I turned 27 last week and spent my birthday in Ethiopia. It was a work related trip and I am so grateful I was one of 36 lucky South Africans that were chosen to go and explore one of the world's oldest civilisations. I'm doing a travel piece for the M&G so I can't really give a breakdown of what happened yet, wanna save that for a paying audience thank you very much. Just kidding, I am going to release some images and stories bit by bit, I took way too many pics to put it in one post and I'm thinking of doing different themes with every post. I think I will start with the children that won my heart forever and ever.
One of my favourite moments was vising a farm school called the Ethiopian Children's Fund or ECF, a school started by former supermodel Anna Getaneh, who is of Ethiopian origin and was a big deal model in the early 90's. She invited me on this trip, which is in association with Ethiopian Airlines and Ethiopian Tourism - it's about promoting tourism there so they invited journalists and other media people to experience their country and culture. She's done a fantastic job of starting something from absolutely nothing and providing education for all of these children for the past 12 years, all of whom are orphans.
We went to visit them because we were in the area and being there turned out to be one of the most special part of the trip for me. These kids literally attacked me with hugs and tugs and wanting to be photographed. I lost the group I was with because I was stuck in a sea of little kids going Me Me Me Me Me Me Me! It was so sweet. Here they are:
With the help of USAid and some generous NGO's Anna founded the school in 1999 with 40 children. Since then it has grown to accommodate more than 600 children and a waiting list of over 700 orphans each year. The school is about 45 minutes outside Addis in a rural district that is one of many decrepit regions in Ethiopia but when you step onto the 15 acre properly, there's nothing but happiness. We went to different classes and found the kids quietly doing their work or reciting words from their black boards and writing them onto their slates (remember those?)
The school takes children as young as 4 years old to 18 from 8am - 6pm every day and all of them are fed by the school's feeding scheme. Anna says it wasn't easy establishing the school initially. When the locals saw NGO cars and white people, some of them thought they were coming to adopt the children and others thought they were there to start a new religion so there was some resistance but today, the school is an indispensible part of the community, having passed its first matriculants last year, 75% of whom passed with honours. Since schooling is free in Ethiopia, the school relies on child sponsors and fund raisers to survive. Anna produces an annual fashion show in Addis Ababa and there are also sponsors from Ethiopia and abroad who sponsor each child for about US $45 a month. It was wonderful to witness such a commitment from Anna, the staff of 51 employees and of course the kids, who are apparently obsessed with reading, says the librarian. I hope to see them again when I go back to Ethiopia.