Dat 7

We have five-teams-within-a-team on this trip in order to pull off this teacher training conference, a significant reason for a team with 24 members. 

Picture(After my first time leading a mission trip in 2006, with 16 people in Ethiopia, I “SWORE” that I would never lead a team with more than 10-12 people.  Of course, our trip in 2007 where we led a total of 18 people showed us that it was possible, so long as the mix of veterans to first timers was heavily weighted with veterans.  As our welcome page notes, “This is a veteran team, with more than half of our team returning to Ethiopia, and three more members having spent time in Africa. In fact, nine team members are returning to Ethiopia for their fourth time or more.”  What a joy to lead this team!  Part of the reason, of course, has to do with the other great leaders, each leading from their strengths: Dr. Jeff Zwiers, PhD and Steve Hammack (AP Biology teacher at Los Gatos High School, have done a remarkable job first assembling and then leading a stellar group of elementary and high school teachers, respectively, in preparing and presenting curriculum for the conference.  Those who know Lil Johnson and her ueber-organizational skills will not be surprised at how easily the logistics for this trip have gone; notwithstanding that doing anything with 24 people can be logistical nightmare.  Finally, Todd Johnson has led the team in its spiritual journey of the interiority.)

Anyway, our five sub-teams include: nine high school teachers training the Ethiopian high school and vocational teachers; four elementary teachers training the Ethiopian elementary school teachers; one high school principal providing training for the administrative staff to support teachers deploying active learning strategies; five high school and college-age young adults, working with students on English skills, and employing active teaching strategies; and five support personnel providing the technical and other support for the conference.  Each sub-team senses powerful results, even on our second day of the conference.

PictureToday, the high school team led by Tiffany and Paris, worked through personality tests based upon colors, and provided teachers with ideas for different teaching strategies for children with strongly different personalities.  The elementary team used the “big book” of the Chinese story “The Empty Pot,” adapted for Ethiopia and designed by Grace, to show how any story could be adapted for cultural relevance and utilized to bring the process of learning English to life.  The support team scrambled with PowerPoint presentations, overhead projectors, videography of the sessions, checking and collating and re-collating handouts, and scrambling for changed conditions brought about by simple, everyday, Ethiopian events, such as power outages.  (HOPE has a dedicated generator running to support the conference.)

PictureBonnie met with principals and other administrators and learned about passion, dreams and realities.  Most of the administrators were excited about the techniques being demonstrated and how they might change teaching strategies and student performance (where 75% of the students end up falling behind grade level).  One of the administrators from a government school, however, offered a strong and pessimistic dose of reality.  The pessimist/realist explained that at the government schools, teachers essentially have only 15 minutes that is unstructured to work with their students – five minutes at the beginning of class and ten minutes at the end of class to wrap up.  For 45 minutes in the middle, they watch their lesson on TV!  (Can you imagine?  TV!  Talk about standardization that works to create factory workers.  It is hard to imagine that this society will grow productive, critically thinking individuals utilizing this method.)  This Ethiopian administrator wondered aloud how the active learning techniques could be employed to make a difference in such a structure.  (Quietly, Bonnie agreed.)

The story on Tuesday that had the greatest impact on me, was watching our “rock star” young adults “rock-n-roll.”  Here it is as told by Garrett:

Today was the first day of the conference with young students.  The young adult team (Melanie, Emily, Sara, Stasia, and Garrett, with support from Todd) had prepared lessons for 30 tenth grade, English-speaking students in the afternoon.  We were reminded of our acronym “T.I.A.” which stands for “This is Africa,” when 65 7th through 9th grade students poured into our room at 9:00 a.m. in the morning.

Though the material we had prepared was significantly above their English level, we found all of the students eager to try the activities.  The most inspirational moment for me was watching the more advanced students help the younger children complete their work.  They would often help others before they had finished their own work.

For the next two days, we will continue to work with these children.  One the final day, they will perform skits in English in small groups for the rest of the class.

Although I have never thought of myself as a teacher, today was a very rewarding start to our time with these students.

As one of the teachers on our team noted, “These young adults should be teachers!  There are a lot of teachers who could not have adapted so well to such a drastic change in circumstances.”

Like every other sub-team on this trip, these young adults are doing a phenomenal job!

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

PictureSeparately, the “other adventure” continued today, as Todd and Alemu worked to free the overhead projectors.  For those of you keeping track, the team spent three extra hours at the airport on Thursday night upon its arrival, working to first try and convince customs officials that the projectors should be allowed into the country without duty, and then filling out paperwork declaring the projectors and leaving them with the customs warehouse at the airport.  Then on Monday, Todd and Alemu visited the airport, and various customs offices (three in all) trying to convince the appropriate officials that procedures should be waived.  They were told to return at 8:30 a.m. today to meet with an official who had not been in on Monday.

