This may sound strange, but finding Ethiopia in Addis is no simple feat.

PictureAt 7:30 a.m., Addis is a frenetic blur of blue taxis and buses all aiming for the same spot, barely missing bumpers, bystanders, burros, goats and herders all sharing the same stretch of road. The road to Hope is a long scar of asphalt and ruble, deepened by abandonment and despair. Addis isn't so much planned as it is corrugated: fencing, siding, roofing all seem to have been nailed together by random people who recycle remnants to create something that resembles a home. As I peer out the bus windows looking for any sign of beauty that might flash into view between the gaps in the metal barriers that line the road, I've come to know disappointment.

But not today.

Today our bus was filled with music. Steve and Kurt performed "Good Lov'n" for the Ethiopian teachers and used the entire team as their back-up vocals. We rehearsed during our travel to Hope. There we were, driving down Bolé road with Steve on the guitar and Kurt singing " . . . all you need is . . ." and the entire bus belting out "GOOD LOV'N -- GOOD LOV'N!"

PictureI find Ethiopia every day among the teachers and workers at the Hope School. For five days, we've worked with our Ethiopian high school colleagues, learning new ways to engage students in learning. Today, our last day, as the bus arrives, and I find myself among friends and colleagues: Beniam, Alem, and Jonas are eager to shake hands and bump shoulders – the greeting among good friends. We are all excited because today they get to show what they've learned by teaching a short lesson to students from Hope. Watching Hope teachers work with students is one of the most gratifying moments I’ve had in my time in Addis. They are a marvel to watch. They get students to participate with creative lessons that incorporate movement, action, thinking, and encouragement. Students applaud each other as they answer questions or problems on the black board. Our colleagues seem so different from our initial experience on Monday.

Aguare, for example seemed so quiet and uncertain on Monday. At twenty-five, she could easily pass for sixteen. She's been teaching English to vocational students at Hope school for three years. At five-foot nothing and maybe eighty pounds she seemed so tiny, and my first impression was that she was . . . well . . . frail. Her speaking came slowly with words carefully chosen, yet her eyes moved quickly and captured everything we wrote or did. Throughout the week, Aguare's voice grew stronger, and her confidence grew to twice her size. Today she taught with such authority and joy. Aguare also spoke about her experience to the entire assembly during our closing ceremony. We've all changed. Aguare, who has an eleven-month old daughter, was never frail. She is proud and bold, exacting in her speech and a masterful teacher. I learned as much from Aguare as I had to teach, not only about the craft of teaching, but about my own ideas and attitudes. She's but one of the thirty-three teachers that we worked with on the high school teacher team.

All of us on the team have been transformed in ways we couldn't imagine. We ended the workshop the only way that seemed to make sense – with Paris teaching our Ethiopian friends how to do the hustle to Dee-Lite's "Groove is in the Heart." If you come to Hope School in Addis, prepare to do the Hustle!

As I reflect on the five-day conference, I am humbled by the abilities of my colleagues on the High School Teacher team. This has truly been a dream team!

PictureKurt Kroesche’s deeply philosophical and unifying lesson on Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave” framed the entire five-day conference and was the primary topic of day one. On day two, Tiffany Hamm and Paris Desoto opened the hearts and minds of the Ethiopian teachers to a greater sense of self-awareness and awareness of different teaching modalities that might be required for different personality types, through a full day of instruction on the “colors personality profile.” For the rest of the week the Ethiopian teachers could not stop talking about what they had learned from this insightful and powerful workshop.

Inspired by two days of remarkable teaching, Kevin Rogers was, as he described it, challenged to bring his best teaching to the table. He did this by elegantly framing the contrast between teacher centered instruction and collaborative instruction in the opening to the third day of the conference. The simulation that followed, allowed the teachers to probe the true meaning of democracy.

On a daily basis, Kristi Grasty highlighted the main teaching strategies that were being used so the Ethiopian teachers could clearly see the building blocks of collaborative instruction. She also did a remarkable job of summarizing and integrating the different pieces of the conference while organizing the teaching by our Ethiopian colleagues for Thursday and Friday mornings.

PictureIn the afternoon of day four, Liv Johnson, Christine Todd, and Margie Barkau each taught a lesson in their area of expertise. Liv introduced and beautifully explained how to do a review activity called “Zip Line.” Her presentation was clear, to the point, and engaging. Christine introduced a math activity using three-dimensional puzzles with colored blocks. Four participants needed to collaborate together to solve these puzzles – a wonderful elaboration of the theme for the week. Finally, Margie introduced the teachers to the reality of different learning styles and raised awareness about special education students and their unique needs.

