Ethiopia: Tsigereda’s Journey Into the Light of Learning

Ethiopia: Tsigereda’s Journey Into the Light of Learning

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

Journey to the Classroom

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

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!

Emily: A Luminos Colleague Responds to a Government Invitation

Emily: A Luminos Colleague Responds to a Government Invitation

While The Gambia is one of the smallest countries in Africa — with just less than 2.5 million residents — the value of education is clear, even if achieving quality education for all is still a challenge.

“People understand why they need to go to school and its direct impacts on their futures – like being able to live in a house and not a temporary structure, being able to speak English. The benefits and impacts of education are clear even to the youngest learners in The Gambia and it is something they yearn for,” explains Emily Joof, Associate Director of Programs at Luminos, who is based in Banjul.

At the request of The Gambian government, based on our unique expertise and program track record worldwide, Luminos is providing curriculum development support and advisory services to the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MoBSE) and co-creating a practical plan that will ensure all out-of-school primary-aged children in The Gambia receive a second chance at education.

“Every child deserves to be given the opportunity to explore and realize their full potentials through schooling,” says Mr. Momodou Jeng, Director of Curriculum Research Evaluation and Development Directorate at MoBSE and a key partner to Luminos. “This is my conviction.”

“Every child deserves to be given the opportunity to explore and realize their full potentials through schooling. This is my conviction.”

Mr. Momodou Jeng, Director of Curriculum Research Evaluation and Development Directorate at MoBSE

“When you look at the numbers of out-of-school children in the country, we are confident we can get 50,000 kids into school and learning,” says Emily. “This is a solvable problem.”

Although funding for education is scarce compared to the needs, teachers in The Gambia are fully committed to their students. Their passion often extends beyond the classroom, as they tend to wear many hats: nurturer, caregiver, health worker – even nutritionist.

However, there is a long road ahead. Public classrooms tend to be bare. Unlike Luminos classrooms, there are no colorful posters on the wall, no markers, pens, and few, if any, books for the students. Teachers need a user-friendly accelerated curriculum suitable for out-of-school and vulnerable children, as well as regular training, resources, and support.

“Regardless of how excellent our curriculum may be, if teachers don’t know how to teach it, it’s all for naught. Teacher training will be critical for The Gambia,” says Emily.

Mignot with her mother, Alemitu.

Mr. Jeng (center, in suit jacket) visiting a Luminos classroom in Liberia as part of the MoBSE learning trip.

In 2022, Luminos invited The Gambia’s MoBSE to visit our programs in Liberia, where they had an opportunity to see the benefits of continuous training and feedback for teachers.

“After each teacher training session, teachers would be prompted: What went well, and what didn’t go well? It is really important that we have relationships built on trust, because if not, we won’t be able see the transformation we want to see,” explains Emily.

For Emily, who recently moved back to The Gambia to work with Luminos, her interest in education is deeply rooted.

“Education is a big part of who I am. My grandmother was one of the first teachers in The Gambia. We have a lot of teachers in my family. We are proof of and the advocates for education as a tool to lift yourself out of poverty and reach your fullest potential.”

Emily Joof, Associate Director of Programs

“Education is a big part of who I am. My grandmother was one of the first teachers in The Gambia. We have a lot of teachers in my family,” she says. “We are proof of and the advocates for education as a tool to lift yourself out of poverty and reach your fullest potential.”

Looking ahead, Luminos is excited to grow our partnership with the government and realize our vision where thousands of children catch up to grade level, reintegrate into government schools, and prepare for lifelong learning.

“There is an eagerness for this change in The Gambia, which is really unparalleled,” says Emily.

Read this story and others from our various country programs in our 2021 Annual Report!

To learn more about our work in The Gambia, click here.

Photo credit for this story: Ahmed Jallanzo

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

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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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