by Joy Casey
In First World countries education is taken for granted, a right, an assumed privilege. Our forefathers here in America knew the role education would play in the creation of a strong republic and fought for free, high quality education. There is not a person among the 329 million Americans that cannot access public education. I actually never gave much thought to this advantage since it has been at my fingertips my whole life. But after my recent visit to Ethiopia, I realize how privileged I am. Having a literate society is one of the pillars of our strong nation. Conversely, a lack of education weakens a society.
Of all regions, sub-Saharan Africa has the highest rates of education exclusion. Over one-fifth of children between the ages of about 6 and 11 are out of school, followed by one-third of youth between the ages of about 12 and 14. According to UIS data, almost 60% of youth between the ages of about 15 and 17 are not in school. (uis.unesco.org)
I was in village after village where there were no schools at all. The masses of children (44% of Ethiopia’s population is 14 and under!) are growing up not knowing how to read or cipher. In one village where we are going to build a church, the nearest school is a 2 hour walk away. I was told that a child has to be at least 12-years-old before he can tackle the 4 hour daily walk. So, in this village a small number of lucky students enroll in kindergarten at age 12.
A few adults proudly boast of having a sixth or ninth grade education, which is a huge achievement given their circumstances. Some children move in with relatives in a larger town to attend school, but most just go without, especially girls. In a good-sized village, we found only 3 teenage girls with some education: 3rd grade, 9th grade and 10th grade. A father of seven children walks an hour away to attend eighth grade.
Until a church or business partner steps forward to help us build schools, our missionaries are starting ad hoc education. In one newly constructed church, school is held using only a wall poster of Amharic letters. After the Amharic lesson, a Bible story is given. Fifteen M*slim children come for the Amharic lesson and stay for the Bible story. We would like to provide a chalk board, chalk, exercise books and pencils.
Two missionaries take turns teaching 50+ students of all ages. A church one hour away provided a blackboard and chalk.
Another church has started kindergarten in their temporary church with no supplies and no place to sit except the dirt floor (the church is scarce on benches). The local government will provide land for a kindergarten if we will build one. However, without a strong financial partner here in the U.S., we cannot take that step.
In a few weeks many of you will receive our NewLife Ethiopia gift catalog in the mail or gift catalog orders can be placed on our web site. We need your help to provide the very basic necessities to these makeshift schools. A gift of $15 or more for school supplies will help provide a modicum of education for children who otherwise will never be able to read, write or understand numbers. Thanks for helping us provide this most basic of rights to many children in Ethiopia!