Home Visit

Yesterday was a very strange day. I woke up in the morning to discover that the UK had voted to leave the European Union. In a world which is increasingly dependent on cross cultural collaborations from globally minded citizens who are deeply connected to their local communities, it feels very odd and unsettling to know that my own country has chosen to take a far more isolationist approach to its future. Like many of my peers, I felt extremely shocked and sad at the result. I had a good chat with Yared, Dr Worku and Jess about it before we started our meeting to discuss another draft of the strategic plan that Dr Worku is developing for the School of St Yared. Despite a collective disbelief with the world’s events, it was, nonetheless, a very useful and productive session, and it is very exciting to know that a clear roadmap for the next five years of the school’s development is in the pipeline.

Yesterday afternoon put everything into perspective for me though, and brought my attention right back to the incredible impact that The School of St Yared has on its local community, and the urgent need we have to ensure we can secure sustainable funding for the school’s future.

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With Yared to guide me and translate, I went to visit my sponsor child, Workadise and his family. Workadise is in the Upper Kindergarten – the picture above shows him enjoying a tasty snack at school. When he grows up, he wants to become a doctor – all the children in his local area nickname him ‘the doctor’ at the moment. His father is a local priest and his mother, who is ill, stays at home. He has four sisters and one older brother – who is the only member of the family who makes any income to support them. I knew most of this before I arrived thanks to the student profile I received when I made the decision to sponsor him last August. Despite knowing this, and despite knowing how poor the children that the school supports are – most families have a total income of less than 200 birr ($13AUD) per week, nothing prepared me for how powerful an experience it would be to visit his home in person.

Benji drove us up to Farensay, the hillside district where many of The School of St Yared students come from. We stopped where the road ended, a busy square with lots of ladies selling vegetables on the street. The place was buzzing with young people socializing and minding herds of donkeys and goats. We walked along a narrow cobbled street where Workadise, in a bright red hoodie, was waiting for us, and greeted us with a great big smile. He is a very sweet little boy, extremely bright and very perceptive, always wanting to be respectful but also have fun.

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He guided us to the end of the street to a hilly area of grazing land, scattered with livestock and divided by streams – their nearest water supply. It felt a very long way from the Addis Ababa I have been living in for the last three weeks. We had to jump across two such streams to reach the cluster of small single story mud houses on the far side. It’s the route Workadise has to take every day to get to the school bus stop. A couple of toddlers with big eyes and beautiful smiles, (one in particular had an incredible afro) were playing outside as we arrived. A woman was cooking in the communal ‘kitchen’ that several families share – an open air enclosure made out of thin tree branches containing a small charcoal stove. A girl (one of Workadise’s sisters) was washing her face in a small bowl of water outside a tiny mud hut with crumbling walls, which turned out to be their home.

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We went inside and I found myself sitting in a tiny, very dark room with space for one double bed and a single mattress. This tiny space is Workadise’s entire home. One corner of the wall had caved in some time in the past, and the family had repaired it with a large sheet of plastic instead. Workadise’s school bag was propped up proudly above the single bed, which he shares with his five siblings. The family clearly values it, and everything it represents.

 After a few minutes talking with Workadise and his sister – who attends a local government school and is about to enter Grade 10 – his mother came into the house. She was clearly in a lot of pain, and showed Yared her foot, which was extremely swollen. Yared explained to me that, as she does not have shoes, she had picked up a flesh eating worm that lives in animal dung. The worm had worked its way through her foot, and was now living inside her, making her whole leg extremely painful, and causing her great difficulty to walk. Yared told me that the worms are very common, and that he had suffered from them himself many times when he was living on the streets. She can’t afford to go to the doctor, so Yared advised her to wash her feet with warm salt water, as this often encourages the worms to come out.

DSC00446Workadise’s home. We are sitting on his parents’ bed, and his mum is sitting on the bed that all six children share. To her right, you can see the Guiness Book of World Records.