On the last day of the conference a final exam was given in which the probing question was asked, “Are you still in the cave, are you a shadow caster, or are you on your way out of the cave?”  The Ethiopian teachers were moved to give well-considered answers, most of which provided evidence that a paradigm shift had occurred in their thinking. Most believed they were on their way “out of the cave” of teacher centered instruction to the “light” of collaborative instruction in which teacher and students are more co-equal in the learning process.

Was the conference a success? If mutual deep affection, hugs and tears are any indication, then “Yes!” Perhaps the most touching moment was when the Ethiopian teachers, being so moved by the week with us, asked the high school team to come back on Monday so they could give us gifts. What an honor. What a privilege. What an experience.

What amazing teachers – Ethiopian and American – bound together in mutual admiration and respect, from different cultures and different contexts, but of the same heart and mind: to help find a way to better educate the poorest of the poor and to give them opportunities to make a better life for themselves and their families.

As the conference came to a close, the words of Matthew 25:45 resonated through our thoughts, “. . .as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

The elementary team experienced some wonderful affirmation on the last day of the conference: not so much from words of Ethiopian colleagues, but by the amazing teaching of the Ethiopian teachers deploying skills and strategies learned during the conference.

In one room, students jumped up and down to a count, and then took their pulse to chart on a graph.  In another room, rubber bands launch little paper planes, with distances being measured and plotted on a graph.  In both cases, students and teachers alike were animated, excited and thoroughly engrossed – a sharp contrast to the teaching “chalk talk” we have witnessed in prior years.

Following the day’s activities, the Ethiopian elementary teachers called our trainers into the library, where they presented them with gifts of scarves, shirts and vases. But mostly, the gifts received by our team members were the hugs, kisses and tears that were shared as we prepared to leave.

During the conference, Bonnie Hansen held sessions for the principals of the various HOPE schools and a couple of government school administrators.  As noted in a previous entry, the government school administrator was thoroughly skeptical about the impact these active learning techniques might have in reality.  During the closing session, Zenebe asked people to share reflections from the week.  To Bonnie’s amazement, the same skeptic stood and remarked how everyone, working hard together and deploying the techniques taught during the week, could have a dramatic impact on the future of Ethiopia.

There are certain truths that transcend culture, language, and socio-economic level.  For example, parents love their children, no matter where in the world they live and no matter what their living conditions.  Another example would be that teenagers (especially those in the 13 to 15-year old range) are awkward, moody and definitely interested (to the point of feigning disinterest) in the opposite sex.  And so it was this week with the 7th through 9th graders that our young adults taught. 

It is no wonder, then, that the final project – performing a skit of their own making, entirely in English, before their peers – might be met with less than effusive enthusiasm.  Nevertheless, Stasia, Sara, Emily, Melanie, and Garrett, worked to make the classroom on this final day a safe place for these skits to occur.  They were rewarded for their efforts.

The Ethiopian students performed skits that were . . . well, they were awful in their acting and barely passable in their English.  For the most part, they were also lacking in enthusiasm, much less real acting.  Yet, there was something poignant in these small plays, just by the topics the students chose to act out. 

In one skit, friends worked to convince the father that his daughter (and their friend) was far too young for an arranged marriage.  In another skit, teenagers work to meet each other at a club to dance (something that traditional culture says is forbidden, for women, to do in public).  In a third performance, caring parents lose control of a teenage son, who finds himself stealing and beaten by police.  Finally, a skit regarding school involved disciplinary issues, where the problem students were kicked and beaten.

It was hard to avoid the reflections of everyday reality in Ethiopia in the dramas presented by these students.  And yet, there was something amazingly uplifting to see difficult issues confronted by these teenagers, especially in front of strangers and peers. No one could miss the way in which God was certainly up to something that was completely outside of our original agenda.

Today HOPE sent Temesgen, the Addis school’s financial person, to the airport to determine the exact tariff required to free the overhead projectors.  The result was disheartening.  Although the number was much less than the original six times our purchase price, it still amounted to more than a 100% tariff. 

Temesgen resolved to revisit the situation on Monday with another Customs official, now that the week’s opportunity had officially run out.

The team continued to pray.