It Feels Good to be Back – Trip 3

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.

True to the Ethiopian culture, the smiles and hugs are not enough; it would not be a proper welcoming without the traditional welcome coffee ceremony. The tell-tale signs are evident as we walk over to greet the Headmaster: The floor is laden with fuchsia bougainvillea and red hibiscus flowers placed over green branches. Soon enough the coffee beans that are roasted on the spot over a small charcoal burner, are presented to us so that we can enjoy their fragrant aroma. Popcorn follows. Tradition states that you drink three demitasse cups of coffee. I never drink black coffee but here it almost seems sacrilegious not to. And it is very good indeed. On this my first day back, I feel as though I were back home for a visit, as we all got busy chatting and catching up with our lives.

Our beautiful welcoming coffee ceremony

This time around I was especially eager to visit the Kindergarten where last year I had spent all of my time. I got very close to the team of 14 teachers. They impressed me with their creativity, eagerness to learn and to apply new ideas; but most of all because they are all so warm and friendly. Last year they made me feel accepted as part of their team so I was very happy to learn that I would continue working with them during the next three weeks. Apparently, we have new teachers so my job will be to go over much of the techniques that the KG employs in the classroom with them. It was so nice to see the little smiles and bright eyes again, especially those of my sponsored students. My favorite is when I walked into a classroom and they all stood up to say “Good morning Miss! How are you Miss?!” They really win you over very quickly!

Goal Setting
The first order of business for all visitors is to set goals, which we did with the headmaster. My goals are to continue working with the Kindergarten, to assist the high school with the formation of a counseling department, the writing of a High School Counseling handbook, and the establishment of an Alumni Association. The current class of 2018 is the third groups of students to enter senior year and the school would like to formalize much of the services it has offered to its graduates. I have also requested to work with one of our sponsored students who is now in grade 10 and will shortly take the national exam. I look forward to getting to know him better.

Parent-Teacher Meeting in Kindergarten
I am the mother of two grown up children so I have had my share of parent/teacher meetings. For those readers who are parents, you can remember the stress associated with these. The morning of the meeting I noticed a teacher especially busy arranging the classroom and tidying up. When I asked her what was going on she explained her nervousness in anticipation of a meeting with parents. I thought, “Ah, that’s why she looks a bit nervous; understandable.” She then invited me to join in and all I kept thinking of was “What a relief to be invited as an observer!” The reason for the meeting was to discuss some recent changes (new teachers) in Kindergarten and to obtain parent feedback and collaboration. I was eager to see how it would go. Later that morning when I walked into the room I saw many parents (or guardians) sitting in tiny seats that had been arranged in a U shape. Confidently seated on their parent’s laps were adorable little ones; K2 kindergarteners approximately 5 years old. Younger siblings were present as were women and men in equal number. I was not surprised to see siblings, even infants, in the room but it was nice to see men present; in an international school setting, morning meetings were mainly attended by mothers. Most of the men wore casual clothing but the women wore traditional dresses. I also noticed three baskets sitting on a table: one held popcorn, the other caramel sweets for the children, and the last a big round sweet bread that is traditionally served for special occasions. The meeting was held in Tigrinyan (the regional language) so I did not understand a word; the body language and the calm that prevailed told me that everyone was comfortable and satisfied with the information and conversation. Right in front of me and off to the edge of the room sat a woman dressed in a traditional robe who was breastfeeding her infant baby. Right next to her was her son who was helping his mom by fanning the infant with a piece of paper. He was very diligent in his action but unfortunately the paper was too flimsy and thin. So I reached into my bag for a fan and handed it to him; I was rewarded with a smile and a short bow of the head from his mom.

Once all was said, the director of the Kindergarten invited someone to come up and cut the first slice of bread. Everyone applauded and the goodies were distributed. The atmosphere was friendly and everyone was chatting. So far, so good. But it got better. The teacher started playing Tigrinyan music and my Latin side kicked in. My eyes fixed on a little girl who was staring at me and moving ever so slightly to the music so I started to do the same. Tigrinyan dance involves a lot of shoulder and head movement and is very rhythmical with clear percussion sound. What can I say, it’s music to my ears! The little girl kept smiling and approached me as her shoulders and head kept up with the beat. I was seated in my chair and was almost at eye level with her. Well, off we went synchronizing our shoulders and head rolls and before I could count to ten I had a semi-circle of little KG persons dancing and smiling away. The parents clearly enjoyed watching me attempt the local moves! It all ended well. As with all such meetings many parents chose to huddle close to the teacher to ask specifics about their child. As for me, I kept the kids occupied and danced away the remaining minutes!

Hello! What’s your name?
There are so many great moments I look forward to when I am here. One of these is the walk from the upper school campus to the campus that houses KG and the primary school. I am never disappointed! Once there I was met with many youngsters eagerly coming right up to me to say “Hello! What’s your name?” and to shake my hand. They are all smiles and giggles. Over my past two visits I have met and gotten to know many students so it’s a great chance to run into them to say hello. It’s so nice to see them again and to ask them how they are doing. I look forward to our chats over the next few weeks.

Making New Friends and Expanding the Network
One of the many benefits to visiting is the chance to meet many professionals who are here as trainers. I have met very knowledgeable and skillful people and it is great when our visits overlap. A repeat trainer (her fifth trip) is Sheila with whom I worked with last year. We met again this week and it was as though not one day had gone by since our last meeting. It was really good to see her again.

Some of the best networking can be done quite unexpectedly. This happened yesterday during an elevator ride I shared with an English speaking women, one of whom was holding a nursing textbook. An initial chat led to a dinner meeting. She is a young American woman, trained as a pharmacologist who works as a consultant out of Addis. Her project is to find a local manufacturer of reusable sanitary napkins and deliver them to young refugee girls in Somali refugee camps in Ethiopia. We now have a valuable contact and information on how to source these valuable products to our female students.

Today I had the pleasure of welcoming my daughter to the school. This is her first visit and she will be here as a volunteer for two weeks. Over the years she has heard much about the school and has been looking forward to this visit for some time. Judging by the photo of her on the parallel bars she looks ready to start! What a throwback to her own jungle gym days!


Showers at the High School
The Nicolas School has a rare facility on the high school campus: separate showers and changing rooms with lockers for men and women. They were installed in 2016 and were partially funded by a Development Grant from the Federation of American Women’s Club Overseas. I was so pleased this week to see a queue forming outside the women’s facility!



Week 3 – 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 “Week 3 – Part 1”

My Second Week – Part 2

It’s Not All Work

You’ve heard this before: volunteering is the hardest job you’ll ever love. But working at an elevation of 2000 m, in a warm climate and very dusty air, makes you feel especially exhausted at the end of the day. So, with a bit of planning and help from our hosts, we always plan long weekend excursions. Continue reading “My Second Week – Part 2”