I’d brought some gifts with me for the family, but seeing how much suffering Workadise’s mum was in, made my gifts feel pretty arbitrary in comparison to her acute needs. She seemed exhausted – I really hope that I can help her get access to the medical attention she so urgently requires. In the meantime, I gave her a large piece of thick cotton fabric covered in Kangaroo designs that I’d picked up from Utopia Goods in Sydney. I hope she can use it as another layer of blanket to keep the family warm. I also gave them some Palmolive soap – they are one of my clients back at GPY&R in Sydney – it feels a lifetime away at the moment.

For Workadise, I’d bought the 2016 Guiness Book of World Records, a shiny bright yellow book with lots of engaging pictures which I hope will inspire him, giving him windows into other parts of the world and the impressive (and sometimes ridiculous) feats that people can achieve if they put their mind to it. He absolutely loved it and immediately started browsing through the pages. As his English improves he’ll be able to learn from it too. I think it might be the first book that the family has ever owned – there was nothing in the house which wasn’t purely functional (other than great vats of holy water that his father uses as a priest.) He was extremely grateful, and I hope that my sponsorship will help him to turn his, and his family’s life around.

I spoke with his mother and told her that I would sponsor Workadise through his entire 14 years of education at the school. I’ve always planned that this would be the commitment that I would make, but seeing just how little the family has, and how hard life is for them makes me even more determined to ensure that Workadise has a good education. If he does want to become a doctor one day, then I hope that I can help him get here. Seeing his mother suffering directly made me realize just how important this will be for him. Through education and access to useful skills and opportunities, Workadise can help lift his family out of poverty, and hopefully give a family of his own a much brighter future one day. It’s a lot of responsibility for a six year old!

Every single one of the students at the School of St Yared comes from a similar background. Every single student is a small beacon of hope for their families, an opportunity for a better future, a source of much pride in their lives. Workadise is so resilent and happy, despite having so very little at home. When I see the students at school, I see bright, confident, happy little individuals who are excited about what the future holds for them, eager to learn and extremely proud of their school. It is difficult to understand what their life is like at home, and how much of an achievement it is that each of them is able to attend the school at all. Each has been selected for their hunger for learning and their family’s poverty level from hundreds, sometimes thousands of other hopeful five year olds and their families. Each each leaves tiny, cold ramshackle mud houses every morning to walk, sometimes for up to 45 minutes, to get the bus to school. Seeing Workadise at home really made me realize what a lifeline the school is for the families it serves and what a privilege it is to be able to help to change his future and help raise awareness about the future of the school.

As the school grows, there is going to be increasing need to find more people to sponsor more students. As the Ethiopian economy grows and inflation rises, it is becoming more expensive to provide the excellent level of education to each student – the current cost of sponsoring a child does not cover the full expense of educating them, and we need to find ways to fill the gap. Part of what I have done since I have been here is to develop new models of sponsorship that will hopefully help to solve this problem and provide different entry points for philanthropic individuals who care about fighting poverty through education to support the school. It’s still a work in progress and needs approval from key stakeholders, so watch this space.

Regardless, sponsoring a child’s education is probably the most useful, impactful and direct way that you can truly help to transform a child’s life and the life of their family forever. In this increasingly fractured world, we need to ensure that we give children the skills to become the next generation of problem solvers and peace keepers. By sponsoring a child at The School of St Yared, you won’t just give a child a basic education, you will guarantee that one of the poorest and brightest children in Ethiopia has access to a brilliant holistic education, a nurturing, safe school environment and enough food and healthcare provision to ensure they lead healthy, happy lives. If you are interested in finding out more about sponsoring a student at the school, (it costs just under $5 or £2.50 per day ) – please email sponsorship@theschoolofstyared.com.

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European Football with a Eurovision twist

In the wake of Britain’s decision to sever itself from the EU, and whilst everyone is still reeling from the shock of working out what this will actually mean for the country’s future, it seems a fitting time to share some photographs of a brilliantly collaborative Eurocentric event that the School of St Yared took part in recently.

