The Anglo-Ethiopian Society
Lecture - Tuesday 25th June 2013
From Gondar Link to Link Ethiopia: Sixteen Years of Supporting Schools and Education in Ethiopia
Given by - Chris Grant
Reviewed by - John Broadbent
I first met Chris Grant over a decade ago. I knew then he was a man with a mission but I doubt either of us ever thought it would lead to his present role as Director of Link Ethiopia. This lecture provided the opportunity to chart the development of a small and specific programme of student gap year placements, which started sixteen years ago with a school in Gondar, into a much larger and sophisticated organisation providing support for 157 school links today.
Chris recounted his first encounter with Ethiopia in 1996, as a tourist, prompted to visit by an article in a travel magazine. Being himself a teacher at Dr Challoner's Grammar School in Amersham, Buckinghamshire, he was naturally struck by the poor educational arrangements in Ethiopia, and he resolved to start a link between Dr Challoner's Grammar School and the Fasilidas Comprehensive Secondary School in Gondar. This link benefited not only the students in Gondar, but it also gave gap year students from Dr Challoner's the chance to spend three months in Ethiopia, experiencing the country at grass roots, and, most importantly, passing on their own knowledge to students and teachers alike. Thus GondarLink was born. It was a success, so much so that other schools expressed an interest in a similar arrangement, and Chris was able to facilitate new links with other schools in and around Gondar. This required local expertise in the form of a local office in Gondar, which was run by local people.
Success bred further success, to the point where GondarLink needed to re-appraise itself. The result was Link Ethiopia, essentially the same operation, but on a much larger scale. No longer confined to Gondar or to teaching support, the organisation today has regional links in Bahir Dar, Adama, Bishoftu, and Assella, and is actively engaged in infrastructure projects to improve existing school buildings and to set up new ones: libraries, water supplies, and whatever is needed to further Link Ethiopia's aim to provide quality education for children aged seven to eighteen, thereby giving them, as well as their families and communities, a chance to lift themselves out of poverty.
A substantial task indeed! How can it be achieved and sustained? Chris shared the platform with two colleagues. First, Matt Stockdale, Director of Operations at Link Ethiopia based at the London office. Matt had himself spent time in Ethiopia as one of those gap year students. Although he went on to train as an engineer, the experience in Ethiopia never left him and he decided to become involved with the organisation full time. On a daily basis he and his staff grapple with the practical issues to keep the organisation up and running, seeking financial support, and dealing with bureaucracy in Ethiopia. His task list seemed endless. His demeanour indicated a young man up to the task and determined to overcome whatever problems came along. It is this kind of commitment which makes it all possible.
The final member of the speaker team was an unexpected bonus - Hailemariam Ayano, Link Ethiopia's regional manager in the Bishoftu office, who is responsible for overseeing activities in the south of Ethiopia. He was visiting the UK for the first time. Indeed it was his first time out of Ethiopia. Here on a fact finding and promotional tour of some partner schools in the UK, he came along to the lecture and added a whole new dimension to the evening. Speaking excellent English, this impressive young man explained his role in Ethiopia and gave his audience some interesting information about the Ethiopian education system in general, the problems he encountered, and his plans to further the objectives of Link Ethiopia.
A lot of ground was covered in the course of the evening. Issues of particular interest to the audience included: the high dropout rate amongst Ethiopian students; the quality of teaching and what could be done to improve it; the provision of a good teaching environment in terms of buildings and teaching materials; the issues of bureaucracy which nearly caused the closure of Link Ethiopia by the Ethiopian authorities; problems with exporting items to Ethiopia. Overcoming such challenges require expertise and determination. Fortunately for Link Ethiopia, their team, who generously gave of their time to address those present at the lecture, appears to have plenty of both. We wish them continuing success.