Set in the rolling green hills of southern Ethiopia, Tsigereda’s village is a patchwork quilt of carefully tended fields, forest, and traditional homes made of earth and wood.
Nestled between the fields and the forest is a Luminos classroom full of brightly colored posters, handmade clay letters, and songs. This is where Tsigereda began her first steps towards lifelong learning—but it wasn’t always this way.
Tsigereda had spent earlier years of her life out of school, helping raise younger relatives about 124 miles away in a bustling fishing town called Ziway.
“Since she spent a lot of time in Ziway, it was hard for her to get used to rural life,” says Tsigereda’s teacher, Konjit.
Help children like Tsigereda get a second chance at education
After the death of her parents, Tsigereda’s grandmother became her caregiver, but with extra children to feed in her household, Adnaech had no money left over to send Tsigereda to school. Instead, she sent Tsigereda to Ziway to look after their relatives’ children. Child labor in Ethiopia can often take innocuous forms like this: caring for the children of relatives, tending to livestock, or simply helping around the home. Yet all of these tasks keep children out of the classroom, pulling them off the path of learning.
Tsigereda with her grandmother Adnaech outside their home. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
This year, at age 11, Tsigereda’s uncle brought her back to her rural home village to be raised alongside her cousins. Shortly after Tsigereda’s homecoming, her grandmother learned about Luminos’ free catch-up education program for out-of-school children like Tsigereda and enrolled her.
“My favorite activity is learning by songs! Because the songs we sing have a lot of knowledge in them,” says Tsigereda earnestly. Songs in the Luminos program help students internalize lessons on a variety of topics from the sounds vowels make to the importance of learning. These activity-based lessons are core to the Luminos curriculum, allowing formerly out-of-school students to catch up on the content of three years of school in just 10 months.
Emersed in a joyful learning environment, Tsigereda was thriving—and it didn’t take long for her teacher and family to notice. “Tsigereda has shown a lot of change,” says her teacher, Konjit. “Now she enjoys learning and spending time with her friends. She loves to read and lead activities.” For Konjit, seeing students like Tsigereda improve is her favorite part of being a teacher. “I feel like all my work pays off when I see them read and write,” she says.
Tsigereda sings about the importance of school and learning alongside her classmates as they begin the day’s lessons.(Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
The walls of Tsigereda’s classroom are decorated with colorful posters from past lessons, and handmade teaching materials. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
Outside the classroom, Tsigereda takes a turn reading to her small group, supervised by teacher Konjit. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
In addition to her love of singing, Tsigereda proudly shares that her favorite subject is math: “I like working with numbers—it’s so much fun to add and subtract numbers!”
Tsigereda’s grandmother, Adnaech, observed Tsigereda’s rapid progress with pride saying, “They told me at her school that she is very clever—I have seen her improvement myself. She helps out others as well.” Adnaech is now very intentional about ensuring that Tsigereda has enough time for studying when she gets home. “I love to see her when she is studying, reading, writing, doing her homework at home,” Adnaech notes. “A person can only live a better life if they get an education—education is important for life.”
Tsigereda doing her homework after school. “Education is very important, because without education, you cannot get knowledge,” says Tsigereda. “Getting knowledge will broaden your mind, and you will be able to do good things for your community.” (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
Looking to the Future
Tsigereda’s teacher, Konjit, goes one step further in describing the power of education: “Education is what brings you out of darkness and into the light.”
“Education is what brings you out of darkness and into the light.”
Konjit, Luminos teacher in Ethiopia
Konjit, Tsigereda’s teacher in the Luminos program. “I like teacher Konjit because she explains everything very well,” says Tsigereda. “There’s nothing I don’t understand when she teaches us!” (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
That light is shining in Tsigereda as she takes the next steps on her learning journey. After gaining the foundation skills in reading, writing, and math through Luminos’ program, Tsigereda recently transitioned into 5th grade at her local government school where her teachers report she’s at the top of her class.
When asked about the future, Tsigereda confidently replies that she wants to continue her education “until I get a degree from a big university.” After that, she is of two minds—on the one hand she would love to become a teacher like Konjit “because I want everyone to learn!” On the other hand, perhaps Tsigereda will go on to become a doctor “because I want to save the lives of people.”
Whatever path she chooses, Tsigereda’s heart for helping those around her is clear and her future is bright.
Walk with Tsigereda on her way home from school!
