Children love novelty, so I was warmly received as a volunteer in Meketa’s after-school club. I had all the qualities of novelty – a pale skinned foreigner, who most importantly brought with her two enormous bags full of stationery, books, art and craft supplies and of course games. Having learnt a few words of encouragement in Amharic, I was “in”. Their welcome has been one of the warmest and most joyous things I have ever experienced. It has not all been plain sailing certainly. Coming from British schools where I have come to expect one chair and desk per pupil, it was a bit unexpected to see the kids here sitting on plastic garden chairs with small occasional tables or no tables at all, and on occasions to go through days without any water for them to wash their hands or paintbrushes or any electricity for lighting. The kids have also sometimes looked too tired or hungry to concentrate, so flexibility has always been a must but once the logistics were in place and once the problems of communication were solved - when one of the ever patient Ethiopian members of staff came in to translate or when one of the cleverer children understood what I wanted to teach and explained it to the others - my classes finally got moving.
I have had some of my best ever teaching moments in this little after-school club. For example, I tried for a week to teach the children a simple Hebrew song and thought I had failed miserably. After locking the club at the start of the following week, I started to go back into town feeling rather deflated, when two little girls took hold of my hands and others arrived to form a circle and right there, in the middle of the street, we sang and danced on that very song. On another occasion, we opened up some English poster paints. Children’s paint is very difficult to track down in Ethiopia. We found some in Addis Ababa where one stationer only carried one brand only and it is awful. There is no children paint in Gondar and there is no poster paint at all in Ethiopia. By luck, someone very kind had donated some that had been brought to the club before we arrived. There was very little of it left and only a few colours, so I decided to give the children just three colours (red, blue and yellow) plus white and black and to teach them how to mix them to obtain any number of other colours in all shades and hues. While many of the pupils lacked the patience or desire and just had fun simply marking paper using the three colours given, for a couple of them, it was a revelation, like coming home to a talent that had slept in them. Just thinking of the glow in their eyes as they expressed themselves with paint for the first time still brings tears of joy to my eyes.
These numerous moments of teaching happiness have not meant that challenges have been lacking. One of the biggest challenges I have faced has been the near complete lack of pedagogical materials. I can invent lessons on the spot but most of the time I prefer to research and prepare my material. In England, I would have had access to libraries or shops full of books and teaching materials. The internet would also have provided me with access to many well crafted worksheets and teaching aids. With very limited access to wifi (or electricity) on my phone and no books, I was left to create and teach material from the content of my head and I am the first to recognize how limited that is. I so wish I had had access to drawing methods and art books. Authoring original teaching material for two-hour adult education classes three days per week has also presented me with a challenge in term of structuring and presenting the knowledge to be imparted from English to Amharic which is so completely different in structure. Fortunately, the three young men I taught had once studied English at school. So, it has mostly been a question of correcting misconceptions rather than teaching from scratch and their enthusiasm, dedication and sense of humour have made these lessons most enjoyable and, I hope, beneficial.
I am very happy to have come to Gondar to volunteer for Meketa. The dedication, talent and care of my colleagues, the warmth and enthusiasm of my students and Ethiopians’ sense of identity and hospitality have made it a joyous and fascinating experience.