Impington Village College come to Adea Model Secondary School

In November, sixth form students and teachers from Impington Village College, Cambridge, travelled to Adea Model Secondary School, Bishoftu. The visit was the first part of an exchange trip with an Ethiopian group visiting the UK in January 2020 to experience schools here and continue the gender equality workshops. The visits focused on gender equality and were enabled by both the long-standing school link and by funding from the British Council Connecting Classrooms programme.

This guest blog is by the sixth form students about their trip to Adea Model school.

After the long overnight flight and the journey from Addis Ababa to our guesthouse in Bishoftu, we were all very hungry we went directly out for lunch. Ms Markus and Wilson then thought it would be really good to do the introduction to school the same day, although we could hardly keep our eyes open anymore, we were keen to see our partner school, Ada’a Model Secondary School. At school we met Mr. Abdi, the Headteacher and his staff to plan and discuss the next days. We took part in the coffee ceremony and we enjoyed traditional bread and popcorn with the coffee, while getting to know some of the teachers. The lady who was making the coffee was dressed in traditional clothes and helped by a young boy. We found it very interesting that when someone makes coffee, the people around have to smell the roasted beans and it is considered rude if you don’t.

The next day we went to school to join the girls club. The girls club meets regularly and discusses issues affecting women. It also helps poorer girls. As part of the British Council Project on gender equality we helped the students to write reply letters to our younger students at Impington Village College, explaining their own family situation and other interesting features about their life. One aspect that came up about their lives was that on average these girls, like many of the other students in school, walk at least seven kilometers to school and back home.

Straight after this eye-opening encounter we had another one while visiting the local market in Bishoftu. Getting looked at by every person is an experience that is not really common in the UK, nor is the warm and friendly welcome towards us accompanied by big smiles and often a handshake. To round up the day we had dinner in a Hotel with a breathtaking view on one of Bishoftu’s beautiful lakes with lots of various birds.

On Sunday we spent the day in a resort on one of Bishoftu’s lakes. We visited traditional shops and saw clothes, scarves and objects handmade by Ethiopian women. The young female shop assistants were wearing traditional clothes and again they were all smiling, very polite and kind. The shop we liked most was selling paintings which depicted various aspects of Ethiopian culture.

We had lunch in a beautiful restaurant, entirely built from traditional materials and we sampled many different traditional foods while looking at the lake and appreciating the magnificent view. We saw amazing birds and traditional wildlife and when we went kayaking in the afternoon, we could get a closer look.

We also saw a wedding and although the bride was dressed Western style, the rest of the women were wearing eye-catching and very colourful dresses. That certainly is an aspect of Ethiopian culture which we greatly liked: everything is so colourful.

Over the next few days we were back at our partner school assisting with the delivery of several lessons on gender equality. What struck us first was the size of the classes from 50-75 students per class, the second was the age range: in each class we had students from 13 to about 20 years of age, depending on the years of learning they had done.

The topic of gender equality was taught through a number of different activities, designed to challenge students’ perceptions. We were astonished that the students’ opinions were really different to ours. We enjoyed their intense discussion. The girls especially showed great confidence and did not back away from the more traditional comments of the boys. We noticed that some girls displayed really strong personalities and told the boys what their opinion should be… we found it really funny and amusing to see them arguing and had good discussions about the role of men and women within their society.

We were positively surprised by this as it showed that girls in Ethiopia are confident that equality can be achieved. The students were very open minded and even though their English was sometimes not good enough to have proper conversations we had funny and constructive exchanges with them, helped by hand gestures.

We then had a final meeting with Mr. Abdi and some of his staff to discuss the outcomes of the project so far and the planned trip of Mr. Abdi and three colleagues to Cambridge, UK.

To finish off another meaningful and beautiful day we were invited to a traditional dinner in a small local restaurant which was really delicious. Not even a power cut could spoil our fun.

On our last day in Bishoftu we decided to visit a spa resort 30km away, famous for its hot springs. On arrival we saw dozens of monkeys in the wild which was very exciting as they were not shy at all and came quite close to us looking for food.

The main attraction of the resort were the hot spring showers with crystal clear water from the mountains.

Here there was a clear division of gender with separate showers for men and women. For Luis who went to the men’s public showers with Haile, the experience was unique. Whereas in the UK the aspect of joint showers, let’s say in a sports centre is an ordinary and unexciting event, here, the men very much enjoyed the communal experience. They were lathering themselves with soap, energetically moving under the very hot showers or laying on the floor, letting the water splash over them, and then, with lots of laughter, repeating the same routine.

On our final day we went back to Addis Ababa, where we saw the Link Ethiopia office and had a city tour followed by a visit to the mountains overlooking Abbis. After a final coffee together, reflecting on all the diverse experiences we had we said an emotional good-bye. We had made new friends and the trip had been the experience of a lifetime.