Ethiopia - February 2019

This was a private two-week school building project in Defecha, a small village close to Gondar in Northern Ethiopia. The group of 11 people came together to commemorate the life of a very special family member. They raised enough money to construct a two-room school block to improve the overall provision at the school as well as another two-room school block at another school in Shashkurit.

Defecha School 11
Defecha School 12
Defecha School 15

This is a very personal account by Becky, a volunteer on the project. The account is written in Becky’s own words.

“I’m Becky Swain and with a group of family and friends, we helped to build two classrooms in Defecha, Ethiopia and two classrooms in Shashkurit, Ethiopia in memory of my wonderful mum, Janet Swain.

My mum was the most kind and loving person. She lit up a room when she entered; she was the life and soul of the party. Unfortunately, she sadly passed away in December 2017, after losing her battle with cancer. Mum was a very popular lady, she had so many different groups of friends and her favourite thing was socialising. She was also a teaching assistant in a reception class. She really was made for that job, with her kindness, patience and positive energy. As Mum was so loved by everyone, and couldn’t get enough of her job, we needed big plans to create something wonderful in her memory.

My Mum’s sister, Sally Morgan, had previously worked with AidCamps International through her work at AkzoNobel, and came up with the idea that we could help to build classrooms in Africa in Mum’s memory. Mum loved working at school and supporting children to achieve their best. She had such a huge impact on so many children’s first moments at school. Building a classroom in Africa in her name for children to achieve their maximum potential seemed a perfect thing to do. These children have very few opportunities and education is key to their future and that of their families. The classrooms would provide the learning opportunity for many children over many years.

Sally became the project coordinator and started to plan our project of building the two classrooms in Defecha, Ethiopia. The family were quite overwhelmed and intimidated by how much money we needed to raise to make this possible, and to be honest, we thought it wouldn’t be possible.

After organising many fundraising events, such as charity gigs, 90 mile walks, pub quizzes, car boot sales and half marathons, we were able to raise a huge total of over £30,150!

With this amount of money we were able to easily meet the cost of the first two classrooms and also able to build a further two additional classrooms in Shashkurit.

We put together a team of Janet’s family and friends, and flew out to Ethiopia. As our project coordinator, Sally had flown out 5 days early to organise everything for our arrival. This meant that when we arrived in Gondar for our first evening, she already knew the best place to go for dinner and the best local beer! More importantly it meant that when we got to the village, after an hour long bumpy car journey into the mountains all crammed into a van, our tents were already set up and the building work was underway. We were welcomed to the friendliest of faces, giving us flowers and then inviting us inside for the traditional coffee ceremony. This involved roasting and grinding the coffee beans, before making us a cup.

During our stay, we were invited to many school lessons, cooking demonstrations and coffee ceremonies in the local’s houses. This was in the breaks of carrying out manual labour in 30 degree heat! The days work included heavy rock carrying, ferrying small stones down the hill for cement, fetching water from the well when we could, mud carrying for the plasterer and painting. Every evening we were made a simple but well done meal by our cook Mulu, who wouldn’t let any of us help when we offered. She was lovely and made our stay in the village so much more homely. 

I suppose one of the biggest challenges was the cultural differences. What seemed completely alien to the people in the village was completely normal to us and vice versa. Some of the children had never seen people like us before, and so were constantly staring out of fascination of what these people were doing here and where we had come from. An obvious challenge was the accommodation in the village; we hadn’t had much experience of using a hole in the ground for a toilet before! But we all got fairly used to it.

Another difficulty we faced was that whilst we were building, the well ran dry of water. With the location of the village, it was very difficult to bring water up the mountain and with the style of building, very difficult to do any building work without water. We did manage to get some water up the hill by donkey luckily, so building could resume somewhat.

When we left for Ethiopia, we were hoping a lot of the building work would be completed. We hoped our first week would be helping cementing and laying the floor and the second week painting and moving furniture in. In reality, because of the issues with the water, the classrooms weren’t as complete as we wanted them to be when it was time for us to leave. Efforts were made but it is a lot harder to plan and get things done in a remote village in Ethiopia with minimal resources compared to here. We managed to lay the floor and paint the inside walls of the first classroom and so we then had another coffee ceremony, to celebrate the opening. We received a beautiful painted gift from the village to thank us for our time and generosity.

I really hope that with the building of these classrooms more children can stay in school for longer. Many of these children only stay in school for a couple of grades and then, because the higher grades are at a school further away, they do not continue with their learning. Girls also get pulled out of school early to help with the duties and chores of the family. I know that Mum would have wanted all children to have equal opportunities and to reach their maximum potential. She helped so many youngsters in England, and I like to think with these classrooms, she can help so many underprivileged children achieve their dreams.

The whole family would like to thank everyone again that made a donation, and AidCamps International and Link Ethiopia for making it all possible. It was such a great experience and one we will never forget!”

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