A couple of Saturdays ago, to correspond with the start of the UEFA European Football Championship, the German embassy in Addis organized a ‘European’ football tournament at the Ethiopian National Stadium and invited schools to participate that had links to some of the different European embassies. One embassy pulled out last minute, and so, with echoes of Eurovision, the Australian Embassy was invited to bring The School of St Yared along. They very generously bought our team snazzy new green and gold football kit (complete with token kangaroos) for the occasion. It was an incredible opportunity for our kids – the equivalent of being invited to play at Twickenham, The ANZ Stadium or some such.DSC09933.jpg

On the day itself, Benji dropped me off at The National Stadium before the students arrived. It is very close to one of the stations on Addis’s new light rail line which opened last year. For some reason, it’s a hot spot for learner drivers too who use its ring road to practice before their tests – due to this, walking along the road was a bit of a death wish, so I wandered inside as quickly as possible.

I was greeted by rows of bright red, yellow and green seats, billboards advertising local beers and giant Olympic rings. Upbeat music was blaring out of a sound system in the stands, and packs of athletes were sprint training at various intervals on the track around the pitch. I later found out from Fitsum, the principal of The School of St Yared, that these athletes were actually in training for the Olympics. Impressive stuff, and it made their ridiculously speedy and graceful workouts make a lot more sense.  The stands were fairly empty (it was 8am on a Saturday morning) but were peppered with various embassy staff, including the Australian Ambassador and his son, who had come to support us. As I waited for The School of St Yared team to arrive, to my horror, I noticed several streaks of brown dried blood on the floor. I later found out that there’d been a quite a fracas at a football match between two of Addis’s rival teams the night before – very alarming, but it wasn’t a distraction from our tournament.DSC09938.jpg

Our team arrived with minutes to spare before their first game. It turned out that the whole school was so excited that we’d been invited to play, that everyone had wanted to come along to support. Whilst other teams in the tournament had perhaps a couple of subs in the crowd, we had the entirety of our primary school decked out in their brightly coloured sportskit cheering, singing, clapping, chanting on the sidelines whenever our team played. As we were representing Australia, the embassy provided the kids with a few Australian flags to celebrate with. Despite some confusion about which way round to hold them, the kids absolutely loved them, using them at various points as banners, blankets and general celebration tools. It was fantastic opportunity to build a strong relationship between the school and the embassy, which hopefully will blossom in the future.

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Unfortunately, there’d been a bit of a mix up with the delivery of the new kit. For the first match, the kids played in their existing sports kit, whilst someone went to locate the new kit, which then led to a snappy change for all the players before their second game. They looked very smart on the pitch after this, and had photos taken with the Australian Ambassador to commemorate the occasion.DSC00030.jpg

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The sun was out after the first match and the team was thirsty, but there was no water provided for them. In wonderful St Yared’s compassionate fashion, all of our students in the crowd gave their own water bottles that they’d brought with them to the team without a moment’s hesitation. It also turned out that none of the students had had any breakfast – on week days they are fed at school, but as they live in such extreme poverty, often there’s not enough food to go round their families at the weekend. After putting 100% into their first game, they really needed some sustenance to be able to have a fair go at the rest of the tournament. The tournament organisers were going to provide the team with lunch, but it was very clear that the kids needed water and food immediately.

Before the next game, I went out of the stadium with Miss Hirut, the Head of Primary, to find some street hawkers who had water and little ‘glucose’ biscuits (the only food available) that we could buy for the kids. As we shared the snacks, I was again overwhelmed by the students’ compassion and generosity – they offered each other biscuits before taking for themselves, and offered staff biscuits too. They always think about others despite how hungry or tired they might be themselves which is truly humbling and again a sign of what an incredible impact the school has on their lives.DSC00007.jpg

Our team played brilliantly for all four matches, their defense was strong and their plucky ball skills extremely impressive. The players in the other teams were often much larger physically, not that they let this stop them putting on a really good fight. Ultimately, we didn’t manage to convert our passion into many goals on the pitch, but our crowds’ support blew everyone else out of the water!

