James Cator - English Teacher in Ethiopia
Going to teach in Ethiopia enabled me to fulfil an ambition I had had since I qualified as a business and economics teacher almost 40 years ago. Having recently retired as a teacher and teacher trainer in the English Midlands I now had the time, and Projects Abroad gave me the opportunity.
I wanted to experience a different culture, environment, climate and system of education and, as I had never visited Africa this seemed an ideal choice. Of the African countries, Ethiopia is one which I felt very few people in the UK know much about and this, coupled with memories of the humanitarian disasters of the 1980’s was the reason for my choice.
The placement and my role
My placement was at a high school in Selam Children’s Village in Addis Ababa. The school caters for the orphan children of the village, as well as less affluent students from the local area. My brief was to develop the oral English skills of the students in grades 9 and 10. This proved to be quite a challenge with lessons of 45 minutes in length and an average class size of 40 students.
The teaching style of English-trained teachers is also quite different from what the students were used to but they were very keen to learn and extremely co-operative and pleasant students, so were able to progress well. I was very impressed with the school as a whole. Located as it is in an orphans’ village, there is a strong family ethos throughout and relationships between staff and students were very positive.
For two days a week I had my own classes, where I taught lessons I had prepared. The rest of the week was spent supporting the English teachers in their lessons, particularly with pronunciation, and marking students’ written work.
A key concern of older people in Ethiopia is that so many young people wish to emigrate. Many harbour ambitions of going to the USA, Australia, Europe and even other African countries. I was asked to speak to the students to try to address this issue and decided to base my talk around the poem ‘I Am An African Child’ by Ecu McGred (recommended reading for all volunteers to Africa!) which puts forward a positive image of African youth. I had some of my grade 10 students read it to the school and afterwards was moved when students rushed up to me, shaking my hand and saying ‘I am an African child!’
Journey to the project
I was fortunate that my accommodation was only a 20 minute walk from the school as public transport can be a bit of a challenge in Addis Ababa, especially in the mornings. My journey to school was frequently punctuated by sessions of hand-shaking and greetings, particularly from younger children on their way to school; ‘hihowareyouIamveryfine’ was a greeting I came to know very well!
I never quite got used to my celebrity status, foreigners are still quite rare and ‘Hi ferengie’ (foreigner) was a greeting frequently called out to me in the streets. I was even asked to pose for photographs with local people!
Weekend travelling in Ethiopia
Addis Ababa does not claim to be one of the world’s most picturesque capital cities but it is certainly vibrant and interesting! I arrived at the end of the rainy season. There was rain at night during my first two evenings but every day was warm and sunny with temperatures rising throughout my 6 week stay, although it never became uncomfortably hot.
Ethiopians all look forward to the rainy season but I found the climate to be very pleasant, if a little dusty! One regret is that I only spend one day out of the city, a fascinating visit to a cultural festival in the town of Bishoftu, some 65km away in the beautiful lakes area of the country.
There is plenty of evidence to show that Ethiopia is a country ‘on the up’. I was told on more than one occasion that its rate of GDP growth is in excess of 10%. Investment in infrastructure is taking place everywhere in Addis, funded largely by foreign investment. It is a place where volunteers can make a difference. Come and see for yourself!