A Conversation with Rosie Hallam, Earth Photo 2021 Winner

A Conversation with Rosie Hallam, Earth Photo 2021 Winner

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 (on the left) with schoolmate Bereket, outside their Second Chance classroom.

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.

You can explore more of Rosie’s work here and view all the photos in the 2021 Earth Photo competition here. The Luminos Fund’s program pilot in Ethiopia was originally funded by Legatum. The program is occasionally known as Speed School. Learn more about our work in Ethiopia here.

Selamawit in her classroom.

Photo Credit: Rosie Hallam

New Year, Same Mission, Greater Urgency

New Year, Same Mission, Greater Urgency

After a long, dark year, 2021 promises hope, joy, and possibility—the chance to start imagining the world both as what it used to be and what it can become. When the Luminos team gathered virtually for the first time this year, CEO Caitlin Baron asked everyone to share one reflection or insight from 2020 that we wanted to carry forward in 2021. Team members shared diverse reflections, including the joy of reconnecting with old friends and building deeper relationships with our colleagues around the world thanks to video platforms and texting apps.

Nikita Khosla, our Senior Director of Programs, noted that even with all its challenges, 2020 enabled us to support our Luminos students and their families more deeply and holistically. When stay-at-home orders rolled out in the communities we serve, Luminos stayed close every step of the way to understand the impacts of this new reality: lower incomes, less food, and psychological strain in addition to the COVID-19 health crisis. How would our programs in Ethiopia, Lebanon, and Liberia adapt to better serve their needs while remaining true to our mission of unlocking the light of learning in all children? As Liberia Program Manager, Abba Karnga Jr., reflected, this year strengthened Luminos’ ability to adapt rapidly in changing contexts. Thanks to our Liberian team’s innovation and generous, flexible support from our supporters, we were able to assist communities with sanitizing stations and emergency food relief, in addition to providing distance learning.

Yet throughout this period of emergency response, the future of the children we serve loomed heavy in our minds. Education is critical to ensuring today’s children are prepared and empowered for the future. Learning to read unlocks the door to progression through education and on to achieving their full potential. For every extra year of schooling, there is a 9% increase in an individual’s hourly earnings. Yet for every three months out of school, children can lose up to a year of learning. And according to a recent World Bank report, COVID-related school closures risk pushing an additional 72 million primary school children into “learning poverty”—being unable to read and comprehend a simple text by age 10—exacerbating a learning crisis that existed long before COVID-19. At Luminos, our mission to ensure children everywhere get the chance to experience joyful learning is now more urgent than ever before, and we have the tools to help.

For every three months out of school,

children can lose up to a year of learning

Andrabi et al., 2020

As Michelle Kaffenberger of the Research on Improving Systems of Education (RISE) Programme noted to CNN recently, “The crisis doesn’t end when schools reopen. The crisis is going to keep going, if adequate remediation is not taken when children come back.” As schools reopen, it is critical that educators meet children where they are. In our Second Chance classrooms, this means continually assessing students to ensure everyone is progressing and providing extra support to those who are struggling. For example, in Liberia, in addition to twice-weekly hour-long sessions where teachers help students who are struggling, we are also holding short weekend classes to help students keep up with the curriculum in this uniquely shortened 2020-21 school year. Our focus on basic literacy and numeracy skills ensures that students have the foundation to thrive in the future. Critically, our program teaches students how to learn, a skill that can be applied both in their continuing education and throughout their lives.

As we look to the year ahead with a sense of hope and optimism, our students remind us that they are eager to learn. Before our Second Chance classrooms reopened earlier this month, a Liberian student named Charles told us, “School is preparing me for tomorrow. I love this school because they are helping me be good for tomorrow.” Our students have hopes and dreams for incredibly bright tomorrows. In a recent Luminos survey, over 35% of Second Chance students in Liberia dreamed of going into a medical profession to help those around them. Others dreamed of becoming president and holding public office, traveling the world, or becoming business professionals. We can’t wait to see what they do.

The Luminos team together virtually as 2020 came to a close.

As our Communications Director, Maretta Silverman, noted in our team’s round-robin reflection, 2020 reminded us how important it is to show others what they mean to us and how much we care, through new ways and old. So, as we head into 2021, we at Luminos would like to thank you—our supporters, partners, advisors, and friends—for joining us on this journey. When we envision what could be, we see a world where children everywhere experience joyful learning, and no child is ever denied the chance to learn. Let’s get to work.

Webinar: What the Return to School after Hurricane Katrina and the Ebola Epidemic Can Teach Us in the Current Moment

Webinar: What the Return to School after Hurricane Katrina and the Ebola Epidemic Can Teach Us in the Current Moment

Thursday, September 24, 2020, 11:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. EDT
Zoom Webinar – Register here

With over one billion children out of school, education leaders today are experiencing the challenge of a generation. How can historically slow-moving education systems turn on a dime? What can leaders across the public and private sector do to help children recover from COVID-19 learning loss—and lift children out of learning poverty?

