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Ellenore's Note

Literacy Has Amazing Power
     Literacy is all about stories – the ones we share, the ones we live and the ones that shape us.   Last year I met Dr. Worku Mulat.  He has a powerful story.  His mother never got the chance to learn to read.  She wanted better for her kids; Dr. Mulat is her eldest.  She insisted they all learn to read.  And in his words, “I couldn’t stop there” and he went on to receive his PhD in Ecology.  He is also the author of one of our most popular books, The Boy Who Did Not Give Up, about the legend of St. Yared. This was a story his mother told him as a child, and he dedicated this book back to her.  Now her story and her hopes for her kids are inspiring many others in Ethiopia and around the globe.
     OHBD story started with a photo of a wide eye child who would put our whole family and community on a different path. She discovered the inequity in opportunity around the world early and wasn’t having it.  OHBD focuses on Literacy, Art, Technology and Leadership in effort to close that gap. 
     Literacy has amazing power.  Literacy is a gate that unlocks education. Without it, so many doors are closed. But what is needed to make that possible.  We believe it requires four things: 

  1. Books.  Stories with pictures are the most powerful for kids.  Engaging, culturally appropriate stories captured and colorfully brought to life with talented writers and illustrators.  This is the story of Jane Kurtz who wanted to use her writing talents to give back to the country she grew up in during her early years.  Her vision led to our main literacy project, Ready Set Go books.
  2. Innovation. We need to experiment with new approaches when nothing else has been successful. This led to us start Ready Set Go books since previous efforts weren’t increasing literacy overall.  And led us to experiment with new Innovation Center efforts throughout the course of 2019.  Dr. Worku and his brothers, Yirga and Lakw both Microsoft engineers, have led this effort.
  3. Collaboration. There is an African proverb that says “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”  We want BOTH.  I learned at Amazon the power of adding AND where you see an OR.  To accomplish AND here, we needed the fourth element below.
  4. Bold Goals.  These need to take a long view and be supported by a global community. Our goals are 1) to increase the literacy rate of a country through creating the missing early reader books and getting them to kids all over the country and 2) to increase innovation by trying new approaches, running experiments and showing what is possible. 

     We made good progress in 2019.  We funded two New Model Programs – Read to Mom with MDC in Maji and Innovative Teaching Methods with Project Ethiopia in Dangla.  We created many more RSG books and are on track to reach 80 books by end of 2019; all titles are now in Amharic and Tigrinya; Afaan Oromo versions are coming on-line. We are in three public libraries in Washington, Colorado and Minneapolis.  And most exciting, we are in late stage talks with a major literacy organization that would distribute more than a million of our books in 2020 in eight Ethiopian languages. We have to date distributed over 105K RSG books in Ethiopia in five Ethiopian languages.  We are gaining more local content creators and piloted both our first art day in Adama and writer’s workshops in Addis.  Our first leg of the innovation center project, the Gondar community library, is about to break ground and we successfully tested STEM train the trainer and a peer to peer (US to Ethiopia) mentoring platform in Bahir Dar, Jimma and Wollo.  
            In 2020, we will continue to focus on literacy and innovation through Ready Set Go book creation and distribution, completing the Gondar library, supporting Girls Can Code efforts in at least two Ethiopian universities, and funding more Model Programs.

“Literacy is a bridge from misery to hope. It is a tool for daily life n modern society. It is a bulwark against poverty, and a building block of development…For everyone, everywhere, literacy is, along with education in general, a basic human right…Literacy is, finally, the road to human progress and the means through which every man, woman and child can realize his or her full potential.” ~ Kofi Annan

     Thank you for your generous support in bringing the power of reading and innovation to many more kids in Ethiopia; please consider a year end gift to power our 2020 efforts to continue to reach many more.



