What on earth could I possibly offer teachers from a rural village in Ethiopia? In November 2016, I had an incredible opportunity to travel with Run for Water to see a village that ACS Elementary raised money for clean water and a school. I was asked if I would present to the teachers something about education when I visit the village.

Months leading up to the trip, I stewed and sweated.

What would be helpful and culturally sensitive? What is at the core of our understanding of learning that could help a tiny rural village in Ethiopia?

I needed help. I met with Seth Bakker and Karin Riemer – our ACS curriculum experts. We hashed out theories and ideas. The main concept we hit on was education is about meeting a real need, in the real world with a real audience.

Courageous and Inspired

The day arrived. I was overwhelmed. Gereb Abdela existed in the same manner (minus a couple cell phones and plastic jelly shoes) as it did for thousands of years. The people were overjoyed to experience this brand new school for the first time on the day we arrived. I was humbled and inspired by the joy, professionalism and dedication of the teachers I met.

We brainstormed in groups about what we know about teaching and want to know. A good teacher knows these things:

  • The importance of having knowledge and experience
  • The character of his/her students
  • Acceptance by the local community
  • Accountability to the profession.

What did they want to know?

  • How can we help students with special needs?
  • How can we help improve student’s capacity and confidence, especially girls?
  • How do we use experiential learning?
  • How can we engage students?

It blew my mind. We ask the same questions around the staff tables at ACS. I felt I had nothing much to share. I rambled something about using the issues and problems around them to engage students and interest them. I used clean/dirty water as an example and how to study it scientifically, problem-solve questions with the students and use writing and math skills in the process. I felt it was a pitiful little tidbit.

I presented a banner our ACS Elementary students created as a reminder that we knew them, cared for them and were praying for them.

Solving Problems Their Own Way

A year went by, and several friends went with Run for Water in November 2017 for a follow-up visit to Gereb Abdela to see what progress was made.

What struck me from my friends’ pictures was the prominent place the banner held and how it was proudly shown off.

Gereb Abdela also developed a ‘Science Park.’ An extension to the school building was built to house deeper learning projects. Here they showed off different machinery the students designed to solve their everyday problems like building a mill to grind the grain that they threshed.

I am humbled and grateful to be part of a universal profession that although the trappings and the wrappings may look different, deeper learning looks very much the same.

I look forward to a return trip someday to learn more from my fellow teachers in Ethiopia.

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