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My Amazing Trip to Ethiopia - by Leyla Angelidis

     Our visit was incredible.  We did cool things like climb the Simien
Mountains and met great people like the ones I am going to tell you about. 

     OHBD did so many good things.  When we were in Dangla, we met a science teacher [from Project Ethiopia]. He was showing students how to measure viscosity of water by taking three empty plastic bottles and filling them with salt water.  The first had no salt in it.  The second had a little more in it.  The third had the most.  Then he took an empty glass container of medicine which was filled with sand with a straw attached to the top.  Then he put the glass container in all three bottles.  The saltless water was first and it sunk to the bottom.  In the second, it didn’t sink all the way down and in the third it floated toward the top.  I found that really interesting.  But my favorite part was when he shot off three homemade rockets in the class.  Me and my mom yelped and jumped out of our seats.  Everyone had a good laugh.  He doesn’t get any teaching aids so he makes them himself.  What I think is the best about him is he’s not just doing it for himself, he’s teaching other teachers to do it too. Every single item the teacher used for experiments was once trash.   Now it’s empowering Ethiopia’s future leaders.  But he can’t do it all on his own.  He doesn’t even have his own classroom.  OHBD is going to help fund getting him one to continue his great work and keep sharing with more schools.

     Another amazing person we met was the founder of Whiz Kids.  Whiz Kids is an organization that made Tsei Loves Learning.  It’s like Sesame Street with puppets on TV.  They also make and distribute books to forty schools to help kids learn to read in Amharic.  But my favorite thing they do is a show called Tibeb Girls.  They are three girls who go around and solve problems.  At the meeting OHBD had with Whiz Kids and Rotary, I asked, “What would they do if kids didn’t have access to their books at atr school?  How do you make an impact?”  It felt really nice to contribute to the conversation.  A big difference between OHBD and Whiz Kids is that they are making books for classrooms and we are making books for practice reading and to help kids love to read.  Now OHBD and WhizKids are going to work together to improve Ethiopia’s literacy rate.

     I really enjoyed this trip because I was able to connect to my culture and even learned a little Amharic.  OHBD got a lot done and the woman behind it orchestrated it all – my mom.
 
                                                                                                 ~ Leyla          

Highlights of this year’s First National Children’s Reading Summit in Ethiopia - by Jane Kurtz

     In early March, the Ethiopian staff of Ethiopia Reads organized the First National Children’s Reading Summit in Ethiopia, with 140 attendees including representatives from the Federal Ministry of Education, regional education bureaus, the National Archive and Library, Addis Ababa University, other nonprofits and multilateral and government agencies active in children’s literacy, teachers, librarians , schools directors, children’s publishers, writers and illustrators. Since I was in Addis Ababa at the time for an Open Hearts Big Dreams (OHBD) trip, they asked me to do a presentation about the importance of reading to children and how my years of volunteering for Ethiopia Reads led to my determination to develop models of bilingual easy-to-read books—in hopes of helping more Ethiopians to become confident, enthusiastic book lovers.    

     Ethiopia has gone from having one of the world’s lowest school enrollment rates to having one of the highest enrollment rates in Africa. As one article on schools in Ethiopia notes, “The number of primary schools almost tripled from 1996 to 2015, while student enrollment grew from less than 3 million to over 18 million within the same period.” Many schools, though, are struggling to help students learn. For example, we were told during our OHBD UNICEF meeting that one in five first graders will drop out of school. In addition, a 2016 early grade reading assessment, showed that 34 percent of second grade students were unable to read a single word of a grade-level story, while 48 percent could not answer one comprehension question.

    During the reading summit, the Ethiopia Reads staff presented information on decades of hard work planting libraries in government schools and training librarians with new skills for connecting young readers with books. Ethiopian authors talked about their struggles to get their stories read in a world that basically has no publishing infrastructure and where writers have to pay for illustration and printing—and then also handle distribution. All of this means that even where children are in school and maybe have access to libraries, there is a huge shortage of colorful, engaging, culturally appropriate books.

     The reading summit was a great chance for a varied audience—almost all Ethiopians—to wrestle with hard realities facing the country. It’s little wonder that everywhere we traveled during March and early April, parents, children, and educators expressed enthusiasm for the Ready Set Go books created and published by OHBD and what they contribute to creating a love of reading in Ethiopia.

A Reflection on the Ethiopian Literacy Society and the Ethiopian Writers Association - by Laura Bond
 
     What’s it like to be a writer in Ethiopia? That’s the question OHBD #ReadySetGo Creative Lead Jane Kurtz and I set out to answer in March. Jane is well known as one half of the sister-sister creative team behind Ready Set Go Books; I supported literacy for children in Ethiopia since Jane’s days as a member of the Ethiopia Reads staff. In a series of meetings with writers based in Addis Ababa on behalf of OHBD, including members of the Ethiopian Literacy Society and the Ethiopian Writers Association, Jane and I explored the idea that the development of pipeline of children’s writing and publishing is essential to boosting literacy among children in Ethiopia.

Jane and my goals are to understand the challenges that writers face in creating, publishing, and selling their work in Ethiopia; gain a sense of what resources would help build a pipeline of quality children’s writing; and build connections between Ethiopian writers and Ready Seat Go Books, for possible future collaboration.

     What we learned is that being a writer in Ethiopia is hard—as it everywhere. There is virtually nowhere a writer can go to study the craft, connect with other writers, or get feedback. Those who do write books for children face challenges when it comes to publishing and distribution: An author is responsible for all costs including illustration, printing, and marketing. Several writers reported that it takes three or more years simply to recoup the cost of printing a book. As one of them put it: “The more you write, the more poor you become.”

      Fortunately, the community of writers is energized and growing, as evidenced by the emergence of the Ethiopian Literacy Society and the Ethiopian Writers Association, among other things. Monthly poetry performance nights draw big crowds. In recent years, a few new books for children have been successful, including a popular new series of comic book or graphic novels that feature Ethiopian children as superheroes. There is a feeling that the creative community in Addis Ababa is on the verge of big things. There’s also an appetite for resources that would help boost both the creative and business sides of writing for children, including workshops, professional development, writers’ circles, etc. The writers expressed to Jane and me an enthusiasm for the Ready Set Go Books and a desire to collaborate and partner with fellow artists, in Ethiopia and US.

      In the coming months, OHBD will continue to build on these conversations, and to explore ways to support the continued development of writing for children in Ethiopia.
 
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GiveBIG Early and Help OHBD Support Girls and Boys in STEAM and Computer Science Education...

There is little exposure at secondary school level curriculum to coding and programming in Ethiopia. This impacts girls even more as they are often discouraged from STEAM and computer science education. 
OHBD would like to transform this inequity into a place where both boys and girls are given equal opportunity to pursue an education and career in the field of technology and science. Our recent trip to Ethiopia brought about new opportunities and collaborators who value our mission and equally share our vision to support these efforts.  

This year’s GiveBIG campaign goal is to raise funds for our STEAM and Girls in Technology efforts in Ethiopia. These funds will help to expand our pilot 6 weeks summer Girls Coding School with Lebawi based in Addis Ababa as well as support the Girls Can Code Program with Gondar University and help them expand to other universities like Bahir Dar and Mekelle.  We are also looking to conduct STEAM “train the trainer” sessions at local universities and the U.S. Embassy sponsored American Spaces in Bahir Dar, Jimma, and Addis Ababa.

Let’s work together to create the next generation of technology leaders in Ethiopia. We can make a difference if I Give, You Give, We Give Together!
    

I give! You give! We give together! Let's GiveBIG!
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