If I am asked to make a wish… by Dr. Worku Mulat – OHBD Innovation Center Pilot Lead

      My recent trip to Ethiopia proved one thing: there is no better gift can we offer to communities than providing training opportunities to their kids. In some training facilities I visited, it has been extremely satisfying to watch kids control the movement of a robot by modifying the underling codes. I was invited to watch how girls craft precise programming codes to develop amazing games instantly. I also had the opportunity to observe gifted university students challenge Microsoft experts on taming the behavior of AI via Skype classes.
     In line with the above spirit, OHBD’s Innovation Center is working on six major Model Projects: Train-the-trainer, digital platform development, American Corners, Girls Can Code, Books for Africa, and Ethiopian Space Science Center collaboration.

  • Train the Trainer: We started by recruiting students from ICT departments housed in Wollo and Jimma Universities. Using the universities and colleges as pilot programs, we now extended the training to involve K-12 students as well.
  • Digital platforms: We successfully tested video streaming technology using crowdsourcing to connect volunteers and people, although we need more tutors to scale.
  • American Corners: OHBD established a very strong partnership with Jimma and Bahir Dar American Corners and offered technology training, Girls Can Code (GCC) and a green screen room for video and photo production.
  • Girls Can Code: OHBD has forged effective collaboration with Gondar, Wollo and Jimma Universities to give girls better opportunities in coding skills and application development.
  • Books for Africa: OHBD is working with Books For Africa to receive free STEM books.  Books will be donated but OHBD will need to cover the $16K shipment cost.  
  • Ethiopian Space Science Center: OHBD is collaborating with the Ethiopian Space Science Center to establish a model network of schools in Addis Ababa to attract K-12 students, especially girls, to STEM fields.

     If I am asked to make a wish, I would say I am eager to see the next generation of Ethiopia be better off than the present. Realizing this dream requires action and that action can’t be short of providing girls and boys with the skill sets they need to create their own future.

Ready Set Go Books Program Update by Jane Kurtz
     2019 was certainly a shiny year for the creative directors of Ready Set Go books. We are currently on track to have 80 different titles by the end of the year, an amazing leap forward that we never could have expected a few years ago. That progress is thanks to so many different artists who’ve volunteered their talents.
     Help came from many places. A school near Baltimore hired Jane to do an author visit and she donated extra time to work with the second-grade teachers on an idea that became the book Busy Little Bee about pollination and coffee. Worku solved the problem of who could illustrate his books about St. Yared and an Ethiopian slave boy in history who grew up to command armies in India by approaching Canadian-Ethiopian artist Daniel Getahun. Ethiopian artist Alex Regassa reached out to Open Hearts Big Dreams via Facebook and then met with Caroline in Addis Ababa. His art now graces several Ready Set Go books including The Lost Son. Adoptive mom and artist Katie Bradley donated her own paintings and recruited continuing education students from Clark College Economic and Community Development watercolor classes. Members of the Corvallis-Gondar Sister City Project worked with a school in their city for the second year in a row. And so on.    
     Once art and words are matched and Amharic translations done and proofread, several digital designers now put everything together and turn the books over to a production team in Seattle to get the book onto Amazon and work on other translations. The result? A lot of reading joy for children both in the U.S. and Ethiopia. One Minneapolis supporter writes, “My son was so proud after reading the book about St. Yared, he took it to his piano teacher and she loved it. Let's say few more people have heard about Ethiopia's role in musical notations since then.” Thank you for making this joy and pride possible.

Featured Artist, Katie Bradley

     Literacy and art are both very dear to my heart, so it has been such an honor to create illustrations for the Ready Set Go books. I love Ethiopia, and I love painting people, and especially children. My medium of choice is watercolor.
     I have always felt drawn to children’s books that are visually pleasing in addition to having a fun story, and my hope is that the colorful art I’ve created for these books will fascinate young readers. It brings me so much joy to know that children (and adults!) in Ethiopia will learn to read from books that I have helped create.
     This illustration is one of the pieces I painted for the book “Yellow” – in which two little girls from Harar count and learn together. 

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