The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Backwell and Angereb Schools

Author - Isobel George

Backwell School is a state comprehensive in Bristol. With the help of Link Ethiopia, the charity that set ups, supports and helps manage links between UK schools and schools in Northern Ethiopia, we started a link with Angereb Secondary School of Gondar in March 2006. This Easter, another geography teacher and I travelled out with Link Ethiopia to see Angereb school and meet the staff.

We left England on the 4th April (the main school holidays unusually being after Easter in 2008) and a few sleepless nights later arrived in Gondar. We received a very warm welcome everywhere we went but particularly so at Angereb.

It was fantastic to visit Angereb and actually stand where the photos had been taken that I was displaying around Backwell. At Angereb there were 18 classrooms of a similar size to UK classrooms, although there were many more students in each class – over 80 in some cases. All classrooms had a blackboard and about half also had a slide-out plasma screen.

The staff were happy to talk to us about the school and their teaching. Most of their diffculties seemed to revolve around having such large class sizes and a general lack of resources. We observed several lessons, ranging from science to civics. Each lesson was 42 minutes long and the lessons were delivered in English. (Some teachers did break into Amharic in order to explain.) The enormous task of giving a lesson to so many students was quite humbling to watch and all students were attentive throughout. We were very struck by the courteous behaviour of all the students.

In Ethiopia (as in many African countries) a recent innovation has been the use of plasma screens to broadcast lessons from South Africa. (These are simultaneously broadcast at predetermined times.) Around half the classrooms were equipped with these white screens. Unfortunately this was their sole use and it was frustrating to realise that their potential for video or projection of other resources was not being maximised. Despite our reservations though, the Ethiopian students seemed to enjoy the lessons.

In preparation for our visit we had wanted to involve as many Backwell students as possible. Firstly we asked a number of year 9 classes to prepare a piece of illustrated written work on ‘A Day in their Life’; we word processed and laminated these before taking them to Ethiopia. Secondly we asked a group of year 7 students to produce a video message about a typical day at Backwell School that could be shown to students. Thirdly another year 7 group worked on designing and producing a fabric map of our local area. This did create a lot of interest – especially the coastline and beaches! It was our intention that a reciprocal map could be made by Ethiopian students to bring back to Backwell. This was met by some bemusement by the staff in Ethiopia! It didn’t take us very long to realise that there is an almost complete lack of creative subjects here and many students had not had the opportunity to draw pictures at all. Nevertheless we now have a superb map hanging in reception with some lovely pictures of an Ethiopian way of life!

One afternoon we asked if we might follow in a child’s footsteps to experience the journey to school and the home life of a student. We walked home with a lovely boy which took about 30 minutes (including a river crossing) and were able to visit his grandparent’s tukul. Sharing a meal with this family was an unforgettable experience.

Our experience of travelling to Ethiopia was greatly enhanced by the superb knowledge and commitment of the members of Link Ethiopia who accompanied us. The value of this can not be underestimated. It also enabled us to see a number of small scale aid projects which were really interesting. We were also privileged to be able to visit more rural schools in the locality and this helped put Angereb School in some context. We also visited our two gap students (Hannah and Cassey) who were teaching in a school in Gondar – for future volunteers this was a wonderful insight into a gap experience. Both girls were doing a fantastic job and making a huge difference to the English communication skills of those students in their classes.

Fundraising has also been an important activity at Backwell and events have involved students, staff, parents and the local community. To date we have raised more than £7000 in a variety of ways.

A very successful scheme was our Promises auction last March. We asked parents to contribute ‘promises’ and then auctioned them at an Ethiopian evening where we served injera and wat; there was also an African band providing live music. This fundraiser really helped to raise the profile of our link at the same time. We have also had a ‘Spend a Penny’ campaign (involving a toilet in the school reception area); the aim of this was to raise money for a new toilet block at Angereb.

Our most recent fundraising event was at the end of September when we had a Saturday night concert with Whytehouse, a local rock band. The proceeds will go towards providing much-needed books and equipment for Angereb’s students and I’m delighted to report that £1200 was raised.

Many many students have now heard of our trip to Ethiopia and have hopefully benefited from our wonderful experiences in the country. We have written specific lessons to fit into schemes of work and have given presentations to the staff group as a whole. Link Ethiopia have made all this possible and we hope it is just the start of a successful link.

First Published in News File Winter 2008

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