The Coronavirus pandemic is not the first calamity to put learning at risk. Powerful lessons can be drawn from recent history—such as in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina or Liberia after Ebola—to inform today’s pathways to relief, recovery, reform, and resilience in education delivery. 

On September 24 at 11 a.m. EDT, please join the Luminos Fund for the launch event of “Education Leadership through Crisis,” a new video series where diverse education leaders share personal lessons learned on navigating crises. In this COVID-19 moment, these dialogues will shed light on the world’s opportunity to get education delivery right. We are honored to launch with this webinar featuring three unique education leaders.

Guest Speakers

  • Neerav Kingsland, Managing Partner, The City Fund
  • George Werner, Former Minister of Education, Liberia
  • Dr. Rebecca Winthrop, Co-Director of the Center for Universal Education, Brookings Institution

Moderated by

  • Mubuso Zamchiya, Managing Director, The Luminos Fund

Please join us. Register online at https://us02web.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_olxlTCCAThKAefhJviG9Wg.

Now in its fourth year, the Luminos Fund’s UN General Assembly (UNGA) week event convenes key funders, thought leaders, implementers, and allies around the subjects of education and international development.

Luminos featured in Education Above All Report, “Beyond School Walls: Inspiration from Disruption”

Luminos featured in Education Above All Report, “Beyond School Walls: Inspiration from Disruption”

In August, the Luminos Fund was featured in a new report published by Education Above All in partnership with HundrED, highlighting innovations from a select group of education organizations that are effectively supporting marginalized learners during the COVID-19 pandemic. Based in Doha, Qatar, Education Above All (EAA) is a foundation launched in 2012 whose mission is to ensure inclusive and equitable quality education for vulnerable and marginalized people especially in the developing world, as an enabler of human development.

The report, “Beyond School Walls: Inspiration from Disruption,” recognizes that we must ensure learning continuity for all children during a crisis, especially those in underserved and marginalized communities. For many of these children, COVID-19 is just one incident in a series of events disrupting their education. At Luminos, as an organization that exists to support children affected by poverty, crisis, and discrimination, including the most marginalized learners, we could not agree more. The vast majority of marginalized learners we serve are in remote rural communities without access to online learning and were consequently left behind as the world pivoted to distance-learning solutions during COVID-19.

In response to the urgency for learning continuity, “Beyond School Walls” prioritizes the need for a variety of alternative learning systems using a range of infrastructures (from no tech to high tech) designed for unique and challenging contexts. The eleven case studies featured in the report, including Luminos’s Second Chance program, aim to support organizations and implementers globally in ensuring learning continuity for marginalized learners in places where schools remain closed for an extended period. The case studies are organized by several criteria (technological readiness, content availability, personalization, interactivity, cost, preparedness of teachers and parents, effort to replicate, etc.), with the hope of supporting others to adapt the ideas and practices featured to their own unique context.

“To support Luminos children and families during COVID-19 school closures, Luminos provided its communities with handwashing stations and supplies, food relief, and vital health information and guidance regarding COVID-19. Given that only 12% of the population in Liberia has access to electricity, Luminos employed a low-tech approach to ensure that all students/families would be reached. Luminos leveraged its network of facilitators, who live within the same communities as Luminos students, to conduct socially-distanced home visits to check in on student health, nutrition, wellbeing, and learning. Paper-based worksheets, aligned to the program curriculum, were created and distributed to students. Facilitators also held micro-classes with 4-5 children/batch to ensure that students remained engaged in learning through the school closures. Given that 1 in 4 children did not return to school following the Ebola outbreak in Liberia, Luminos’ primary aim through the school closures has been to ensure that children remain safe and connected to learning so that every child returns to school once schools reopen.”

“Beyond School Walls” by Education Above All

Alongside EAA, Luminos looks forward to continuing to ensure that all learners, especially those in underserved and marginalized communities, continue learning despite school closures. We are honored to be featured alongside Amala Education, Dost Education, Ek Tara, iACT, M-Shule, Power99 Foundation, Pratham Education Foundation, Rising Academy Network, The First Assalam School, and the Zakoura Foundation. “Beyond School Walls: Inspiration from Disruption” is available online here.

Our 2019 Annual Report has arrived

Our 2019 Annual Report has arrived

The Luminos Fund is delighted to publish our 2019 Annual Report. To date, we’ve enabled 136,502 vulnerable children to receive a second chance at education – and this year was unlike any other. Our team is more committed than ever to ensuring children everywhere have the opportunity to learn and thrive, and to helping educators and governments in low-income countries develop the resiliency to weather powerful storms like COVID-19.

With over 1 billion youths out of school globally due to the pandemic, the Luminos Fund’s mission to help children get back to school is more important than ever. Our work was made for the task ahead.

Click here to read the 2019 Annual Report.

Click here for a printer-friendly version of the Annual Report.


In spring 2020, schools closed across our program countries due to COVID-19. The Luminos Fund pivoted quickly to provide distance learning for students.

Additional Resources:
The Luminos Fund 2018 Annual Report
The Luminos Fund 2017 Annual Report

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

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