The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

eef - Helping Ethiopian Children Realise Their Potential

Author - Achim Kram

When considering how to help poor children in a developing country the possibilities are plentiful; they need food, shelter, medical assistance, clothes and a lot more. The Ethiopian Education Foundation (eef) has set itself a specific mission: to give bright and very poor Ethiopian children a chance to dramatically change their lives through education.

Each year, we select a number of children who live in extreme poverty and yet have striven to continue their studies and have achieved excellent results at school. We provide them with a four-year scholarship at the School of Tomorrow in Addis Ababa - one of Ethiopia's leading schools - where they can continue their studies, benefiting from the facilities and the teaching standards that will allow them to access university at the end of the programme.

It was during a trip to Ethiopia that we realised that we could help capable children build a bright future for themselves as well as make a small contribution to grow Ethiopia's own intellectual capital. We started with a small objective, aiming to help 5-6 children per year by finding a mentor amongst our close circle of friends and family. However we were soon to be overwhelmed!

Firstly, by the brightness, motivation and potential of the children we interviewed in our first year. Considering many of them live in extreme poverty, with a bad diet and often a part-time job, their subject knowledge, their ability to structure thought and present it in a foreign language was truly amazing. So was their motivation to continue with their education at all costs. We all agree that selecting which children to award the scholarship to is by far our hardest job.

Secondly, we were also overwhelmed by enthusiasm for our initiative. So many of the people we talked to were keen to mentor a child or to support our project, recognising the difference it could make to these children's lives. It is thanks to the enthusiasm of all those who have supported us that we have been able to award scholarships to nearly 40 children and witness so many of them blossom to their full potential both as students but also as individuals who can look forward to a promising future.

The two core principles by which we operate are the focusing of our resources on a small number of children with high potential and the establishment of a direct relationship between the sponsor and the child.

We have in place a structured selection process to award our scholarships. Each year, a number of primary schools in poor areas of Addis Ababa send us details of their brightest students. Amongst them we select the neediest ones who are then asked to sit a test at the School of Tomorrow and to write an essay on their family situation and daily life. On this basis, we shortlist around 50 students whom we interview, personally in Addis Ababa, in December each year.

For each child, we find a mentor who agrees to finance the scholarship and develop a one-to-one guidance relationship with the child over the duration of the programme. eef encourages the establishment of a direct, regular relationship between each student on the programme and their mentor-sponsor. This relationship is very important for our students. Some are orphans, some have had to leave their families in the countryside to continue their education or their families are simply too poor to look after them and care about their education. By having a mentor, they feel, for the first time, they are being looked after and that there is someone who is keen for them to succeed in school and in life. From the mentor perspective, this relationship enriches their experience and provides a first-hand view of how the money donated is benefiting the child.

Another characteristic is that, as a charity, we are very lean when it comes to cost. eef is small, run by three friends with full time jobs in London. Due to our size, and explicit choice, we are able to operate with minimal administration costs and virtually every pound spent by a donor goes directly to finance our projects. Our trustees pay their own travel costs to Ethiopia, keeping administrative expenses to a minimum.

Now that the mentorship programme is becoming established, eef is also looking at other ways to support Ethiopian children in their education. The main project on the horizon is the construction of a hostel for orphans and street children to provide them with permanent accommodation and the stability they need to be successful in their studies. We are in the process of selecting the location for the hostel and raising the money to build and run it. In the future, we will continue our scholarship programme with regular intakes of around 20 students per year. We are also trying to find ways to increase the level of support we can provide to our students. We have already re-housed some that were living in unsuitable conditions and given them shared accommodation with basic but essential facilities.

Looking back at our experience over the last two years, we have learnt a lot about children in a developing country, about education, fundraising and managing a small charity. The main lesson, however, is that with some effort and commitment it is possible to make a dramatic difference to the future life of a young child.

Glen Forbes is Managing Director and Chairman of the Ethiopian Education Foundation; Achim Kram is Director Operations and Marketing and Vice-Chairman. For further information about the Foundation please contact Achim via their website

First Published in News File Spring 2006

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