Leaving the school compound of her Luminos classroom, Tsigereda starts walking home. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
Tsigereda passes through several local fields on her way home. Here, families are growing corn. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
Tsigereda’s home. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
Tsigereda enters her home. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
Tsigereda arrives at home after school and puts down her books. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
Snack time! Tsigereda enjoys some sweet potatoes after school. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
After school, Tsigereda helps with household chores, including tending her family’s small farm plot. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
Rolling green hills surround Tsigereda’s home. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
Tsigereda feeds her family’s cows with plants from their farm. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
Chores complete, Tsigereda turns to her homework. (Photo: Mekbib Tadesse for the Luminos Fund)
Growing up in Liberia, Otis had the chance to briefly attend school, but was pulled out when his parents could no longer afford to pay school fees for all of their children. School fees prompt hard choices for many families in Liberia. In this West African country of 4.9 million people, between 15-20% of 6–14 year-olds are out of school. Feeling the strain of supporting their family of eleven, Otis’s mother and father made the difficult decision to send Otis to his aunt’s house where he helped with household chores.
Despite having to leave school, Otis’s brief, early exposure to learning had him hooked. Eager to continue learning, Otis asked his older brother to teach him, and soon Otis was learning basic letters and numbers.
Early last year, at ten years of age, Otis finally had the chance to return to the classroom again. He enrolled in the Luminos Fund’s free catch-up education program for out-of-school children, known as Second Chance. In a class of 30 students, Otis rapidly began to build on his basic knowledge of letters and numbers with the help of his teacher. Like many of his classmates, Otis loves Luminos’ play-based activities best. For Otis, experiencing joyful learning has made all the difference on his education journey.
“I like school because it is helping me learn how to read!” says Otis. His rapid progress has not gone unnoticed by his parents.
“I can now see him writing on everything in the house—and he can spell some words now,” says Otis’s father.
Otis’s mother, Sata, has noticed the writing, too. She remarked that Otis is now able to read a few small things and hopes that Otis will be able to read for the family since Sata herself is not literate. Both of Otis’s parents have seen the impact of Luminos’ Second Chance program in their communities firsthand.
“I know children who are now in 7th grade after they finished the program years ago,” says Sata.
Most Luminos students transition into public schools at the 3rd or 4th grade level after they graduate. Continuing to 7th grade means these students successfully completed primary school and are continuing their education!
Otis’s father agreed with Sata, saying, “Second Chance has helped the community because a lot of students are now in the public school.”
“Second Chance has helped the community because a lot of students are now in the public school.”
Luminos takes a holistic approach to education. Not only do we run catch-up education programs for out-of-school children, but we also recruit and train local young adults as teachers for our classrooms and engage parents in the learning journey.
Parents of Luminos students like Otis participate in monthly parent engagement groups where they step inside the classroom. During meetings, students may read a passage or demonstrate their writing skills in front of parents and community members. This is especially motivating for parents as they see the vast progress their children have made because of Second Chance. Parent engagement meetings also emphasize the importance of child protection and safeguarding, and challenge gender-based stereotypes that constrain women and girls. Parents in these groups commit to one another that they will keep their children in school, creating a network of accountability.
“I enjoy the work,” says Sata. “I’m happy to help the program that is helping my child.”
When asked about their dreams for Otis, his father replies, “I dream that he will be educated and do everything he wants to do.”
Sata chimes in, “I dream that he will learn a lot and become a better person tomorrow to help the family.”
With Otis’s parents behind him and the Luminos program providing a path back into mainstream education, his future of learning looks bright. For Otis, education isn’t something he wants to keep to himself. “Education is important because it will help me learn—and help my younger sister,” says Otis proudly.
“Education is important because it will help me learn—and help my younger sister.”
“He helps us understand what we cannot understand. He responds to our questions always.” These are the words of eleven-year-old Second Chance student, Sofonias, describing what he likes best about his teacher, Elias (pictured above). It is also a perceptive description of the importance and power of a teacher: bringing understanding and answers to thirsty learners. Elias, like so many teachers around the globe, has quietly transformed his students’ lives forever.
Take Sofonias as an example. After losing his father at age seven, his mother needed him to help her make ends meet for the family. School was not an option; a cost that could not be afforded. Still, Sofonias was eager to learn, picking his friends’ brains to understand basic addition and subtraction when the pandemic forced schools to close. Yet before joining Luminos’ free Second Chance program, Sofonias was still unable to read and write at age 11.
Today, Sofonias says reading and writing are his favorite subjects, “I like doing classwork—especially when I receive a check mark from my teacher! Coming to school gives me some pride.” Learning to read, write, and do math transforms a life forever—and teachers like Elias are the ones who make it happen.