DSC00117.jpg We didn’t make it through to the semi finals, but I would have loved to know how the students would have celebrated if we did. After our last match, the kids started dancing and cheering, forming at one point a massive conga line, and at another, inviting Yared to dance with them – a source of great excitement indeed! Such jumping, laughing, happy celebrations were had!DSC00207.jpgDSC00213.jpgDSC00214.jpgDSC00223.jpg

It was such a privilege to be able to share the moment with them. It was a fantastic show of collaboration too between the various European embassies (and Australia) to put on a truly wonderful event for the students. I am sure it is something that they will remember forever, and may well have a huge influence over their future. Looking around the stadium before we left, it struck me that Ethiopia’s future football team will probably include some of the players who took part in the day.

Latent wealth

Addis is wrapped in a thunderstorm, aggressive flashes of lightening and torrential rain is the order of the evening. I think we are getting closer to the heart of rainy season. It’s been too long since my last post, but there has just been so much going on that I haven’t had a moment really to properly stop and reflect. I’ve also been a bit ill – a potent dose of ‘Addis belly’ has been a bit of a baptism of fire for the last week or so, which has left me feeling pretty weak in the evenings.

That said, there has been so much in the last two weeks that has been been utterly brilliant. I have learnt so much about the school, and am really getting stuck in to exploring ways with the team that we can raise awareness about the school to attract new sponsors and donors.

Another donor at the school has commissioned a wonderful educational consultant, Dr Worku to help the school develop a robust five year strategic plan for its future growth. Dr Worku has spent several years in America before moving back to Ethiopia. He is now CEO and President of the Educational & Leadership Institute, runs two private schools of his own and has great experience and understanding of what it takes to develop and grow a school in Ethiopia. Since I’ve been in Addis, he has run a two day strategic workshop with the School of St Yared’s team in Ethiopia, and I felt extremely honored to be invited to attend the sessions. There were some very productive conversations, as the team debated and refined the school’s vision and mission going forward and agreed upon objectives and goals to enable the school to provide fourteen years of full scholarship education to each student as it grows to become a fully fledged K-12 school.

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One thing that the strategy workshops brought up that I think is critical to understanding the school, is the notion of The School of St Yared’s latent wealth. This wealth is not, at present, physical (indeed, securing funds is something the school urgently needs in order to be able to secure its future growth plans) but it is contained within the passion and drive of all people associated with the School of St Yared; its founders, its teachers, its support staff, its volunteers, its students, its dedicated sponsors. The relentless belief in what the school is doing, and will continue to do, to transform the lives of its students and their communities through education is incredibly motivating and empowering. Seeing the effect of this in person through the day to day activities at the school is even more wonderful. What needs to be done now is to get better at sharing this wealth – the incredible success stories so far and the school’s ambitions for the future with with our wider community of contacts, friends and sponsors, so that we can invite them to come on the journey with the school and invest in fighting poverty through education.

It really is remarkable to consider the magnitude of ‘Sliding Doors’ opportunities that the school makes possible for its students (excuse the reference to Gwyneth Paltrow’s late 90’s film.) As I’ve understood more about the school selection process, it really has struck me just what an incredible change of life path the school offers. All students come from the most marginalized backgrounds, identified by their local worreda (councils) as having ‘OVC’ – orphan or vulnerable child status – they come from unfathomable levels of poverty to most of us who are fortunate to have been born into a degree of affluence. Maginalized is a strange word. It’s easily be thrown around and jargonified without really considering what it means. Although the government offers a free primary education, the circumstances in which these children live means that without the school providing them with a completely free education, it would be extremely difficult for their parents to afford the basic uniform, food, equipment, transport costs etc necessary to send them to school, let alone set them up for academic success. The level of support, and the access to opportunities that The School of St Yared makes possible for these children and their families is utterly transformative. Given the tight financial situation that the school is in, every single dollar donated both through child sponsorship and individual donations has a direct impact not only on the school’s future growth plans, but also on enabling the school to continue its fantastic work day to day.

