Each year during the last week of the first term, all the middle school and high school classes at Bingham get involved in community service activities and take part in a retreat of some kind in various parts of Ethiopia. The Grade 7s went to Langano and helped out at the Langano Elementary School, which is a SIM project. Lake Langano is a good 5 hour drive south of Addis (although it is actually only about 220km). SIM have a compound there, and their projects include a clinic, and elementary school for the local children and the Sports Friends residential camp.
A few weeks before the camp my Home Group were visited by Joan, a SIM missionary who has been working to set up the Langano Elementary School. Her aim is for the school to eventually be able to be run by Ethiopian staff but it is not quite there yet. The school has about 300 students who come in two shifts; they only have four classrooms! Joan is the only ferenj (foreign) teacher; the others are Ethiopian and are hard-working given the huge class sizes and lack of resources. Joan’s aim for the visit of the Grade 7 class was for the kids to assist in English language skills. Ethiopian students are expected to complete their secondary schooling in English, which is not their first language, and many really struggle in high school (if they get there at all). The more English support they can get the better. Joan brought examples of some simple teaching resources, such as flash cards, and asked the students to make some resources to bring with them. We spent the week before the retreat making cards, colouring them in and laminating them. It was hard work, but the Grade 7s completely embraced the task and I was very proud of the resources they created.
The other parts of the retreat involved the students being involved in a Bible study and taking part in some team building activities. We wanted the students to think about their strengths and weaknesses and how God can use them in spite of their weaknesses. I had a lovely team of teachers supporting me: Cathy, who has been at Bingham for 9 years, and who thankfully knew the Langano area well (her husband is the SIM team leader for the area); Liz, who had been on the Grade 7 retreat last year, so could tell me a bit about what to expect; and Rae and Stafford, who are South Australians like me! We were also accompanied by Dereje, one of the girl’s fathers, who happens to be a pilot for Ethiopian Airlines (some of the best trained pilots in the world; landing at Addis airport is tough, given its altitude!) and who was really helpful throughout the week.
On the morning of the retreat, we met at the school at 7am, with the aim of departing at 7.30am. It was going to be a long drive and we wanted to be at Langano for lunch. We sent Rae, Stafford and Dereje on the bus with the kids and Cathy, Liz and I drove a smaller van loaded up with everyone’s luggage. It was my first time driving in the country and I thoroughly enjoyed it; it is mad, but not as mad as Addis!
The last 20 or so kilometres of the drive were the most challenging; a corrugated dirt road for about 15km, then 6km of an interesting two wheel track… Let’s just say I was grateful for the off-road driving practice my parents gave me on our camping trips in the Flinders Ranges. The pièce de résistance was the infamous “Container Bridge”. Someone needed to build a bridge over the creek, and apparently had a large shipping container to spare, so voilà, the bridge was made. The big bus wouldn’t fit through the container so the students were obliged to disembark and walk the last kilometre or so to the Sports Friends campsite. I, on the other hand, was obliged to drive across said bridge… I resisted the urge to close my eyes and just go for it; but there was a moment of careful preparation mentally and a deliberate lining up of the car just to make sure I got through without knocking off a side-view mirror or scraping off the paint work on one or both sides of the car. Cathy admitted later that she had made sure I was driving because she hates driving through the container! Bless her!
We were staying at the Sports Friends campsite, which includes dorms, a dining room and meeting hall. All our meals were provided by local Ethiopian staff, but other than that we ran the camp ourselves. The camp had showers and flushing toilets, although the showers were cold, and on the last morning, we ran out of water! All part of life in Ethiopia! I confess to braving the cold shower only once… mostly I was content to remain unwashed! I did, however, tease my lovely Grade 7 boys for squealing like ickle bitty girls when they tackled the cold water! We managed to fit all the boys into one dorm, and all the girls into another so we had them nicely contained. We came up with the cunning idea of making the winner of the tidy dorm competition the gender who got to be served first at breakfast, and this worked wonders, particularly on the boys, who made effective use of their pre-dawn waking moments…
Joan met us after lunch and took us on a tour of the SIM compound at Langano. She showed us the route to take to walk to the school, showed us around the classrooms, then walked us to the SIM clinic, which is very busy and does some amazing work. From there we walked to the lakeside. Langano is a huge lake and is popular because it is one of the few lakes in Ethiopia to be bilharzia-free and therefore safe to swim in… so long as you stay away from the hippos! We didn’t see any, unfortunately!