Elias became a Second Chance teacher four years ago after finishing high school. Originally unable to place into the government university or afford a private university, Elias’ career options felt limited. Part of Luminos’ unique model includes recruiting young adults in the communities we serve as teachers and providing them with rigorous training and ongoing coaching. Our primary requirement is a 10th-grade education, creating a career path for promising men and women. Elias was a perfect candidate and grew into a remarkable teacher.
“I enjoy teaching all subjects,” Elias says. “When I started, I was inclined to reading and writing but now I enjoy teaching every subject.” Elias’ students see him as warm and friendly, someone they enjoy learning from.
One of his students, an eleven-year-old boy named Mussie says, “He always advises us not to be afraid and to be confident. I like that.”
With an anticipated global teacher shortage of 69 million teachers according to UNESCO, tapping into the potential of local young adults like Elias has never been more important. In the May Devex piece “How to treat the learning crisis like a health crisis,” Luminos CEO, Caitlin Baron, expounds upon this point noting, “If the global community truly wants children to catch-up in COVID-19’s aftermath, we must fill the global teacher shortage to power this effort… Building a workforce of community teachers is an urgent opportunity, as stretched systems grapple with learning loss.”
Today, on World Teachers’ Day, we celebrate the incredible work our teachers are doing in classrooms around the world. To our all our teachers: thank you. You inspire us every day with your devotion to the students in your classrooms and your dreams for their futures.
Several years ago, photographer Rosie Hallam visited a pilot of the Luminos Fund’s Second Chance program in Sidama, Ethiopia. It was a trip she never forgot. Rosie met Second Chance student, Selamawit (also referred to as Selamaw in some news coverage), on that trip and spent the day with her family, taking a series of extraordinary portraits. This month, Rosie won the Royal Geographical Society’s prestigious 2021 Earth Photo competition with her portraits of Selamawit and her parents in a piece entitled, “A Right to an Education.” We spoke with Rosie about winning the award, getting to know Selamawit’s family, and visiting Second Chance classrooms in Ethiopia all those years ago.
Luminos: Congratulations on winning the 2021 Earth Photo competition! What does winning this award mean to you?
Rosie: It’s very exciting! And somewhat surprising in a way, because I felt the images I selected for the competition were quite subtle in how they might represent what Earth Photo 2021 was about.
I imagined a lot of people would think about climate change—images that people see daily of droughts and fires. But for me, it’s about the subtleties of stories. Telling individual tales about people. Amongst all the photographs I took in Ethiopia, Selamawit’s family particularly stood out for me. There was something about their dignity—I remembered them immediately and went straight to those images for the competition.
It’s a tale about a family. It could be one of millions of families around the globe. It’s quite a subtle tale of how they live their lives on a day-to-day basis.
I think education programs—lifting people up out of grinding poverty—are an amazing way of helping people, their communities, wider society, and the country as a whole.
It’s great that these photographs give people the opportunity to learn about the work that organizations like the Luminos Fund are doing. Photography is such a great way of telling those stories.
Luminos: Out of all your work, why did you choose to submit these three photos for the 2021 Earth Photo competition?
Rosie: It touched me a lot—it was just an amazing program. I don’t think any sort of charitable program has touched me as much as [Second Chance] has. Just how simple it seemed and yet how unbelievably effective it was. It literally transformed people’s lives with relatively small amounts of money.* People weren’t being given thousands of dollars, it was small seed funds. From that they were growing businesses and not just lifting themselves out of poverty, but everyone around them.
I met a lovely woman who was running a café, built from her savings group seed funding back then. Her son had completed the Second Chance program, and now all her other children were going to school because she now had the money to send them. Second Chance didn’t just impact that one child who did the catch-up program, it impacted all [the rest]. And then they’ll have children and their children will go to school. This small seed funding can impact dozens if not hundreds of people. I just thought it was amazing.
*In Ethiopia, as part of our program offering, Luminos runs savings groups for mothers of Second Chance students. Women meet weekly to save, form a business plan, and receive business and literacy training. They also receive seed funding to launch their business and are connected to local microfinance groups at the end of the school year. Eventually, mothers increase their economic stability and ability to cover the costs of future schooling when children transition to government schools.
Luminos: Where did Selamawit live and what was her life like?
Rosie: Selamawit lived in a small village with her mother, Meselech, father, Markos (also referred to as Marco in some news coverage), and three other siblings. The school was in the center and traditional huts were spaced around it. Selamawit hadn’t been in school before because her family couldn’t afford it. She was roughly 9 or 10—the same age as my daughter at the time.
