2018: Wrapping Up

Cultural Exchange around Music and Dance

I enjoy dancing, especially salsa. So you can imagine how pleased I was to meet a few students and a teacher with the same interest. Ms. S has won many competitions and assures me that Ethiopians- including NRS teachers- love to dance salsa. Continue reading “2018: Wrapping Up”


It Started with a Playground – A Personal Account

A Personal Story from a Dedicated Donor

“It started with a playground.

Despite working together on a global business team, Max Robinson and I had never met in person. So, during a 2005 leadership summit we both attended, he and I exchanged stories. Among those he shared was the tragic death of his son, Nicolas, and how it inspired his charity, Rainbows for Children (R4C).  Max was proud that R4C had just completed the construction of a kindergarten in Mekele, Ethiopia – the first of many classrooms to come – to educate children who are among the neediest in the world.

Continue reading “It Started with a Playground – A Personal Account”

2018: My Third Week

Alumni Website and Database Creation

We made much progress in getting these two projects off the ground; they will help the school maintain contact with NRS graduates and provide a way to measure the effectiveness of the academic programs.  As a way to motivate current students, a select group of talented IT students will work with the project leaders to build the website. The goals are to create a dialogue with alumni; keep them interested in their alma mater; invite them back to special events; encourage them to act as role models for current students; let them know that the NRS is there to help counsel them with school issues and their future plans.  

Continue reading “2018: My Third Week”

2018: My Second Week

Vocational Training Pilot Program in Hospitality meets with success  

Since the inauguration of the Nicolas Youth and Adult Learning Centre in 2017, approximately 20 students have graduated from the hospitality program, short course, and most have accepted employment with leading local hotels. The recent cadre of students is especially promising: 5 of the class of 20 have already received job offers with 2 hotels, while they are still on their in-hotel placement program.

hospitality training class in school kitchen

During my stay a special presentation was made to local business leaders in order to obtain their feedback and gauge their interest in our students and program. In their honor, the students prepared a special lunch menu for them: Deviled eggs, mini pizzas, mini vegetarian sandwiches, honeycombed textured crisps, and fresh fruit kabobs. It was all very delicious (especially the crisps which were quickly consumed and barely made it into the photo!) and well presented.


The hospitality program is very fortunate to have the expertise of many talented individuals. One of these is Johan from PUM Netherlands Senior Experts (pum.nl), a volunteer organization committed to the sustainable development of small and medium size enterprises in developing countries and emerging markets. Johan is very personable and friendly and has a ready smile. He visits often and works exclusively with students enrolled in the vocational program. When he is in residence he dons his chef hat and works side by side with the students. He believes in teaching the students every aspect of the hospitality sector and leads by example; if a spill occurs he is quick to reach for a rag and clean up himself. He is definitely hands on and wants to demonstrate that you must be willing to get your hands dirty.  I asked him to tell us a little about his experiences with the Nicolas School and this is what he shared:

“Working with the NRS was pure coincidence. A group of us from PUM started work on an ambitious program at the request of the Mekele Hotel Association, Mekele University and the Mekele Bureau of Tourism. By coincidence, one of our project managers discovered the Nicolas Robinson School and from that point on our collaboration with the NRS pilot project accelerated.  Our experience has shown us that you have to teach from the bottom up, i.e., train the kitchen staff first and they will educate middle management. The NRS gives us this opportunity. The children we have in our courses make us shift gears because we are from different worlds. They have never been to a hotel, restaurant or professional kitchen so we cannot expect them to know how to prepare food or even how to use cutlery.  Still they are very eager to learn and therefore we are very committed to teach them. The children we work with are children of disabled veterans (members of the Tigray Disabled Veterans Association). They are individuals with many different backgrounds, abilities, problems and issues. They deserve special attention since some of them are very talented. Most of them display the typical natural Ethiopian hospitality which makes them particularly suited for the booming hotel industry in Mekele.  

Why do I volunteer? I became a volunteer quite accidently. Because I work at a Hotel school where most people work for PUM, I was asked to help a restaurant in the Ukraine for my first mission.  After that came missions in Georgia, Tanzania, Ghana and now Ethiopia. I like the way PUM works; instead of money or goods they send knowledge. Money and goods can hopefully be generated in the countries after we have visited them. Knowledge is durable. If used correctly it can create more possibilities and can drip through to all concerned parties. At a minimum value is enhanced by creating awareness. The volunteers we work with are all professionals in the field. They are experienced in several disciplines across the hospitality sector. They could easily sell out their knowledge in Western Europe by giving courses or starting consulting agencies and make good money. The motivation for volunteering differs from person to person. I myself see it as putting money in the bank where it is safe and will grow. Volunteering is depositing memories and experiences in your memory bank. You can make withdrawals any time you want but the memories won’t diminish. Sharing is easy and will make you richer as your memory deposits grow. And like any money safely stored, your memory deposits are always available for a rainy day. Earning memories is equally as easy; you just have to add up the things that you have experienced in life and during your career and make them available to the rest of the world. If you do so, you will have something to talk about at home and to share with the world. Hopefully, it will help, even if just a little.”

