as to sensitize the public about the availability of such an NGO which is based inside the home of the founding family. As a board member of the Association, this speaker told visitors on Tuesday that according to 1998/99 statistics, among 7-14 year olds, only 45.8% get a chance to go to school. The rest 54.2% do not get any chance at education at all.


This figure, he explained, shows that Ethiopia's standing is worse than that of most of Africa. Among those who have had the chance to get primary school education, 27% drop out and 16% of them fail their classes.


This puts an additional strain on the limited resources. Among those who fail in their classes or drop out are those who come from poor families.


This is natural because one of the causes of poverty is lack of education and the two reinforce each other in that the poor cannot afford to send their kids to school. Nor can the hungry study.


These kids, have little or no support to study. Coming from uneducated families they cannot get help from their parents with their subjects. They cannot, moreover, find any place to sit and read. The poverty is so bad that their families use the same room for cooking, sitting, sleeping, and all other activities they might have. 


The children will not get the incentive or the opportunity to get access to a library. A library is a luxury in a country like Ethiopia. 


According to 1990 statistics, among 100 students who have had the chance to enroll in 1st grades, only 337 have had the chance to reach 8th grade-well under 50%. Among these, moreover, those who passed the 8th grade exams were only 249.


These were some of the dismal figures given by the speaker who wanted to show tthe dire needs in the field of education. He said, since the problem being faced is immense, it will be impossible to leave the responsibility to the government.


It is against this backdrop that the effort of this particular family in filling the gap should be seen, he said. The Kidane Mehret Students Self-help Association is currently providing library facilities for the students.


The children get tutorial classes off their school hours. Older children who are in higher classes teach the ones who are in the lower classes and they help each other to study.


It raises funds to financially assist children who come from very poor families. However, the Kidane Mehret Students Self-help Association is currently limited by space.


It has been waiting for the City Authorities to provide a small plot of land to construct a center for these youngsters. The center will also help the association to carry out the various training activities it has.


So far, the funding has been through the donations from friends and supporters. The founding family is footing the chunk of the bill.


The older children who could not get into higher learning institutions have taken various courses like catering, computer, secretarial, sewing and embroidery, sales and marketing. The artistically inclined join the music band that earns income for                               the Association.


All administrative work is carried out by the beneficiaries themselves- thereby creating an employment opportunity from within. The children say they foresee a bright future.


In a situation where nobody has given them hope, this particular Association has tried to fill in the gap. The Swiss government had pledged 60,000 USD to construct the center for the Association.


 The US Embassy had pledged to furnish it. None could materialize because the Association has been waiting for the concerned authorities to provide them the plot of land they need.


"We will not sit idle while we wait," says the founding member, "time is running and the needs of these children is immediate. We will make do with what we have-even if it is our own house.


Two of their bed rooms, their garage and three more rooms are the head quarters of the Association. The children, thanks to the family, have a center to go to.


But how long can this go on? Why can't commendable initiatives such as this one be supported? If we say the government cannot do everything, then why can't it help the helpers of the government? Empty promises and rhetoric will not get us anywhere. The Swiss Embassy after having waited for over a year, said it would have to return the money back since it has not been utilized.

The money was thus sent back in July, 1996. Why is it that we cannot use resources made available to us? How is it that we have become experts at running down our own riches and endowments? Dr. Agedew Redie who used to be the Director of Menelik II School-Ethiopia's first school by the way-shared among guests his experience.


He said Emperor Haileselassie I one day paid a surprise visit to the school. (The Emperor used to patronize the school a lot. Dr. Agedew said, "had it not been for the efforts of the Emperor most of us would have remained uneducated." This is a testimony given by tens of thousands of Ethiopians.) Anyway, the Emperor visited the school and asked its director, " what                               problems are you facing?" The director recounted, "Your Majesty, we are overwhelmed, there are too many pupils." "That is your problem?," the Emperor asked. "Yes, we have too many pupils."  "Thank God for that," said the Emperor, "thank God."  Publication date: March 2, 2000