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The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

The student news site of Guilford College

The Guilfordian

Guilford Student intern aids education in Ethiopa

This past summer, senior Katie Martinko traveled to Shashemene, Ethiopia, with Schools for Humanity (SFH), an organization dedicated to the advancement and learning for the world’s underprivileged children. She is now their global marketing manager.

Martinko met the CEO for SFH, Dave Brown, in San Francisco this past May and attended a meeting he was having so that she could learn about SFH’s projects in Africa and India. She was instantly drawn to Brown’s passion and she was impressed by SFH’s dedication to education.

“It’s a really great organization because there’s so much need out there, so I volunteered to help out any way I could,” Martinko said.

Martinko has been interning with SFH since May.

“This summer I worked from home and the major thing I did during May and June was to help redesign the Web site,” Martinko said.

On July 4, Martinko, Brown and others flew to Ethiopia for eleven days and they stayed in the capital, Addis Ababa, for a night and then the next day they took a six hour bus trip to Shashemene where they spent most of their time.

“Founding Schools for Humanity is a very good idea because those kids, they want to learn,” said senior Mahlet Abera, a native of Addis Ababa. “They want to get a good education but they don’t have money to go to school or even get sufficient food every day.”

Brown’s previous experience working with Habitat for Humanity, building homes for people living in absolute poverty in Ethiopia, led him to founding SFH.

While Brown was volunteering, he became very good friends with the children of the community, which helped him grow more attached to Shashemene.

“They were always smiling and so lovable,” Brown said. “I was really saddened to learn that these kids had no access to a school. We’d built new homes, but no school! So I decided to form an organization to provide formal education for these kids.”

Access to schools in Shashemene is very limited in both government and private schools.

“To attend the government schools you have to pay a fee and a lot of families can’t afford it,” Martinko said. “They also won’t accept a child unless they can read or write because the government doesn’t provide kindergarten education.”

Unless parents can send their children to a private school for kindergarten, or they teach their kids themselves, then that child won’t have access to education.

“The private schools are just way too expensive for most of the families” Martinko said.

Even though Abera attended a private school that did not cost as much as others, it was still very exclusive.

“It’s not where the richest people go but it’s one of the very good schools in the country so it’s very hard to get in,” Abera said. “Private schools are more exclusive when they select people. There kids get more attention and get the opportunity to do extra curricular activities.”

According to Abera, some government schools are free but each class usually has over a hundred students.

Shashemene locals have been actively involved in making advancements and fundraising so SFH can build a new school. A new school will allow children in overcrowded schools, or those who cannot afford school at all, to have the opportunity to learn in a positive environment.

In Shashemene there’s an in-country organization that was set up by Brown and the leader is Wondimu Seba, who is the in-country Director of SFH-Shashemene. Seba and the committee have been taking care of all the legal procedures that need to be done.

“Wondimu went around to the 140 families in his community and he asked for donations to get the paperwork done so we could do work when we got there and it amounted to 1/3 of their mortgage,” Martinko said. “A lot of them went hungry just to make sure that their kids got the opportunity to get an education.”

Likewise, Brown was impressed with the huge commitment the community had for the school project.

“Each family had saved what little money they had to hire a lawyer and get an education license from the government,” Brown said. “This license would allow them to build and operate the school.”

SFH is also working on a Sponsor-a-Child program, which is a program where participants will donate $20 per month to support a child in Shashemene. They will receive a picture of the child they will support.

“After the teachers’ salaries, the biggest cost is food for the children, but unfortunately, the students come to school hungry, so we provide two small meals a day,” Brown said. “That costs about $20 per month for each child. But think about it this way – for about half the price of a Starbucks coffee, we can ensure that a child gets fed and educated for a day.”

Brown said that his experience in Shashemene has made him look at his own life with a different perspective.

“My life has been enriched by meeting the people in Ethiopia,” Brown said. “I’ve been impressed by their dignity, their respect for each other and their amazing resilience in the face of so much hardship.”

Abera said that even though there are enormous amounts of opportunities in the United States, compared to Ethiopia, people are still happy.

“Maybe it’s because they didn’t see what the outside looks like,” Abera said. “They are in their own little world and they don’t know what they are missing. You don’t feel the hardness when you have no experience of life in the Western world.”

“I never once saw a child with a toy or any other type of possession, and yet they seemed so happy and supportive of each other,” Brown said.

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