At Wallana Kindergarten in Ethiopia, one young girl is receiving the critical early education that most of her older siblings missed out on.
“Nose. Eye. Mouth. Tooth. Hair,” recites 6-year-old Weyneshet in a voice as soft and gentle as the features she points to on her face. When Holt Ethiopia’s child sponsorship coordinator, Gelila, holds up her hand and wiggles her digits, Weyneshet looks a bit stumped and smiles shyly at the ground.
“Fingers!” Gelila exclaims, nudging Weyneshet playfully.
Weyneshet is learning words in both Amharic and English as a “KG 3” student at Wallana Kindergarten, which provides both preschool and kindergarten education for children ages 4-6 from three “kebeles” — or neighborhoods — in this rural farming community in southern Ethiopia. Weyneshet is among 260 children in attendance at Wallana — all of them supported by Holt sponsors. And although she is the fifth oldest child in her family, Weyneshet is only the second of her siblings to attend school — following in her big sister’s footsteps.
“I’m so happy because my children are able to get a good opportunity in the program, which my older children couldn’t get,” says Weyneshet’s father, Betano, whose two young sons also attend Wallana.
Recognizing the need for early education in this community, Holt in 2010 partnered with the local church to build a three-room stone schoolhouse on a large compound surrounded on every side by family farms and traditional mud huts. Holt hired local teachers and social workers, equipped the school with desks, chairs and chalkboards, and paired the children with sponsors whose monthly gifts provide their uniforms, books and supplies. Most importantly, sponsorship covers the cost of keeping the school operational for the children.
Like most of the families in Wallana, Weyneshet’s parents are subsistence farmers who live in extreme poverty — earning less than one dollar per day. “I am a farmer so I couldn’t send my children to school by paying money,” shares Betano, a slender man in a ball cap who has the same soft eyes and delicate facial features as his daughter.
Although Betano is happy to be able to send his children to Wallana, some parents took more convincing when the kindergarten opened in 2010. “Parents were reluctant to send children to school because they needed help with farming and household work,” Gelila explains. “Parents were also more likely to send boys to school than girls.”
To encourage parents to educate both their sons and their daughters, Holt relied on local social workers and teachers — all of whom come from Wallana and are respected within the community. Today, the parents of Wallana can see what an early education means for their children — so many of whom are enrolled in the school that they attend in two shifts so as not to overflow the classrooms.
“Now they are able to be awakened,” says Betano, of his sons and two youngest daughters — one of whom sits beside him now, softly reciting her English. “They are able to have a future.”
Robin Munro • Managing Editor