A Dynamic Father/Daughter Duo!



Caroline Escoubas-Güney, my niece, is a medical student in Nice, France and her family sponsors a student at the Nicolas School. Over the years she has heard a lot about our visits and her family has generously donated many school supplies.  After our recent chats she decided to apply for a month long internship with the Pediatrics Department of  the Ayder Hospital in Mekele and a second month as a volunteer at the Nicolas School. While at the school she spent most of her time with the Biology teacher working on protocols. Her biggest claim to fame is demonstrating how to isolate the DNA of a banana. Caroline also worked very closely with the school nurse: together they measured the Kindergarten students against the World Health Organization’s nutrition guidelines. Her father, Pierre Escoubas, a University professor in zoology and bio-chemistry, decided to join forces with Caroline. Their visit was a tremendous success and the entire team hopes to see them again very soon. Here is Pierre’s take on their stay. Spoiler alert: Read the bit about the goats head!

“I joined my daughter Caroline in Mekele for a short visit, towards the end of her 2-months stay in Ethiopia. As she had been working for a month as a volunteer at the Nicolas Robinson School, this was the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia and see the school for the first time, and help her with her Biology projects. We had beforehand worked together on the implementation of some practicals for the biology teachers so I was interested to see how everything had been working out.

Seeing the school for the first time was quite a shock (in a positive way) as it is difficult from pictures and videos to fathom the impressive size, cleanliness and beautiful layout of the two campuses and the remarkable achievement that this represents. One can hardly imagine today that the whole project started from scratch on an empty plot of land some 15 years ago! After only a few days in Mekele, the school appears to the first time visitor as a kind of oasis in the middle of the city, and one easily understands how much this means to the children who receive an education there!

Classroom walkway
Bio, Chem, Physics. IT labs

As my Ethiopian trip was to be very short, I was only able to spend two full days at the school working with the Biology teachers Mr. Teclab and Ms. Selam. It was nevertheless an enjoyable experience and hopefully a fruitful one. Caroline of course had done most of the work already, cleaning up and organizing the biology lab, demonstrating the various protocols for the teachers, and running experiments with them. My on-site contribution was therefore much more limited, but I tried to bring additional expertise in zoology and biochemistry teaching, acquired during my years at the University. In two days, I was able to show the two teachers and their assistant Ms. Kevra how to prepare an insect collection for biology classes on taxonomy and insect biology, and how to dry and prepare plants towards the constitution of a small herbarium that could be used to teach plant biology. Clearly the biology labs need to build up a collection of biological specimens that can be used to show students the anatomy and diversity of animals and plants. We will hopefully have started the process and the teachers and their students may now be able to gather animals and plants and preserve them for future use.


taxidermy 2

taxidermy 3

The biology lab is equipped with the basics but teaching materials clearly require an additional effort. As I was not aware of what was available before my arrival at the school, we looked though the cupboards to find usable resources for teaching various topics. Among other things, we found a batch of brand new Play-Doh jars that had just been donated, and that proved to be a very interesting tool for teaching a variety of subjects. Play-Doh can be modeled into just about anything and therefore used for multiple purposes. After some brainstorming we figured that it could be used to build molecular models of molecules, thus bringing to life three-dimensional models that will help the students understand better the basics of biochemistry. Using toothpicks as molecular bonds, We set upon building models of amino acids to teach protein assembly, and making use of wire fetched by Teclab from his storage room we managed to produce (after several tries) a half-decent model of DNA, showing the double helix structure. I know after returning to France, that this has met with success as I have since seen pictures of the students replicating the model under the supervision of Teclab. So it looks like Play-Doh will continue to be a useful teaching help at the school. Caroline also made good use of it, making chromosomes of different colors to explain the mechanisms of cell division to several students.


Separating DNA

But the highlight of those two days was undoubtedly the dissection of a fresh goat head! It started with the need to obtain a sheep brain to explain vertebrate brain structure. However, said sheep turned into a freshly killed goat, still dripping blood on the floor of the lab, and the dissection of the brain itself into a whole operation that involved five different people armed with a variety of tools and knives and transformed the biology lab into something akin to a butcher’s shop! After much effort, we managed to extract the intact brain and it now sits in a jar of formaldehyde for the students to peruse. In the process, some grade 12 students streamed into the biology lab and I took the opportunity to dissect one of the goat’s eyes and show them for the first time the structure and innards of the vertebrate eye. Their fascinated stares clearly demonstrated the need to implement more practicals in the biology curriculum as this remains the only way to truly understand and memorize some of the lessons, biology remaining after all a science of observation and manipulation.

Goats head

Goats head 2

After our work at the school, Caroline and I embarked on a 3-days trip to the Danakil depression where many adventures awaited us! The highlights of our awesome journey included driving 4×4 cars across the salts flats at sunrise, visiting the Dallol sulfur deposits and hiking at night to the top of the Erta Ale volcano for a memorable sunrise, not to mention getting stuck in soft sand with our car after chasing some ostriches!

The Danakil

Altogether this was quite a memorable trip, and a great opportunity to discover the Ethiopian culture and people. Invariably nice, smiling and helpful, always ready with a smile the Ethiopians are indeed lovely people. Hopefully the great achievements of the Nicolas school and the unrelenting and selfless efforts of Max and Kathryn Robinson will continue to bring them education of higher standards that will afford some of the children at the Nicolas Robinson School the opportunity to pursue higher education, become global citizens and better support their families in the future.”

Pierre Escoubas


2019 International Women’s Day: Profiles in Courage

This year’s theme “Balance for better” embraces the idea that a gender balanced world creates a more perfect place for all people to feel free and secure. It also suggests a new mindset: we all have a role to play. We have a collective responsibility to create gender-balanced work places, education, health care, politics, homes, and social reforms.

Continue reading “2019 International Women’s Day: Profiles in Courage”

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!