Meselech hadn’t had an education and Selamawit was her first child who was able to go to school. This was at the very beginning of the program, and already her daughter could now write her name and was learning to read. I think the mother thought it was brilliant. Meselech was really engaged in the program and fully encouraging of her daughter: she said Selamawit was working hard and would continue her education after the program.
Selamawit enjoyed being at school and learning—being able to write her name was big news. The classrooms were absolutely amazing. As you approached the school you could always hear which one was the Second Chance classroom by the level of noise. All the kids were answering and everything was very visual—lots of handmade things and the students are all wearing hats. That’s what was so lovely about it—it was really vibrant. Seeing children that were so keen to learn and that were so engaged with what was going on. That’s what I really remember from going into the classrooms: these great levels of energy.
Selamawit studied at school, but then she also did all her daily chores: sweeping out the house, picking coffee beans, going to the well to collect water like all the other children. The day I visited her family, I stayed with them all morning and we ate lunch together. To watch that meal being prepared from nothing, all from the land, was mind-blowing for me. It was a really humbling experience.
Everything they needed they had to go and get. If they wanted to eat, they went into the field at the back of the house and picked some crops. To cook the food they had to go collect the firewood to build the fire. They had to go to the well to get water. To make coffee, they would pick beans from a few coffee plants on their land, dry them out, and roast them before grinding them for coffee. Every single thing they ate and drank came from their land.
You realize how fragile people are. You look at things like environmental changes—you’d only need a flood or a drought and that’s a family who’s not eating anymore.
The whole program was amazing really. I’m glad it’s still going, and I’m glad you’re running it.
Luminos: Why do you think education is important?
Rosie: I think education is important in every single society. In London, where I live, some people are more advantaged than others. Some people have better opportunities to get a decent education than others. It’s the same around the globe. Education is both a basic human right and a smart investment. It is critical for development and helps lay the foundations for social wellbeing, economic growth and security, gender equality, and peace. These really are the cornerstones of life. Everybody benefits from having a better education.
“Education opens doors for changing one’s life. Education gives you multiple avenues to success. By education, it means for me every type of education – in and out of school. Anything new and useful that we learn will contribute to change our lives.”
Tegitu, Second Chance teacher
Tegitu experienced the joy of education early as a child. She attended primary and secondary school, and looked forward to continuing onward to grades 11 and 12. “If I were a man, I would be able to go to [the next town over], stay in a rented house with a group of other students and would complete my preparatory education and join university. I couldn’t go to the next town to continue my education – because I am a woman. My parents couldn’t let me go in fear of other risks.” As a result of being unable to continue her education and go on to teacher’s college, Tegitu wasn’t qualified to work as a government school teacher. However, bright young adults like Tegitu hold incredible potential. Luminos has had great success recruiting and training local young adults with at least a 10th grade education to serve as teachers in our Second Chance classrooms. In a Luminos classroom in the Sidama region of southern Ethiopia, Tegitu found her own second chance to pursue her love for education and became a Luminos teacher four years ago.
This Women’s History month, we want to honor the many incredible women who are integral to the Luminos Fund’s mission of providing transformative education programs to thousands of out-of-school children by teaching every day in our Second Chance classrooms. Luminos teachers (a mix of both men and women) have made it possible for us to reach 152,051 children with joyful, quality learning. Luminos strives for gender equality in all our classrooms (49% of Luminos students in Ethiopia are girls this year), and women like Tegitu help students form a solid foundation for their education. Recently, we accompanied Tegitu for the day as she shared what she loves about teaching and education, and her hopes for her students and women in Ethiopia.
Hopes for the Future
Tegitu has high hopes for the future of women in Ethiopia and says, “I dream Ethiopian women will conquer key positions in government and the community with at least equal numbers as men. I wish men could share the burden of women at home. I wish I could abolish all domestic violence against women.” For girls, Tegitu sees education as a critical way to counter structural marginalization. “If girls have a good education,” she says, “they can stand up for themselves.” Ultimately, Tegitu believes education leads to a better life for girls and their future families.
“I want to see my students become outstanding students recognized at the regional and national level. I want them all to complete high school and get some kind of training that enables them to lead a successful life. Above all, I dream young people will grow up in high discipline, loving their country, and becoming hard workers.”
Tegitu, Second Chance teacher
Luminos is proud to have inspiring, empathetic teachers like Tegitu in our Second Chance classrooms. Their tireless efforts transform the lives of some of the most marginalized children around the world, unlocking the light of learning to create brighter futures across communities and generations.