As it is currently just a few days until the end of the academic year for The School of St Yared, and it is the end of the Australian financial year, there was no better time than the present to start a fundraising campaign. Last Friday, we launched The School of St Yared’s first Annual Appeal in a way that would enable the school to share some of its wealth of stories with its wider support community, whilst also, unlocking some much needed funds for the school for the next academic year. Through our stories, we wanted to show our potential donors exactly what impact their donations would make possible, to make them feel proud donating, and to show them that we are far more than ‘just another school asking for money’. After a morning brainstorm, Yared, Jess and myself decided that the most powerful way that we could do this would be to share top fourteen reasons that Yared has been proud of what the school has achieved in the last year with the school’s communities on Facebook and Instagram. A brilliantly rich conversation later, and our ‘Fourteen Proudest Moments’ campaign was born.

Over the fourteen days (starting from June 17) up until June 30th, the school will share a different story via Facebook and Instagram, (however we are also sharing the stories on a weekly basis to our database of donors and sponsors too.) We want to get better at not just receiving engagement from our communities, but action too. It’s the holy grail of social media – how do you get engagement beyond ‘likes’ – and we need to understand how we can best resonate with our audience to make this happen. Sharing these stories, and showing them what impact the school has will hopefully help us to get there – to make a donation, and see the campaign unfold, check out their page – The School of St Yared/Facebook.

Immersion – or the tip of the iceberg

DSC09802My first full day in Addis was a bit of an immersion, an opportunity to see the school and adjust to the pace of Addis life before getting properly stuck in to the project.

Yared met me at 9am. It was so great to see him again – we met last August when he came to Sydney – and to GPY&R – as part of a sponsorship and fundraising drive. He is one of the most humble, passionate and amazing people I have ever met, and I am sure I will write a lot about him over this next month.

The School of St Yared has two campuses – Lower KG and Upper KG are in Faransay near to the French Embassy, whilst Grades 1 – 6 are in ‘’24 compound’ – so named because the name of the district is the Amharic word for twenty four. There’s quite a distance between the two campuses – perhaps a 15 – 20 minute drive.

In the morning, we headed up to the Kindergarten – a charming colourful compound containing three bright and cosy classrooms, an eating area, outdoor play space, kitchen, bathroom, healthcare room and 45 beautiful happy little people. When we arrived they were in lessons,– the Upper KG split across two classrooms were doing maths, whilst Lower KG were practicing reading using Jolly Phonics books. Everyone was concentrating very hard, and I was really impressed with the Lower KG’s grasp of reading given they are only one year into school. After a while, the bell sounded for morning break. Before getting stuck into football and hoolahooping and all sorts of activities, all the students, dressed in their multicoloured sports kit, lined up in the playground, shook my hand and said hello with smiles beaming all over their little faces. It was quite a procession! I got to meet Workadise – my sponsor child for the first time too. He is in Upper KG and is extremely sweet. I am going to visit him at his home with Yared sometime too which I am greatly looking forward to.

At The School of St Yared, the kids are provided with 3 meals a day – breakfast, lunch and a mid morning snack. It’s an important part of the school’s offer, as often there is not enough food to go around at home, and learning is never effective on a hungry tummy! Before playtime, everyone went and washed their hands with lots of soap – the school teaches the children why basic hygiene is important as this is something that their parents aren’t always aware of – before sitting down to a tasty snack of fresh papaya and bread rolls. And then playtime began – a brilliantly loud cacophony of happy energy and fun.

