Monitoring Trip 2017- SENTigray
Posted by Francesca Rutherford on Monday 27th March 2017
Our partner SENTigray supports children in the Tigray region of Ethiopia who have extra educational needs. In partnership with SENTigray and Mekelle Blind School, we work to ensure that all children, including those with disabilities are given the education they deserve. Ethiopia has the highest rate of preventable blindness in Africa, but sadly only 1% of children living with serious eye conditions receive learning support. Through working with partners like SENTigray and Mekelle blind school, we hope that all children will be able to go to school and get a quality education.
We arrived early in the morning, and were able to visit the children in their daily classes - when we last visited, school had finished for the day.
The grounds are looking much improved from the previous visit: they are tidy, lots of plants are growing (the vegetable garden is blooming with lettuce, cabbages, potatoes) and there is a new beehive - complete with resident bees. (‘They just turned up, so we built them a home’ Masho tells us) The children look healthy and seem happy. The classrooms are better equipped with braille books, the music room is well-stocked with instruments (we got a live demonstration of the children’s musical abilities) and the library is very impressive (crammed with books, and had a table full of students reading the specially adapted materials). The dormitories are clean and less crowded, and boys and girls have now been separated. All of which we were very pleased to see.
We met a number of staff who greeted us warmly - popping our heads into music class, english, maths and Tigrayan lessons where all the children seemed very engaged and excited to learn (All vying to be picked to answer the teachers’ questions).
We then sat down with three of the students who had been using the talking textbooks to find out how they had been getting on...
Tigist, aged 15
Tigist is an articulate and quietly spoken girl, who joined the Blind School in 2009. Her favourite subject is civics. Her teachers report that she has had a good academic performance since joining the school.
Tigist lost her sight aged 1. Only her uncle knew where to send her to get the specialised support she needed. The rest of her family wanted her to stay at home and told her that if she left, they would not let her return. However, once they visited the school, they realised how much it was helping Tigist and that being blind need not stop you from being successful and getting a good education.
She told us that she sees her family once a year, in the summertime. They come and take her home for 2 weeks or up to 2 months. In the meantime, they speak regularly on the telephone. It is clear that she misses them, however she has many friends at the school who help keep her company she she gets sad.
I asked her about the ways in which the Talking Textbooks had helped her studies. She cited three main ways:
1) Improved and wider educational knowledge - she has access to many subjects and can listen whenever she wants.
2) Learning independently - she no longer has to depend on her peers to help her to understand.
3) Increased confidence - ‘both in personality and in my academic ability’.
I asked Tigist what she hopes to do for a career, and she said ‘a human rights lawyer, particularly so that I can help protect people living with disabilities’
She wanted to pass on a message to Ethiopiaid supporters: ‘Thank you for your help. We need your support in order to do well, be independent and be role models.’
Hailemariam, aged 13
Hailemariam joined the school in 2012. For the first few years, Hailemariam struggled with education and fell behind. He tells us that he now understands the subjects well. His favourite subject is Amharic.
Before he came to the school, he didn’t know anyone else who was blind. He lost his sight aged five and his family told him that this meant he would never be successful. A neighbour referred him to Mekelle Blind school and it was when he first met other children with similar visual problems that he realised he was not alone.
Hailemariam says the Talking Textbooks have helped him hugely: ‘ Before, we couldn’t read. There were very few braille books and we had to wait for our peers to read to us. I was not getting good grades. Now, we are in competition with our peers to see who can achieve the best grades!’
Hailemariam recently came second in his class. He enjoys plugging in headphones and studying hard.
I asked him what his favourite thing about school is, and he said it was both the library and time spent playing with his friends.
He wants to be a legal professional when he leaves the school and thanks Ethiopiaid supporters for the opportunity to make something of himself.
Kifle, aged 13
Kifle went blind aged 2, he said he grew up feeling useless. His family took him to a spiritual area to bathe in holy water, but this did not restore his sight. Kifle was told about an NGO that could help him, but was mistakenly directed to Mekelle Blind School. He says this turned out to be a good mistake!
Kifle joined the school in 2013 and is very academic. He is now in grade 5, which is 2 years ahead of his same-age peers. Kifle’s favourite subject is social science.
We asked him how the Talking Textbooks had helped him to be even more successful in his studies. He told us: ‘I got an even better result than last year. My average grade score went up from 70 to 91 (out of 100). I am now second highest achiever in my class of 45 students. The textbooks help me to be independent and I can study whenever I like.’
Kifle wants to become a lawyer when he finishes at the school. He says he will come back and support the students.
The students at Mekelle Blind school have benefitted so much from your generous donations and we are incredibly excited to see them grow up into strong confident leaders!