Haftom’s Story: Learning & Resilience in Tigray, Ethiopia

Haftom’s Story: Learning & Resilience in Tigray, Ethiopia

As the sun beats down, Haftom looks out over barren fields, watching the wind blow clouds of orange dust across the conflict-marked landscape of Tigray.

Here, in the northern region of Ethiopia, the impacts of war linger.

“Before the war, all the sheep and cattle were safe,” says Haftom. “Now, after the war, they’re not around. It’s a problem. Now we only have meals twice a day, and they’re small.”

War devasted Tigray and disrupted education for millions of children, resulting in over 1.5 million children being shut out of school for three years.

Dust blows across drought-stricken fields near Haftom’s home. Cruel spiked weeds are the only vegitation remaining. (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

From 2020 to 2022, war devasted Tigray and disrupted education for millions of children, resulting in over 1.5 million children being shut out of school for three years. In the Atsbi district, where Haftom lives, severe drought followed the conflict, creating widespread food insecurity.

“This situation has built up over the past few years: the conflict, people losing their properties and not being able to farm, plus the lack of rain, all adds up to a very dire situation,” reports the Atsbi District Education Head, Gebre Asefa. “It’s hugely impacting the community.”

After a peace agreement was announced, Luminos moved quickly to relaunch our education program in Tigray. Building on our history of operating in Tigray prior to the conflict, we customized the program to meet the unique needs of children in the region. Luminos commissioned a study revealing the war’s impact on children, which showed alarming learning loss and psychological trauma: 62% of children feared being killed and 72% experienced shooting at close range.

In response to the study results, our Tigray program includes trauma-healing, an emphasis on socio-emotional learning, and midday meals to address the significant food insecurity.

Gebre Asefa, Atsbi District Educatino Head. (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

Haftom completes an assignment during class. “I would like to be a teacher, because if I’m educated, I can teach others. I want to give them my knowledge,” says Haftom.​ (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

At age 13, Haftom stepped into a brightly decorated Luminos classroom, beginning his education journey for the first time.

“I came to school without any knowledge. I didn’t know if I could learn. But as I kept coming, I continued to learn from the lessons, and that made me very happy to come to school.”

Haftom, Luminos student

“I came to school without any knowledge,” Haftom explains. “I didn’t know if I could learn. But as I kept coming, I continued to learn from the lessons, and that made me very happy to come to school.”

Through the joyful, free Luminos program, Haftom is learning foundational reading, writing, and math skills. “Before I started school, I only knew one letter,” Haftom remembers, “but now I can read and write, and I know all the letters — in English and Tigrinya!”

Haftom’s confidence grew during the school year, and now he excels in math, Tigrinya, and environmental science. “I’m able to help other students who are struggling with writing and all the subjects,” Haftom notes proudly.

Haftom presents with his group in front of the class. “I’m very happy to have this chance for learning,” Haftom says. “It’s important to get an education. If you get knowledge, you can have a better life.” (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

Tigray continues to face significant challenges. As Haftom notes, “We have a problem. We have a financial problem. My older brother and sister can no longer go to school, and we have a shortage of food. We get breakfast and dinner, but only a small portion. I’m happy to eat lunch at school.”

The midday meals Luminos provides in Tigray are a lifeline for our students, providing critical nutrition and energy to learn and engage.

While the challenges and needs in Tigray are great, Luminos eagerly looks to serve more children like Haftom, with hope for the region’s recovery.

Haftom with his mother, Kahsa, outside Haftom’s classroom. “I was very happy for Haftom to start the program,” says Kahsa. “We couldn’t afford to send him to school before. I was not educated myself, but I’m happy for Haftom to complete his education so he can get employment and lead a modern life. He’s a good student.” (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

Haftom smiles outside of his classroom. Haftom’s favorite subject is math. “I like all the subjects, but I like math the most,” says Haftom.  (Photo: Mara Chan/Luminos Fund) 

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2023 Annual Report!

To learn more about our Ethiopia program, click here.

To read Luminos’ summary report of our commissioned independent study on learning loss, trauma, and resilience amongst primary-school-aged children in Tigray, click here.

Photo credit for this story: Mara Chan

New Summary Report: Examining Levels of Learning Loss, Trauma, and Resilience in Children, Parents, and Teachers in Tigray, Ethiopia

New Summary Report: Examining Levels of Learning Loss, Trauma, and Resilience in Children, Parents, and Teachers in Tigray, Ethiopia

The Luminos Fund commissioned an independent study to examine learning loss, trauma, and resilience among primary-school-aged children in Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia, in the wake of COVID-19 school closures and two years of civil war.

The study, led by Dr. Belay Hagos from the Institute for Education, Health, and Development (IEHD) in collaboration with a team of researchers from Mekelle University, surveyed 600 internally displaced children who were enrolled in Grades 2, 3, and 4 at the time of school closures in 2020. It also included 450 parents and 400 teachers. Due to ongoing security concerns in various parts of Tigray, participants were selected from temporary shelters located in and around Mekelle.

The following findings are deeply alarming, indicating that children have experienced significant learning loss, and there is evidence of substantial psychological trauma affecting children, parents, and teachers. Our latest report, “Examining Levels of Learning Loss, Trauma, and Resilience in Children, Parents, and Teachers in Tigray, Ethiopia,” summarizes the findings of this independent study.

“The findings of our study are a stark reminder of the devastating toll that war takes on children. It’s not just the physical destruction and loss of life – it’s the psychological trauma.”

Dr. Belay Hagos Hailu, Associate Professor of Education and Director of the Institute of Educational Research, Addis Ababa University

Key Findings

Infographic depicting six key findings from the the summary report on learning loss, trauma, and resilience in Tigray, Ethiopia.

Context

Over the past two years, the war between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) devastated the education of millions of children in Ethiopia. The conflict affected over 20 million people, closed over 7,000 schools, and shut almost 1.5 million children out of school. The World Health Organization’s Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, referred to the war as “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.” It came directly on the heels of earlier school closures due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Map of Ethiopia depicting the Tigray region in the north of the country.

After the Ethiopian government and TPLF announced a peace agreement, Luminos moved to re-establish our education program in Tigray, in partnership with communities and government. In early 2023, Luminos commissioned this study to inform a variation of our core program model that is customized to the unique needs of children in Tigray.

Key Recommendations

Based on the comprehensive findings of this study, several key recommendations emerge:

  • Provide comprehensive psychosocial support services for children, their families, and teachers to address the emotional and psychological needs resulting from the crisis.
  • Implement an accelerated learning model that targets missed or disrupted learning and embeds Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) approaches, offering tailored interventions to facilitate catch-up and bridge the learning gap.
  • Create and maintain conditions that encourage and support children’s continued attendance and engagement in learning, addressing potential barriers to ensure their sustained participation.
  • Prioritize collaboration between relevant stakeholders, including educators, parents, community-based organizations, and policymakers, to collectively address the challenges and develop effective strategies for educational recovery.

By implementing these recommendations, it is possible to address the critical needs identified in the study and work towards mitigating the impact of the pandemic and war on children’s education and well-being.

To read the full report summary, including further data on learning loss, trauma, and resilience, and a more detailed overview of the evaluation and methods used, click here. The full independent study is available upon request.

Luminos is mobilizing support and making urgent plans to relaunch our accelerated education program in Tigray in autumn 2023. To learn more, please email .

To learn more about our Ethiopia program, click here.

71 Commercial Street, #232 | Boston, MA 02109 |  USA
+1 781 333 8317   info@luminosfund.org

The Luminos Fund is a 501(c)(3), tax-exempt charitable organization registered in the United States (EIN 36-4817073).

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