Life Lessons from Kechene School
This week at Kechene School – officially registered as Initiative Ethiopia International Children’s Association (I prefer to make this distinction so as not to confuse Kechene School with similar projects in the area) – teachers were administering mid-year exams to all three grades: KG-1, KG-2, and 1st grade. I could not have been more proud of the kids as they shoved their graded exams in front of my face, ‘JT! JT!’ It was not only me they rushed to in excitement, but other teachers and staff members as well – essentially any adult who was not already surrounded by a gaggle of students. Of course, what they were after was a ‘Betam turuno lidgch!’ or ‘Gobez!’ – essentially a pat on the back.
Now, I can’t say that all the students who rushed me their graded exams thrilled me with the scores on their tests. Some were very high – 60/60, 58/60, 55/60 but some were lower – 27/60, 39/60. Needless to say, it was hard for me to dampen their enthusiasm even if their performance was sub-par. I therefore complimented all of the students and simply tried to show I was exceedingly proud of those with exceptionally high scores. For those of you who know the children, some of the impressive scores were turned in by Kirobel, Yederder, Aman, Zacharias, Betty and Tamirat. I’m waiting on a complete list from the teachers on the overall performance, so if you have further questions feel free to email.
For comparison Geti, a fourth grade student at the local government school (and son of Kechene founders Nichodemas and Wondenesh), sat in on the 1st grade math exam. He scored 57/60; quite a few Kechene students bested this mark. Exams were administered in various subjects including math, English, Amharic, ethics and science.
Seeing the kids taking and then doing well on their exams this week I couldn’t help but think back to how different things were this summer. I remember taking Kelly Meisner, who works for Cherokee in Raleigh, to visit the school and being so embarrassed by the chaos that morning. Now, the students were exceptional that morning (as I’m sure happens at most any pre-school from time to time), but all the same, I was disappointed and embarrassed.
Since September however, the new teachers that were hired, in conjunction with remaining staff members, have been doing quite a remarkable job. I’m continually amazed at the impact the teachers and support staff have had on the structure, instruction and order of the project these past few months. Everyone, from the guards to the cook to the head teacher, is incredibly passionate about the children and their development. Truly, this team at Kechene works together selflessly and harmoniously for the betterment of the children. Every Saturday, after the children have received lunch and departed, the staff meets to discuss the week in review and comment on challenges and successes. This is not just a teachers meeting, or an administrators meeting, but everyone who is employed at Kechene attends. After reading of the scripture and a prayer, a round-table discussion ensues and everyone is allowed their turn to speak.
As many of you are aware, out of the roughly 80 kids at Kechene School all are destitute and some are orphaned (though, most thankfully, living with extended family in the local community). Showing the children love, care and compassion and providing them each two meals per school day (Monday – Saturday) are the top priorities at Kechene. Beyond that, Kechene staff hopes to provide the children a high quality education, instill a since of pride, values and proper hygiene. All of this is a work in progress – there is always more to be done – but I can promise you the school is ardently working towards these goals. The progress is visible in the test scores, the children’s behavior and appearance (they are now bathing at least twice per week), and most of all in the happy, healthy smiles and clear eyes that greet me with a sense of joy and love one would not think possible in such a poor community.
In this dark, global economic downturn Kechene School is a beacon of light and a reality check. The love and joy found in such a destitute area puts quite a perspective on life, and we would all do well to take note. Some would say that kids are kids, they are naïve and generally always happy, no matter where they grow-up. I disagree. One of my favorite students, Serkadis, showed me her test scores and they were, to me, surprisingly low. I quickly asked Akebebre, the head teacher, what the deal with Serkadis was. He informed me that she had missed quite a few days, because her mother is very sick and there was no one to take care of her except Serkadis (who is in the 1st grade). Not only is Serkadis from a destitute home, but her mother is exceptionally sick and her father has already passed away. Nevertheless, she is at school most days and always smiling, learning (she’s very bright).
Serkadis is not naïve, she knows all to well the realities of life – but she faces them with a grace and joy uncommon among grown men and women, much less in a seven year old child. Neither are any of the other kids at Kechene naïve – they live all too close to the margin to be disillusioned. Kechene School, however, provides a needed outlet and foundation for learning, camaraderie, fellowship, love, joy and personal growth.
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Many thanks to all who have supported, and continue to support this project. As you know, whithout your help this project would not be possible.
If you are interested in donating to this project, visit the ‘Kechene School’ tab at the top of the blog for directions on how to do so.