UND professors find support in Grand Forks for African education project
Over three recent weeks, UND professors Anne Walker and Jill Shafer woke up in a minimal hotel, took cold showers and drove past groups of children carrying water for miles, women grinding flour out of grain and impoverished cities on their way to work.
“Ethiopia is not set up for tourists,” Walker said.
But they were there to work.
The two teach for UND’s Department of Teaching and Learning and are a part of Ethiopia Reads, an organization started in 1998 by former UND instructor Jane Kurtz. Walker became a part of the organization through her church and since her coworker, Shafer, was already a world-traveler, it was the perfect fit.
Both women worked most of the time in Kembata-Tembaro, one of the most heavily populated and impoverished regions in Ethiopia, where they taught librarians how to assess young readers — particularly kindergarteners.
“Most of the books were older,” Shafer said. “The books that they had ... the staff didn’t know how to use them to their full capacity.”
Using what they had
Instead of dealing with outdated books, they showed the teachers how students could build and write their own books with scraps of paper and cardboard, as well as teaching them simple memorization games.
“You’re creating resources or finding low-cost resources to use in this country,” Shafer said.
Walker also found the lack of resources challenging.
“Teachers are dedicated to children learning no matter where you are, but these teachers had no resources,” she said. “They didn’t even have erasers.”
Back in the states, the professors have been traveling to local elementary schools and educating students about their trip. Students at Kelly Elementary School had raised money and donated materials to be sent to Ethiopia, and Walker and Shafer gave them the chance to see their work paying off.
Walker said she would like to return to Ethiopia to see if there’s been progress.
“It's really important that international people working with them are consistent,” she said.
Ethiopia Reads is responsible for serving 120,000 children. The organization has created 61 school libraries, five schools and developed a mobile donkey library in 2007 that pulls a cart full of books to children throughout the area.
More information about volunteering for or donating to Ethiopia Reads can be found at ethiopiareads.org.