Written by Hannah Dillon

It was with great anticipation that we arrived in Gondar, our base for the coming months and a historical city located in Ethiopia’s Northern highlands. Apart from the extensive castle complex, the main things we had heard about before arriving were the excellent fish and chips at AG Hotel (from Matt at Link) and the entertaining Northern accent of the inhabitants (from the Bishoftu office staff). Suffice to say, Gondar, and the Amhara region in which it is situated, has much more to offer than this. Though I must say the fish and chips are good (we have had them twice already).

We spent our first Sunday pounding the streets, getting a feel for the place and chatting to a few local people. We were welcomed by our country director Gash Belayneh who offered us coffee (of course) and made us feel at home.

Rory strolling around Gondar town in the blazing heat.

Rory strolling around Gondar town in the blazing heat.

My first impression of Gondar was that it was a busy and bustling small town with a friendly atmosphere. The locals are very used to Western tourists; which can have good and bad sides!

The central Piassa square in Gondar. You can see Italian-built art deco style buildings (in the process of being renovated).

The central Piassa square in Gondar. You can see Italian-built art deco style buildings (in the process of being renovated).

Another shot of Piassa and the renovations to the buildings including the central Post Office.

Another shot of Piassa and the renovations to the buildings including the central Post Office.

The view from our bedroom window in the Link Ethiopia accommodation in Gondar. Not too shabby!

The view from our bedroom window in the Link Ethiopia accommodation in Gondar. Not too shabby!

We were very glad to find that there are three other UK volunteers staying in our accommodation: two gap year students teaching at their partner school, Anghareb, and one architect from London who is working with Link and St. George’s School (more about this later).

A typically scenic backdrop and not-so-scenic foreground!

A typically scenic backdrop and not-so-scenic foreground!

On Monday it was straight to work on our Libraries and Literacy project. Having completed the research and teacher training in Bishoftu, it is now my task to gather baseline data before starting the teacher training in this region. So this saw me visiting the first three of twelve schools this week, where we were testing Grade 1 and 2 students on their reading skills. Once I have trained the teachers and supported them throughout the year, we will see what impact this training has had on reading levels.

Grade 1 and 2 students taking our reading test and posing for the camera at Arbatu Ensesa school on the outskirts of Gondar.

Grade 1 and 2 students taking our reading test and posing for the camera at Arbatu Ensesa school on the outskirts of Gondar.

A mural of Gondar castle at Arbatu Ensesa School. This mud and wood structure with corrugated iron roof is a typical classroom design at government schools that I have seen in the North and the South. Link Ethiopia funded the metal shutters and doors to improve security and added cement flooring replacing mud and dust (which had made some children ill).

A mural of Gondar castle at Arbatu Ensesa School. This mud and wood structure with corrugated iron roof is a typical classroom design at government schools that I have seen in the North and the South. Link Ethiopia funded the metal shutters and doors to improve security and added cement flooring replacing mud and dust (which had made some children ill).

Colourful murals showing Ethiopia’s unique regions and wildlife (photographed at Arbatu Ensesa School).

Colourful murals showing Ethiopia’s unique regions and wildlife (photographed at Arbatu Ensesa School).

Kindergarten students chanting the English alphabet for their visitors at Arbatu Ensesa. Many more schools now have a KG class but funding is limited and most parents cannot afford to pay.

Kindergarten students chanting the English alphabet for their visitors at Arbatu Ensesa. Many more schools now have a KG class but funding is limited and most parents cannot afford to pay.

This week we were also lucky enough to visit the newly-opened St. George’s School in Azezo near Gondar. The ambitious task of building a brand new school for orphans and vulnerable children was mounted by the Northwood African Education Foundation, based at Broomwood Hall School in London. Rory came here last year to see the building site, so to see it up and running and full of children learning was very exciting. Having spent some time in different government and private schools in Ethiopia already, I was blown away by what everyone had achieved in building and setting up this school.

One of the first classes at the new St. George’s School enjoys learning in this colourful and stimulating environment.

One of the first classes at the new St. George’s School enjoys learning in this colourful and stimulating environment.

The newly-built St. George’s School courtyard and classrooms.

The newly-built St. George’s School courtyard and classrooms.

School uniforms hanging out to dry at St. George’s. The school provides uniforms and materials as priority is given to orphans and children from poor families.

School uniforms hanging out to dry at St. George’s. The school provides uniforms and materials as priority is given to orphans and children from poor families.

Sheltered area showing the tranquil rural setting of St. George’s.

Sheltered area showing the tranquil rural setting of St. George’s.

Beautiful reading area at St. George’s.

Beautiful reading area at St. George’s.

Click here for more information about the project: https://www.linkethiopia.org/projects/partnerships/broomwoodafricaneducationfoundation/

It was a joy to see children enjoying quality education and the lower grades learning through play. I was encouraged to see that the school is using phonics to teach English and the teachers reported that the children love its interactive and kinaesthetic approach which means they are learning to read English rapidly. I hope our Libraries and Literacy project can have the same affect in other Ethiopian schools and in government schools in particular.

Ethiopia continues to surprise and delight me. The excitements on the horizon are the Great Ethiopian 10K Run on 23rd November for which we are travelling to Addis to take part with over 40,000 other runners (or walkers/joggers in my case!); a trip around the castle complex here in Gondar and perhaps a trip to another nearby site. With only six weeks to go until we come back for Christmas we have a lot to pack in!