Our little kindergarten in Ethiopia is a special place indeed. But don’t picture classrooms with bright lighting, colorful furnishings and a variety of teaching materials. There is nothing that resembles our Western idea of what early education should look like – not even electricity!  The children identified by our staff in coordination with the village chief are from the poorest families in the village.  Most of the children are from single parent households.

To get an idea of what daily life is like in this dusty village, come visit Mulu, a single mother of one of our kindergarten children.

Mulu and her eight children stir as the sun rises at 6 a.m.  They all sleep together on their dirt floor, the older ones cuddling the younger ones.  They have a few blankets for covering and Mulu is glad for a pillow she and her late husband were given as a wedding gift nineteen years ago.  Two years ago Mulu’s husband died of a heart ailment; Mulu was pregnant with child #8.  Their typical round hut with a grass roof sits on a section of land that her husband was able to plow, providing a corn harvest to eat and to use for barter.  Mulu is a small, thin woman and physically unable to pull the heavy plow, but she and her children do the best they can and manage to plant a small section next to their house.  But this year there was no rain and their garden dried up.   Mulu went to the mosque seeking help and appealed to the village chief for relief, but there was none to give.  Inshallah.  God’s will.

As the sun warms the early morning, the older children trudge with plastic water containers to the community water station to bring back water.  The younger children scurry to find wood for their fire while Mulu nurses her 2-year-old and measures out corn for their breakfast.  Housekeeping is easy – folding up blankets.  When the water appears, the school-aged children carefully wash their faces in a small amount of water and Mulu boils the corn she set aside, bought with her meager earnings selling firewood.  Everyone gets a drink of water with boiled corn.  It is not enough food to satisfy or to nourish growing bodies, and the children know they won’t have another meal until late afternoon when Mulu will give a little flavor to the corn by adding berbere spice or frying the corn in oil.

Most often Kena, the 5-year-old, skips breakfast because Mulu knows he will receive a nourishing lunch at the Mana Gammachuu kindergarten he attends.  She is beyond grateful for this opportunity for Kena.  The school requires no tuition from her; he is provided a uniform and they feed her child!  The school is in the Christian compound about a 15 minute walk from her hut.  She has met several Christians since
Kena has started his first year of kindergarten and has been amazed at how kind they are to her and her children.  She wonders about this Isa (Jesus) they have told her has changed their lives.

Once the children are off to school, Mulu walks to her nearby neighbor who will watch her 2-year-old while Mulu scours the countryside gathering firewood to sell.  This is difficult work in this sun-scorched barren land.  Wood scraps are generally found closer to the lake about a 1½ hour walk away.  Once she has a load on her back, she returns to her village where more affluent families will purchase firewood from her.  In the sweltering heat of the afternoon, she is glad to relax with her neighbor, watching the children play and visiting.  Oftentimes several women congregate to share their day, commiserating and laughing together.

Most in this village live in varying degrees of poverty.  Of course having a husband who can work the land is a plus, especially if he owns oxen.  But everyone works hard and helps each other as best they can.  Mulu was born and raised in this village and can’t imagine living anywhere else.

When the children come home from school, another water run is necessary.  Any homework must be done before the sun sets at 6 p.m.  There is no electricity and hyenas prowl at night, so the family secures themselves inside their hut and talk about the events of their day as they settle down for the night.  The evening meal put a little something in their bellies, but all fall asleep hungry.

Mulu worries she will not have enough food even for the two small meals they have been eating.  She knows her children are hungry and she can do nothing for their scalp sores and skin problems.  It hurts her heart to see them so thin and tired.   If only it would rain at the right time to nourish her and her neighbor’s plantings!

Be sure to follow the blog to read Part 2 of Mulu’s story “Blessed with Food”