Seniors wear their jerseys with pride

Seniors the world over are sooooo cool. And they like to stand out from the rest of their junior classmates. At the NRS, our seniors wear special jerseys that read: “NRS 3rd Batch 2010 E.C.” meaning that they are the third class of seniors expected to graduate in 2018 (which is 2010 in the Ethiopian calendar).

Seniors in T-shirts

Tutoring our sponsored students

One of the real privileges of visiting often is that you get to meet with your sponsored student and this helps you develop a relationship over time. With each trip I make sure I meet with most of them; this year I met with B several times a week to work on his English. He is in tenth grade and is getting ready to take his national exams which by the way are in English. He is a sweet young man and very shy. I found that he enjoys reading and pronounces very difficult words correctly. As most of our students, B comes from a very humble family where there is no T.V. and English is his third language. I was impressed with his love of reading. At the end of our session he always shook my hand and thanked me. I imagine that he doesn’t understand why I should take an interest in him. I am sure that one day he will do the same for someone else.   We sponsor his younger sister as well and their father is a veteran who works as a school security guard. It’s nice to run into him during my walks at school and see him greet me with a warm smile and a hand shake. Last year, he sent us a family photo with a beautiful message of thanks. We treasure this gift and I know he feels such gratitude for our help. It is a privilege to know that he trusts us enough to work directly with his children.

Ellen and Peter

Our good friends Ellen and Peter have been hearing us talk about the Nicolas school for several years now.  Ellen is a retired teacher and Peter a retired lawyer. They are also great hikers and love to travel. After each of our trips they would get an earful about the school and the gorgeous country. Before my first trip to the school I asked Ellen for some tips on how to work with kids in a classroom. She gave me some helpful pointers and some very clever card games. The good news is that they not only sponsor a child but they visited the school this year together with us. They came bearing some fabulous story books, educational card games, some sports equipment and school supplies.  Ellen summed up her experience as follows:

Strolling through The Nicholas Robinson School, happiness abounds
Singing, playing, laughing, these are the children’s sounds
Calling “Ms. Ellen”, extending their hands to shake mine
Children eager to show they know my name every time

Working with teachers to demonstrate techniques that will last
How to motivate and include 35-48 students per class
All teachers enthusiastic and willing to try a new way
Lots of ideas exchanged, not enough time in the day

Kindergarten teachers energizing tots, having lots of fun
Understanding essential skills by the time they’re done
Primary youngsters learning English bit by bit
Active games allowing them to understand, not sit

Peter and I sponsor a child, he was shy when we met
We gave him a few special gifts, he liked them, we bet
His parents honored us with a coffee ceremony in their home
By the time we left our little boy didn’t mind being with us alone

Our time at the school passed quickly,  we didn’t want it to end
In such a short time we felt that the children and staff were friends
Teachers at the school wanting to learn and it’s obvious they care
We captured the school’s spirit, lasting memories and photos to share

With Ellen Peter JP Tesfagabir

Victory at Local Sport Competition

The Nicolas school competes regularly in the annual city schools sport competition. This year the results were reported by Mr.Shewit, the High School principal: “The annual sports competition is held across seven categories and we participated in six of these.  My kids won 4 trophies for Girls volleyball, Boys volleyball, Boys table tennis and Girls tug of war, and three medals for Boys chess (bronze) and Girls chess (Silver and Gold). “

Congratulations to all who participated and special mention to the winners and their dedicated trainers. I love how Mr.Shewit refers to the students as “My kids”!!

High School champions!

2018: It Feels Good to be Back

It’s been one year since my last visit to the Nicolas Robinson School yet on my first day back, it felt as though I had never left. Seeing all of the familiar faces and the welcoming smiles and hugs confirmed what I have known for some time and explains why I continue to come back: being here feels a lot like home. This year as every year, I am here as a volunteer with my husband who serves as Trustee to the Rainbows4children Foundation.

Continue reading “2018: It Feels Good to be Back”

2017: My Third Week – Part 1

Improving the health of the entire school community

Immediate and effortless access to clean water is indeed a luxury which most of us take for granted. In Ethiopia, most school age students must help their families collect water for their daily needs. This means long walks of several kilometers distance and oftentimes to unreliable water sources. Continue reading “2017: My Third Week – Part 1”