The Power of One Writer
Back Yards, Ethiopia and Children's Books

Building in Ethiopia…buildings, communities, friendships

I’m thinking today of my friend Liz who adopted a child from Ethiopia and ended up with a whole new life handed to her.  Or maybe she grabbed it.  When I first met her, she had decided she needed to bring clean water to the area where her son was born.  The amount she had to raise felt astonishingly big to me.  But she did it…and every time I checked in with her, she was still having fun.

Today, she’s running as part of a triathalon.   This time, her goal is to build a library.

I never, ever thought I’d be involved in a project that actually built things in Ethiopia.  Probably Liz never did, either.  But consider the story of a young man–now in graduate studies in Washington DC–who was one of the first youngsters in his area to get a chance at higher education.  When he came home on breaks, he said, boys clustered to ask how he did it.  He would hand out books and other print resources and say, “Don’t return them to me–pass them on to someone else.”

The library was his dream.  We’re piling on.  Thus reading ripples…as the reading of TROUBLE rippled from the Boston event Liz and I were part of together.

Today Liz is running to finish Habtamu’s dream of building a library in his home town.  She wrote this:

“Mudula, Ethiopia is located in rural mountainous area in the southwestern part of the country. It is the largest town in a district of over 100,000 people. There is no public library in the area and few books in existing schools.

Degale Library is named in honor of the 600 year old fig tree
that stands majestically in the center of the market area and has been a
cultural and spiritual symbol for centuries.”  Fig trees and big ideas stand.

Degale Library will be part of six building projects Ethiopia Reads ( is overseeing in that rural part of Ethiopia.  The young American volunteer who supervised the building of the first wrote this recently:

On April 20th the Kololo community and Ethiopia Reads celebrated the completion of the Kololo school.  After nearly six months of swinging, lifting, mixing and slathering mud, painting and cleaning, the school’s construction was finished. The school’s furniture for each the structure’s eight rooms was delivered by the end of June.   Teacher and librarian training began this summer, and with full support from the local government, so school could begin this fall.

For the last week of March and the first of April we lacked sufficient funding to pay workers their weekly salary.  The community trusted Ijigu and me at this point, and had no problem continuing work under an I.O.U. program.  Hours were carefully noted, and when the final installment arrived we paid all of the workers in a lump sum.  A really beautiful moment occurred when five of the workers told Ijigu and me that they were working as volunteers, because they cared about their community’s future, not in hopes of being paid.  Five workers felt so strong that they declined payment for their hard work. (It took some doing, but we found a way to get each of the five to accept.)

On April 20th the school was complete.  There were a few unfinished projects (the bridges needed to dry and be hoisted into position, window putty was not fully complete, and the bathroom needed a small bit of work.  The same five workers told Ijigu and I that they would relish the opportunity to finish the build in the next couple days on their own).  That evening we held a sizable party to celebrate the community’s hard work. Approximately 150 or so people showed up and we had a wonderful time. Community members shared funny stories and told jokes of their new ferenji family. The evening finished with a gift giving ceremony for the five standout workers, and drinks of local brew with village elders.  The night’s activities made for very pleasant last sleep over in Kololo.

The last month of work was an excellent showing on the part of project management, particularly regarding personnel management.  Salamnesh, Gazan, and Temesgin assisted Ijigu and me in managing the workers as they put the finishing touches on the school. The final pours went well, the doors and window glass fit perfectly in all but 2 of the 43 pieces, the last bit of touch up paint went well, as well as a variety of other tasks.  The school came together beautifully,  The community is very proud of themselves, as they should be for completing such a monumental task.Build on.

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