David Ruff - Teaching English & Other Subjects in Ethiopia
My time in Ethiopia was a chance to work and live with locals in Addis Ababa which was an experience I won’t forget. For two and a half months of working in a developing country such as this has enabled me to reconcile my European outlook on this beautiful country which has so much to offer and huge amounts of potential. Having studied Sociology I’ve taken great interest in observing the daily life in Ethiopia and learning about its fascinating history and culture. Or should I say many cultures depending on which region you are in.
One organization I worked for was Global Hope for Children where my placement was in a kindergarten. Teaching basic English and organizing afternoon games enabled me to mix with children some of whom were HIV positive and many had parents with this virus. The main aim of the charity was to help children from poor backgrounds before entering grade one schools. Working with these children was great fun, they were all very enthusiastic. When I would ask one of them to come to the blackboard to answer questions or do role playing all would put hands up. Often their enthusiasm was so great they would run to the front of the classroom nearly knocking me over in the process in order to take part.
Mixing and talking with the teachers gave me an interesting insight to their lives as well as that of the children of which without the school their lives would be much harder. The teachers made me feel very welcome and appreciated. I won’t forget the many coffee ceremonies I enjoyed with them being able to watch the coffee beans being roasted in front of me. And let me tell you Ethiopian coffee is the best. WHY ISN’T MORE ETHIOPIAN COFFEE AVAILABLE IN EUROPE?!
Another rewarding placement was the Bethany Children’s Village which is based in one of the poorest parts of Addis Ababa. To get there you walk down paths lined with corrugated iron buildings with washing lines stretched across the way. People would be out doing their washing and the children would run out to greet you and shake your hand. Here we provided food, English classes, recreation activities and hygiene advice. Again these children were great fun - I enjoyed playing games with them and teaching them. They were so keen to learn. The Practical Language School was my third placement teaching teenagers and adults. This allowed me to get to know some of the students and learn about their lives as well as them learning about me and my life in Europe. The one to one conversational classes were particularly good for this. At the end of this placement I was surprised at how much they appreciated me being there, and this made me realise how seriously learning English in Ethiopia is taken as it is seen as one of the key components to getting the country into global markets.
Many Ethiopians said to me with pride that Ethiopia has a low crime rate compared to the rest of Africa. I have no reason to disagree, feeling very safe in Addis Ababa, everyone was so friendly and wanted to help even in the poorest areas. Some people wanted to simply walk with you and chat. The amount of people I had coffees with having only just met them is something that would not happen in Europe. Once I found myself in front of a class of students in a language school I had never heard of, having just been chatting with an English teacher, who I had never met before, who simply wanted his students to hear a native speaker for a few minutes. This friendliness I found extended across the whole country when at the end of my placements I did some traveling.
My first destination was to the walled city of Harar to the east of Ethiopia. This mainly Muslim area was beautiful where the women wore very brightly colored clothes giving the busy market places an extra vibrant feel amongst the many different people buying and selling goods. Harar’s beer is my favorite out of the many good Ethiopian beers available. I recommend it to any one going out to Ethiopia.
One of the most amazing experiences was the wild hyenas which are fed by the people of Harar every night. I never thought I would get so close to such animals as they are known for their aggressiveness. They had become tame knowing that they were going to be fed. Even I was helping to feed them!
Rather than hire a driver and land cruiser I decided I wanted to travel with the locals. I was crammed into an old minibus with men, women, children and animals squashed on to the seats, plus more sitting in the aisle along the day’s fruit and vegetables for the market. One time when using local transport I had a chicken dumped on my lap adding to the experience. Mind you, one volunteer told me when traveling in a mini-bus taxi in Addis he had a baby dumped on his lap and couldn’t work out which person put it there!
I traveled to the north the country and hired a guide, scout and mule to carry my rucksack up into the Simien Mountains. This was one of the highlights of my stay, spending my first night in a community lodge sitting in a dark room with just a small petrol lamp giving some light. This created a good atmosphere chatting to the locals who joined us. The views from the Simien Mountains over the canyons which lay below were spectacular and you could get up close to the Gelada Baboons. It was fascinating watching them groom each other.
Lalibela’s rock-hewn churches are an amazing phenomenon of architecture carved out of the Rocky Mountains. It was hard to take in the fact that these churches were just one piece of rock hollowed out to form arches and pillars. I finished my trip in the south visiting Nechisar National Park and the Konso tribes.The park was beautiful giving great views of Zebras, Gazelles, Hippos and Crocodiles in and around lakes Chamo and Abaya.
The image I now have of Ethiopia is very different to the one I had before I came out here. The volunteering has been a very rewarding experience where I felt valued by the people I was working with. The family I stayed with made me feel at home and part of the family. Ethiopia is a country where I felt very welcome and I certainly recommend it to anyone who wants to do volunteering. I am left wondering why we don’t know more about the beautiful sights and scenery in Ethiopia. I’m sure more people would want to visit if they knew. Is it a secret?!