High on the agenda for our visit to Ethiopia was to make contact with the School of St. Yared in Addis Ababa, founded in 2009 by Hope for Children, an NGO supporting orphans of HIVAIDS.
Nearly 75 per cent of school-aged children in Ethiopia have no access to formal education. Hope for Children realised early on that providing orphans with loving, caring homes until they turned 18, was not enough to lift them out of a life of poverty. Without a solid education, these children would not be equipped to make their own futures.
Jacqui Gilmour, of Hope for Children Australia, was inspired by a school in Tanzania whose guiding philosophy was that the way to prosperity for a nation is via education of its children. Jacqui met Yared, a 23-year-old who grew up on the streets of Addis and knew from personal experience the difficulties faced by millions of bright street kids who have little hope of an education.
Yared had earned a scholarship to study in America, but when he and Jacqui discussed the idea of a school he was inspired to stay in Addis and help other kids, from the poorest backgrounds, to have such a chance. These smart children are a major resource for the country – if only they can jump the obstacles in their path and access opportunities to learn.
He found a building and grounds for St Yared and is now Principle of a school with 80 Kindergarten and Year 1 students. As well as classes, the school provides children with three free meals a day; encouraging attendance by reducing the need for them to go out to work each day to help with the family income.
The school is growing and this is where Botanica Ethiopia came in. Yared and Hope for Children had put together a proposal asking the government for land to build a secondary school. Hope for Children was keen to provide a broad education for the children, including schooling in their history and culture, and Jacqui asked Botanica Ethiopia for support to incorporate an indigenous herbal medicine garden in the new school grounds.
And so it was that I found myself standing in the kindergarten playground, with Yared showing me their small kitchen garden full of the best-looking lettuces and carrots I had seen in weeks, carefully tended and looking full of nutritious vitamins and minerals drawn from good soil.
Yared explained that the children were not the only ones to receive an education here. Parents were fully encouraged to be involved in many school activities, and I could see that we might be able to incorporate their knowledge of herbs into the training aspect of the school’s future herbal medicine garden. As usual, my mind became crowded with possibilities and I knew to take that mental step back and start working through how it would be done. More and more I get the sense that there is little I need to do because all the knowledge, expertise and enthusiasm are intrinsically there, it is merely a matter of support and providing useful links that I have made through research and time spent in Ethiopia.
So I contacted Dr. Zemede of Addis Ababa University and asked him whether the University could help the School with their plans for a herbal garden. Dr. Zemede’s response was extremely positive and encouraging; he said that the University would be keen to support the initiative as part of their outreach program.
I arranged a meeting with Dr. Zemede and Yared so that they could continue their collaboration. Dr. Zemede explained that the children at the school were a little young but that the new premises for older children would be an appropriate venue for training, and that he could advise on soil management and appropriate plants for the garden.
Once the new land is secured and preparations for the herb garden are underway, I will contact Yared and Jacqui to discuss the possibilities and see how we may help further to support healthy, happy learners and their families at the new school.
*In Christian Ethiopia, St Yared is a local saint from Axum. He was an orphan who came to represent determination and success through learning, and against the odds.