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

In praise of Ethiopian donkeys

This is not a donkey.

This is a mule.

When17 teachers went to Ethiopia this summer on a Fulbright Hayes study journey, they found out that mules are still a common way to reach villages, monastaries, new water projects.  When I was growing up in Maji, mules hauled the mail up the mountain from the Ethiopian Airlines landing strip on the savannah–pretty exciting day every time letters from family in America spilled out onto the living room floor!

This is not a donkey.

This is Habtu’s tour bus that faithfully carried the 17 educators to the south and to the north and on many amazing adventures.  Of course millions of Ethiopians these days get around by car and bus, and roads are expanding every year.

This is a donkey.

Actually, it’s two donkeys.  Donkeys are everywhere in Ethiopia doing a lot of the hard work of hauling and pulling and whatever else needs to be done.

These donkeys pull a cart–a cart full of books.  The donkey mobile library is a lot more fun to see in all its rolling-down-the-road glory, which, thanks to Sam and Keith, who volunteered their time and photographic expertise, you can do:


When I was speaking at a fundraiser for Ethopia Reads that featured Lanie and her outdoor adventures in her own back yard, I had a great conversation with a woman who was fondly remembering  her childhood mobile library: a bus full of books.  Every week, she walked out of the bus with an armload.  Every week, she curled in a play house in her back yard reading–day after day–until the bus returned again and she was able to get a new armload of books.

Not too long ago in the United States, a mobile library was a precious part of many communities.  As you can see from the video, they’re wonderfully popular in Awassa, too.

At this point, Ethiopia Reads has five donkey libraries that do their work in the south and one in the north part of the country.  Some of them stop under a tree.  The library managers pull stools out–and some children take the books to their houses to read to siblings and even parents.

When I speak in the United States, I spend a lot of time encouraging parents and teachers to read out loud to kids.  In Ethiopia, it often goes the other way around.

Sometimes, the donkey library pulls up to a school.  Most schools in Ethiopia don’t have libraries, so books that can travel to the school are enormously helpful in opening the students’ eyes and hearts to the world around and inside them.

One of the best things about the donkey libraries is that they’ve opened the eyes and hearts of a lot of students in the United States, too.  This is a school in Fargo that raised $1800 for Ethiopia Reads–and I’ll have a chance to thank the students and teachers and staff in person when I’m in Fargo and Grand Forks this fall.

This is not a donkey.  This is the Nittany lion. I met the Nittany lion when I met a funny, fun, starfish-throwing group of Delta Kappa Gamma teachers who are responsible for starting one of the donkey mobile libraries–and are now going to help us raise money for upkeep.  Ethiopia Reads has to feed those donkeys and pay the keepers and renew the books on the carts.

This is the future.  This is the reading team that is growing in Ethiopia.  This is the way we make a difference in our own back yards and around the world.

4 thoughts on “In praise of Ethiopian donkeys”

  1. Oh my dear friend,
    Thank you for making my day with this blog. How I wish I could have been riding along side of you this past summer. I just finished my first week of school and as it goes in Reading Recovery, lots of data to review and plan from. But more importantly, it is about new little ones to bring into the world of literacy.
    You are in my thoughts and I hope to find more time to catch up before too long. You are amazing Jane.
    Peace and joy, Mary Beth


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