We spent the whole of each morning from Tuesday to Thursday at the school. Joan got the Grade 7s to work one on one or in small groups with a variety of students. We began with the little kindergarten-aged students (well, loosely aged; the classes have to be arranged on the basis of skill more than age). The students have little if any of their own equipment; one pencil or a piece of crayon, and an already-filled notebook that belonged to an older sibling is the best most can hope to possess. The students were almost all Muslim, so our dress code for our visits to the school was below the knee skirts for the girls and long trousers for the boys (shorts are only worn by those who can’t afford the more respectable long trousers). I had struggled before leaving Australia to find some practical below the knee skirts, but my brother, bless him, found an American company called Macabi that sells skirts especially designed for culturally sensitive travel. I am now a huge fan; the massive pockets were so very useful for tucking away all sorts of goods and chattels. However I have to say it was sobering to see the state of the Langano children’s clothes; most items would have been rejected by us for our rag bags.
I wasn’t sure how the students would cope with teaching English to the children. While many are Ethiopian, the majority of their parents are wealthy, at least by Ethiopian standards, and while they are confronted by poverty on a daily basis on the streets of Addis, it doesn’t always touch them. However I was so impressed by how they embraced the experience. It was hard work, and the mornings were very long, but the moaning was kept to a minimum and they did their best to get involved.
Our afternoons and evenings were spent doing Bible study sessions, team building games and with free time. One of the things I love about my class is their ability to entertain themselves. Give them a football (the round version), a ping pong table and foosball table and they are happy for hours. My class loves nothing more than to play a game of football all together, girls and boys included. Virtually the whole class gets involved and they can quite happily play for the better part of an hour and a half. Swimming in the lake was an option, but I think most decided the water was too cold. The other thing that was fun was spotting the baboons and black and white colobus monkeys who live in the trees on the compound. Such funny creatures to watch!
We returned home on Friday morning, stopping at Sabana Resort for an early (really early; it was barely 10.30am!) lunch! The students desperately wanted to eat western style food so this was our best bet! I ordered hot chips, ice cream and a coke… bliss! Three of the main food groups right there. We all enjoyed our treat, then hit the road for the long drive home! We got back at 4pm, and as soon as I had unpacked the van and seen the students off, I raced home to get my washing into the machine, hit the shower, and start packing for Kenya! Departure for the airport was at 1.3oam the next morning… yikes!
Just a quick word about the Sports Friends ministry. While I haven’t had the opportunity to see this project in action, I thought some of you might be interested in the work done here. Their website says this about their ministry:
Sports Friends seeks to empower and equip churches and church planters to use the platform of sports to impact their communities with the love of God. In the countries where we work, children, youth and young adults are everywhere – filling the sports stadiums, playing sports in the city streets and rural fields, and hanging out around the ping pong and foosball tables. They are passionate about sports! We want to tap into that passion to introduce these young people and their family members to Jesus Christ. Sport serves as a magnet, a bridge from the church to the community, a common language by which to build lasting relationships.
There is something extremely powerful about the relationship between a coach and players. The impact of a coach who shows love and attention to young people is tremendous. Sport provides a great environment for a coach to discuss with his players important character issues and life lessons about self control, respect for authority, honesty, teamwork and commitment. These discussions naturally transition to the truths of the Bible. Sports Friends teaches coaches how to be positive life influencers, to identify teachable moments, to catch the good in youth, to love and encourage, to incorporate Biblical teaching, to introduce youth to Jesus Christ, and to disciple them into greater Biblical maturity – effectively Transforming Lives and Strengthening Communities.
Camp Langano – Sports Friends, in partnership with the Ethiopian Kale Heywot Church, is developing the first Christian residential youth camp in Ethiopia, a country with over 75 million people! This camping ministry will be an integral part of the ongoing sports ministry programs of the local churches of Ethiopia. Youth will come to camp with their sports ministry leaders and will return home after camp with their leaders, providing a continuum of effective relational ministry. The camp is … on a beautiful 95 acre property on Lake Langano which has been owned by SIM and the Ethiopian Kale Heywot Church for several decades.
See the Sports Friends website for more information on how you could support this ministry: http://sports-friends.org/
If you are keen to support the Langano school, you can find out more about this SIM project here: http://www.sim.org/index.php/project/92753. They need further support because they need to expand their buildings and are looking at having to replace all their textbooks to be in line with government policy. If you would like to contribute in a more “hands on” way, please contact me. I have a bit more of an idea of the kinds of resources Joan could use there now. One helpful idea is putting together stationary packs in cloth bags with drawstrings for the students to have.
You can find out more about the SIM clinic here: http://www.sim.org/index.php/project/92020. The SIM website states:
The Langano Health Program in Ethiopia officially provides low cost medical care to more than 10,000 people in the Lake Langano area. The program consists of traditional curative health care and laboratory services, as well as preventive health measures. Preventative services include vaccinations, mother/child health care, family planning, providing local clean water sources, building latrines and other community health programs. Because the Langano area is drought-prone, a nutrition program is in place to screen children under five for signs of malnutrition. SIM works with these needy children and their families to bring them back to health by providing high protein supplements.
I’m not sure the staff who work here ever feel their job is done; there are always more patients to see! Its such important work, and again, I encourage you to consider supporting this project.