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False Bay School on Lasqueti Island is a big sister to a Kindergarten in Ethiopia

I am a part-time teacher at False Bay School on Lasqueti Island in School District 69, Qualicum.

This fall (2009), I spent two months in Ethiopia with friends and their adopted Ethiopian daughter. We primarily went to visit her family, but while there we also went to several small primary schools in rural areas near her hometown of Woliso.

These schools, funded and run by a small local charity, are for Kindergarten students aged 4 to 6. Children who live in town are able to attend Kindergarten in the government or private schools. Children living in rural areas are too young to walk the long distances to town in order to attend. This puts rural children at a disadvantage when they enter the government-funded schools at age 7. These young students are taught to read and write in Oromic (their regional language) and English, by facilitators, usually young men from the community who have completed Grade 10. On weekends the schools are used to teach literacy to adults.

In one of the schools that we visited, the classes are held in a room donated by a family in the village, usually used as part of their home. The community and the organization that runs this program are working to construct a new school building in order to be more certain that the program will continue and possibly expand. They have collected locally-available building materials, been given land by the government, and the local community is able to donate their labour; all that they need to purchase is metal roofing and nails. This will cost about $500.00 Canadian.

When I returned to Lasqueti Island I suggested that our small rural school, grades K to 8, become a “big sister” to this school. There are many parallels between the schools. They both have about twenty-six students, they are both rural, and they are both strongly supported by their community. But the differences are huge. The Ethiopian school has no desks, no books, no manipulatives, and no games or playground equipment. The rest of the school staff, Parent Advisory Committee, and students embraced the idea. I showed them pictures and short videos of the little children sitting on benches in the tiny room, lit only by light coming in the window and open door. They saw the enthusiasm with which these children took turns reading the alphabet written on a tiny chalkboard propped against the wall.

We decided that during the month of February, 2010, our students would hold a coin drive to raise the $500 for the roof. They are having a bake sale and setting up information and donation jars at school functions, as well as bringing money from home.

We are also hoping to send a few school supplies: simple picture books, in English, that the students donate, pencils, alphabet cards, and a letter and picture from each student to each of the Ethiopian students.

We will continue writing to the children and follow their progress as they build their own one-room school. Hopefully the relationship between the schools will last for years.

The benefits to our students seem obvious. They will be developing an ongoing relationship with students in a very different culture, learning a little about how others live—their challenges and gifts. They will also gain some understanding about where their classmate, Etsegenet, used to live. I hope, too, that they will feel that they can make a contribution, not only of money, but of personal connection, with children whom they generally hear about only as statistics in a country beset by famine.

For the Ethiopian students there will be the immediate benefit of having their own school, but I hope they will also gain by having a relationship with children in Canada.

Submitted by Sheila Ray, False Bay School, SD69
February, 2010

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