It is very late here in Dire Dawa in Eastern Ethiopia, a city which tantalises the senses. My head is buzzing with thoughts about what has been an extraordinary day at Gende Tesfa School. I have felt a kaleidoscope of emotions. For 2 years, we have organised fundraising events in Cookham, and today I finally got to see how the money is improving the lives of more than 1000 children who attend the school. A real milestone in this very special UK- Ethiopia partnership.
Our day started with a visit to the Breakfast Club. The kids were tucking into a plate of potatoes and vegetables and sugary tea. Thanks to Cookham’s fundraising efforts, some of the most vulnerable children at the school have a good breakfast every day. For many of them, it is the only meal they will have. The Breakfast team staff also help the children with health and hygiene and talk to them about any issues which might be worrying them.
I found it profoundly moving to see the Breakfast Club. Before it existed, some of the most vulnerable children used to go through the entire school day without eating, and they sometimes passed out in the classroom. The headteacher Wendu Fekade said there are around 50 more vulnerable children at the school who are either orphans or come from extremely poor backgrounds, who would benefit tremendously from attending the Breakfast Club, but at present there is no funding for them. I felt the tears welling up in my eyes when I heard this.
Sister Tigist, who is one of the JeCCDo team, then showed us the new sports ground which Cookham has funded. Some of the older children were playing football. When I visited Gende Tesfa School back in March 2015, there was nowhere for the children to play sport, so this was also great to see.
My friend Caroline and I then delivered all the letters from Holy Trinity School in Cookham to the children in the different classes. The kids were so excited but rather nervous about opening the envelopes. The teachers said that the younger children had never received a letter before. When the children saw the letters and pencils, their faces lit up. We visited three classes, taught them some English, sang songs and wrote letters back to the children in Cookham.
In the afternoon, we were invited to a meeting at the school, but when we arrived mid-afternoon, the parents of the children from the Breakfast Club had organised a surprise celebratory coffee-ceremony for us. It was very humbling and overwhelming, particularly as they have nothing and struggle to feed and clothe their kids.
One of the fathers at the meeting explained that his wife had died and that he had three children and that the breakfast provided by the school was the only meal that he had each day. He worked as a labourer and earned the equivalent of £2 in Birr which only paid the rent. The challenges faced by others in the room were very similar. I asked why some of the parents were absent. Sister Tigist sighed and said: “Those children don’t have any parents. They are orphans but we help them.”
After several speeches, the coffee-ceremony began and we were presented with a big cake and two resplendent drias. There was so much joy in the room as the women danced, shouted and clapped to show their appreciation for all the fundraising in Cookham. It was a very special moment indeed.
Moving forward, JeCCDo hopes that the parents of the children at the Breakfast Club will take part in one of their special training programmes, and start up their own businesses. .