So, Todd sent the team to the conference while Alemu and he walked next door to the Global Hotel to visit Girma, the person responsible for revenue decisions involving NGO’s.  When they arrived to meet Girma at 8:30 a.m., he was not in the office.  After waiting more than an hour (and the office trying to reach him four or five times on his mobile), Todd and Alemu left the office, determined to return in the afternoon.

Meanwhile, team members prayed and mobilized others to pray.  Christine sent out a Facebook posting.  Everyone prayed for Girma and his heart.

PictureIn the afternoon, Girma was at the office and Alemu and Todd did not have to wait long for a response – you will need to speak with my boss.  After visiting six more offices, each one asking that we speak to their boss, we exhausted our possibilities at the Department of Revenue, other than speaking to the Minister, whose office had refused to speak with us earlier.  Instead, we were directed to the Customs Authority to determine what duties should apply to the import. 

Let me provide a little background to explain this situation, as it is easy to see these government officials in a light that would not be flattering, rather than as civil servants doing their job. 

On January 1, 2009, a new law took effect in Ethiopia that restricted certain activities by NGO’s or “non-governmental organizations.”  Essentially, the law was designed to limit the influence of overseas money on local NGO’s working on human rights advocacy.  There are multiple reasons why this government might be interested in limiting that influence and actual human rights advocacy, but those reasons probably extend beyond the scope of this blog.

Technology donations represent one area newly restricted by this law.  Today, if an organization outside of the country desires to donate advanced technology (who would have thought of overhead projectors as “advanced technology”), the non-Ethiopian organization must have a project agreement with the Ethiopian NGO.  In our case, MPPC had an agreement in place with HOPE in order to present the teacher training conference and to fund that conference, but the agreement and budget did not include the 20 overhead projectors – an expense that was incurred after the team assessed its level of support raised.  Had the team included the line item for the projectors, HOPE could have sought the necessary approvals for duty-free import.  Without the agreement and the advance approvals, however, we are seeking someone within the government to exercise their discretion and waive duties.

So, Todd and Alemu ended another three-hour session of waiting and traveling from office to office seeking the right government official to exercise discretion.  Ultimately, they ended their day in the central part of Addis Ababa at the Customs Authority, meeting with a division chief who, upon entering their office and beginning to explain the situation, began yelling at Alemu in Amharic for making an oral request rather than a written request.  Then, as if playing the role of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hide, he turned to Todd and, speaking in a calm low tone, explained the same thing.  Todd responded by asking if the request could be handwritten and, if so and it were submitted within 10 minutes, would the official be able to act on the request today.  Sheepishly, he replied, “I will do my best.”

So, at nearly 5:00 p.m., Todd and Alemu stepped into the hallway, borrowed a piece of paper and began drafting a request.  Within 20 minutes, the official had initialed the request and Todd and Alemu were on their way to another office down the hall which Todd describes here:

You cannot imagine what this government office looked like.  The hallways were narrow, dingy, cold and dark, with fluorescent lighting spaced too far to provide any decent light and hardwood floors warped and lacking any finish.  The doorway to the adjusters office where we had been sent was painted a light sea foam green, with most of the paint in one state of peeling or stripped.  Getting the door open was the first adventure, as it was so tightly fitted to the jamb (perhaps as a result of daily monsoon rains), that Alemu had to put his entire shoulder and body weight (as little as that is) into forcing the door open.

Once inside, we thought we had walked onto the set of the movie combination of Brazil and some creep show.  In a long wide, but skinny room, sat two desks, clearly dwarfed by the size of the room.  Behind each desk, sat two young men, hunched close to a oversized computer monitor.  The room had one florescent light fixture and no windows, so mostly it was quite dark, especially given that the light fixture was casting only 50% of its normal light, as the building was running on a generator while the electricity was off.  Making the room seem skinnier (and wider), three of the walls were lined, floor to ceiling, with an old fashioned, oak cubby system, with doors, approximating 12x12 inches (but not 14” tall, as notebooks with 8.5x14 paper binders would not fit standing up).

After an explanation of the situation and the agent’s review of the materials initialed by his boss, the agent agreed to review the materials and see if the originally quoted duty (of 16,800 birr per projector, or approximately $1,350 for each of the $245 projectors) could be reduced.
After 10 minutes on his computer (with the time now approaching 5:30 p.m.), the agent diligently got up from his desk and informed us that he was walking down the hallway to work on a faster computer to search the customs database for equivalent product.  Within a minute of him leaving the office/tomb, everything went dark.  (Earlier in the week, Kurt taught the high school teachers about Socrates’ allegory of the cave and asked the question of whether people had ever been in a place that was pitch dark.  This was that place!)

Groping his way back to the office/tomb, the young diligent agent returned and bid us farewell (as his day was now done, by the circumstances of no electricity).  We agreed to return the following day.

“TIA” or “This is Africa” has become a common mantra for our team.  Said another way, we might as well say, “We are not in charge, Lord, You are.  And although we do not always understand what you are up to, we will keep our attitudes at peace with the circumstances that are unexpected and outside ‘our plan.’”