I am woken at 5.45am, when the rooster gives his morning call. I put some water in a pan on the kerosene stove, to make coffee, then walk across the farmyard to the pit toilet.
By 6.30am I begin the half-mile walk to school, which is in a nearby village. The locals, with their donkeys laden with heavy loads, are on their way there, too. I’m always amazed at what I see during my walk to school; today it is seven camels in a lorry.
I am greeted along the way by students and other children in the village, arriving at school at 7am. At least 500 children are already there: they have come early to ensure they get a cup of tea and bread roll. Most walk – some from as far as five miles away. They won’t have had any breakfast, so I thank God for the food programme that was set up last year.
I am the homeroom teacher for the second grade and teach art to the whole school, with students aged between 6 and 12. Some here don’t start school until they are 10, and some local children do not attend school at all, but we are doing all we can to overcome this.
When the hand bell rings, students respond immediately by lining up in grade order and, amazingly, in height order. Then the Ethiopian flag is raised and the national anthem sung.
As the students move in an orderly fashion to their home rooms, I hear them greeting: “Good morning, Sister Deirdre.” As I enter my classroom, I greet my students with the exultation “Thanks be to God we are all here this morning”.
I ask if everyone has had breakfast, as a few students arrive late. Some can’t speak up as they are too weary and hungry, but others speak on their behalf and I take them to the food shed. When I return, I take the register, and remember why seven of my class are absent. Today is market day and their parents believe it is better that they work at the market than come to school.
The bell rings and Mr Tefaye enters my classroom to teach my students Amharic (the national language). I head to the art room to teach my fifth-grade class but, as the space is small, we have our lesson outside.
We have been working on banana-leaf art, but the glue has run out. As I ponder a solution, one of my pupils suggests using the “sticky plant” and rushes off to some bushes that surround the school. She returns with hands full of pods. As she pops one, sticky resin oozes out. It works perfectly and the students create beautiful pieces of work.
Time flies and it is already first break. Many students like to join me at breaktime: they share my passion for art. When the bell rings again, students scatter to their lessons. I teach seventh-grade students until lunchtime, when the children line up at the shed to receive their food from enormous cooking pots. Lunch is usually injera (flatbread), with lentils or bean stew. Sometimes vegetables are on offer and, very occasionally, meat.
When the final bell rings at 3pm, the students are keen to leave as they are needed at home to work, fetching water, grazing flocks of sheep and herds of cattle.
As I tidy the art room, I admire the students’ work. I spend time displaying their efforts and then prepare for the next day. I thank God for another successful, happy day.
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