The Anglo-Ethiopian Society
Rainbows4children - A Kindergarten in Mekele
Author - Kathryn and Max Robinson
Life has many twists and turns of fate and it was a personal tragedy that led to the opening of the Nicolas Robinson School in Mekele, Ethiopia. The foundation Rainbows4children has built this school with the help of the Tigray Disabled Veteran's Association (TDVA) in Mekele, to provide education primarily for children of disabled parents. They are taught in four classrooms and now have the chance to receive an education, despite their disadvantaged family circumstances. The school opened its doors on September 12th 2005 to 160 children aged between four and six years.
But how did this all come about?
Kathryn and Max first met each other as fellow chemistry students at university, but after graduating they went their separate ways and followed different but often parallel paths and interests such as travel and photography.
In 1995 Kathryn first visited Ethiopia as a tourist and visited the important sites of Aksum, Lalibela and Gondar, as well as enjoying a few days trekking in the Simien mountains guided by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic Solomon Berhe.
In 1996, Max's younger son, Nicolas, tragically died at the age of five. This event turned Max's life upside down leading eventually to the dissolution of his marriage - but out of tragedy also came hope. A fund was established in memory of Nicolas and the money collected was donated to children's charities - primarily to Save the Children Fund in the UK (SCF). After discussion with Max, SCF decided that the money should be used for some of their planned projects in Ethiopia.
A few years later chance brought Kathryn and Max together again after a gap of almost 25 years. As they talked about their lives during the intervening years, the conversation turned to the subject of travel, a lot of which had been in Africa. It turned out that Ethiopia was Kathryn's favourite destination - she had been struck by the diversity of culture and the friendly people as well as by the beauty of the countryside.
Max had often wanted to travel there to see how the money raised in memory of Nicolas had been used by SCF but was concerned about possible risks, either real or imagined. Kathryn was able to reassure him that his impressions were far from reality and that she knew a great guide who would be able to show them this wonderful country.
With the help of SCF and Solomon Berhe, they organised a trip to visit projects which had been supported by SCF. Max was immediately won over by the people and the natural beauty of Ethiopia. He now knew he wanted to build a school in the country in memory of Nicolas, but how to do it?
Their guide, Solomon, amongst his many talents had had plenty of experience not only of aid work and also with building a school in the Simien mountains. He was quick to come to their assistance, and after a few months had contacted an old friend who was a member of the TDVA and put together a proposal.
Kathryn and Max returned to Ethiopia in 2003 to discuss detailed plans for the school and then again in April 2004. During the April visit they visited Lalibela to follow-up on projects to sponsor local children and provide school books, rounding off the trip with a short ceremony at the rock-hewn church of Bet Giorgis to bless their recent marriage in Switzerland.
In October 2004 they laid the foundation stone of the Nicolas Robinson school in Mekele at a beautiful and moving ceremony organised by the TDVA. Eleven months later the school opened its doors to 160 children and in November 2005 they returned for the official opening ceremony. Throughout all these visits their guide and friend Solomon Berhe helped them to contact local organisations and officials and provided them with a deeper understanding of Ethiopian culture.
In the summer of 2006 Kathryn and Max will be back in Mekele to continue talks about the future development of the school involving adding two more classrooms to extend it to first grade primary school level. Ultimately their objective is to expand the school to educate local children up to the tenth grade.
Rainbows4children is a small foundation and Kathryn and Max intend to keep it that way. By keeping the foundation small the administration can be done by themselves and volunteers and so maintain their strict policy that 100% of all donations goes directly to the children without any deductions for administration or expenses. Currently Rainbows4children supports more than 200 children.
Kathryn and Max say "The foundation has no religious or political aims and we are keen to ensure that the funds directly benefit Ethiopian children, who are the future of their country. We always try to encourage the young people we meet to see the help from Rainbows4children as an investment in their future. We want them in turn to reinvest in other Ethiopians by staying in Ethiopia and becoming teachers, doctors, business people or entering other professions which will help the country to grow and prosper."
Rainbows4children is registered as a foundation in Switzerland, where Kathryn and Max live, and will shortly be registered as a charitable trust in the UK.
Contact details are:
More details on their website, www.rainbows4children.org.