In between joining in with the football, Yared pointed out some of the children and told me their stories. It is very difficult to imagine quite how hard the home life is for some of these kids. One that stood out to me in particular was the story of a little boy whose mother had been bed ridden for a number of years and whose father had left as a result. Knowing the school’s reputation in the local area, the mother made considerable effort to take her son to the school’s selection day. On the way to the school (less than 500 metres from the gates) she fell heavily, and a stone on the road pierced her heart. As she lay dying, she asked some passersby to take her son to the school – he was accepted into KG as she was taken to the morgue. Now he lives in a child run household, and his older sister who is 14 looks after him. Yared tracked down his uncle who came and lived with them for a bit, but as he has his own family too, he was unable to stay. Looking at this happy little boy running around the football pitch, it is utterly unfathomable to think of what he’s gone through in his short life. Seeing the opportunity and the hope that the school has given him, totally reconfirms everything I already knew about how transformative the school is.

In the afternoon, Yared and I drove to the second compound – a much larger space with more classrooms, a bigger kitchen, a more fully equipped medical centre and a larger outdoor area. Some of the classrooms on this site were built by Yared with the help of the local community – one of the many things that show just how much the community value the school and feel a part of it.

The students were in lessons when we arrived, so after a quick walk around, Yared and I talked about his plans for the future of the school and the ways that the school can continue to help lift its community out of poverty. Despite having been in close contact with the school for the last year, I wasn’t totally aware just how much the school does not only for its kids, but for the parents too. Mulu, the school’s nurse and health worker runs regular workshops with the parents on matters of health and hygiene – next week she’s running one on sexual and reproductive health for the parents of Kindergarten children. Yared also told me of a community micro-insurance initiative that he’s got off the ground. Given the extreme poverty that the families live in, when some one gets ill, it is very difficult to give them the medical attention that they need. To help with this, Yared has started an insurance fund; parents all contribute 10 birr (around 60 Australian cents or 30p, I’m not sure how often) which everyone has access to if a family member falls sick and needs medical care, or if someone dies to ensure they can have a proper funeral. The money is stored in a bank account (something that most of the parents won’t have themselves) and to ensure it is only used when it is most needed, the signatures of three people are required to release funds.  In the future, Yared wants to consider how he can make initiatives like this part and parcel of the impact that the school has on the community, and wants them to be able to work with or without his direction. He kept referring to the responsibility he feels for his big family. It really brought home for me just how much the school has community at its centre.

That said, the students themselves are so brilliantly articulate and are receiving a wonderful education. Yared explained how he wants the kids to be able to think outside the box, to be educated rather than just taught to the test, although this is clearly important too. ‘I don’t want my students just to grow up knowing that ‘1+1=2’ I want them to be able to question this, for example, sometimes 1+1=1, like when a man and woman become husband and wife, they are one unit, two parts.’

This sort of provocative critical thinking will one day enable them to become the solution to the poverty faced in their communities, but it was amazing to see how empowered they are already. After lunch, the students have a ‘home group’ session which is a time for personal, health and social education. I sat in on Grade 6, where they were discussing school rules and their new student led support and self governance idea which seemed to be in the early stages of implementation – a small example of the ways in which their leadership skills are being developed.

Later in the day, we had a Skype call with Philippa, the Founder and Managing Director of TIE to discuss the project in more detail. To prevent interruption, Yared and I met with Jess and headed back to Yeka Guest House, where the wifi was better (it’s been slightly hit & miss since, hence this backlog of blog posts.) We had a brilliant talk around the project’s objective – ‘Create the strategy and tools necessary to raise awareness of St Yared’s work and help them to communicate with new sponsors and increase their financial sustainability,’ and set a timeline for the first week. I will write more about this in another post, as this one is slowly becoming a not so small essay!

Needless to say, it was an incredible first day, with so much to take in, and a lot to process!

Scene Setting and all that…

The sun was shining and it was wonderfully warm when I landed in Addis. Jess, who works for Hope for Children, met me at the airport with Benji, a lovely driver who is going to help me get around for the next month. Taxis are painted blue and white here and in entrepreneurial spirit, Benji’s done his own paint job on his Toyota Corolla. The roads are extremely busy with ‘Blue Donkeys’ –blue and white minibuses that form the backbone of public transport, white 4x4s peppered with insignia of various NGOs and embassies, industrial trucks pumping out thick smoke – a symptom of the mass of building work that is going, a whole host of personal cars zig zagging, weaving and tooting, and the occasional real donkey or two, nonchalantly meandering to who knows where. Owning a car here is a luxury of the middle class – so all of the roads are flanked by lots of people walking too. Although there is still acute poverty, people approached the car begging when we stopped at traffic lights, signs of development are everywhere. It feels like the city is on the cusp of utter transformation –  there is much more tarmac on the roads than when I was last in Addis in 2009, Addis now boasts a light rail service and there are tall buildings in the process of being completed along most main roads.

We drove to Yeka guest house, and were met by Elizabeth, my extremely welcoming and gracious hostess. By strange coincidence, Yeka is just a short walk away from the British Embassy, where I stayed the last time I was here. It has an eclectic mix of guests – Chinese construction workers, families who are in the process of adopting, or who have already adopted and a few others who are here with NGOs, embassies or to volunteer. At dinner, I met with a Belgium couple who have adopted a sweet sixteen month old boy from Harar. They have been trying to adopt for almost a decade, and are so happy to have been successful now. Yesterday, their papers were finally approved, so they are going to take him home to Belgium on Saturday. I’ve met a lovely girl who is Australian and was adopted from Ethiopia when she was five – this is her first time back since –she is going to be volunteering at The School of St Yared kindergarten for the next month. It’s so interesting to hear everyone’s stories!

After I’d eaten, I pretty much crumpled into bed, feeling utterly exhausted and a bit topsy turvy as my body adjusted to the altitude (Addis is approximately 2400 metres above sea level) and the time difference – an awkward 7 hours behind Sydney.

Beginnings

It all started with a letter. A handwritten letter outlining why I’d love to be considered for a placement with The International Exchange, painstakingly drafted to make my spidery scrawl legible, scanned across hemispheres and hand delivered to WPP’s Farm Street office in London by my amazing friend Ellie.

Fast forward four and a half months, and I’m now in the final stretch of a 24 hour journey from Sydney to Addis Ababa, ridiculously excited for everything to kick off. Currently we’re cruising, somewhere above Somalia, and it feels like there’s no better time to write my first blog post.

There’s something quite otherworldly about long haul flights – about being in suspended from any sort of reality that makes sense, contained within in a small tin can thousands of feet in the air with a couple of hundred strangers. It’s an extremely liminal experience but it’s a great place to reflect.

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The six weeks since the dates for the project were confirmed have been intense and incredible. In the midst of pitching for new business and developing communication strategies for some of our agency’s key clients, I’ve had fantastic training and coaching sessions with the TIE team, have had some brilliant and constructive conversations with Jacqui, Jess and Amanda from The School of St Yared, have run a half marathon, had my story featured in The Sydney Morning Herald, and thanks to very generous support from friends, family and colleagues, have raised $2000 for a marketing budget.

It’s already been a formative experience, and it hasn’t even really begun. Running the half marathon in 2 hours 13 after one training run (in which I pulled a muscle) – taught me that mind over matter is an adage that works, particularly when it’s for a cause you truly believe in. I was grateful when The Sydney Morning Herald got in touch with me to ask about the reason why I was running as it was a great opportunity to talk about the school. In the end, the article focused more on me than on the work that The School of St Yared does which I guess was a lesson in not being able to assume that that the story you want to tell and the story the media wants to tell will perfectly align. That said, in the grand scheme of things, it was very positive and all publicity is better than none!

My training session with TIE provided me with a crash course into in the world of development and encouraged me to find out more about Ethiopia from this perspective (more on this some other time.) Our discussions made me aware of the cultural lens which influences the way we see the world. ‘We see things not as they are, but as we are.’ I suppose this is pretty obvious in some senses, but it’s definitely preparing me to assume nothing, and ask questions through out the project to ensure that our work over the next month can be as impactful as possible.

I can’t wait to land and get started with everything. I know I’m going to learn a lot – more than I can imagine, and I hope that we can create a framework for communications and fundraising that will have lasting impact for The School of St Yared.