When I visited this abandoned building in 2012 the question posed me was a bit like the one God posed Ezekiel at the valley of dry bones! He had said "Can these bones live?" and I was asked "Can this be a nursery school?". Well, during a period of prayer we discovered it was indeed something God knew the answer to.
At the end of that prayer my face was wet with tears of hope. Hope and faith that this place could be filled with the sound of children learning and that we would be able to have some part in that. As I wiped my face with my hands, which had just been placed on the crumbling building, my face was coated in a muddy layer of red sand! I was actually wearing the building! It is clear to me that since that day God's face has always been shining there and we have been happy to follow His instructions "Let the children come".
First Steps in Learning
By 2013/12014 the building had been simpy renovated and 20 of the community's most needy children were receiving early years education for the very first time. The learning emphasis was on developing children through their confidence, play and encouraging their early attempts at learning to read, write and count. Parents living in desperate poverty, who themselves had never received an educational opportunity, expressed their grateful thanks that miraculously their small children were being given the chance to go to school. Boys and girls learned together with many more longing to place their children into the care of this innovative Nursery School. Local mothers and young women with a heart to bring change to their own community were employed to lead the children in daily morning classes five days a week.
Growing and Learning
Within a year, proudly wearing little paper crowns they had made, 38 children graduated from the very first year. It was a celebration of tremendous joy and thankfulness for what God had done to help us in all that was achieved.
Learning expanded and the number of children increased, with some able to contribute a small amount toward the running of the school. Brothers and sisters, neighbours, cousins and friends were able to learn together, arriving eagerly before start at 8.30 and running home at 12 to tell of their adventures.
Their journey to and from school however passed by many more children their age who would go through their lives without any access to education and for whom the grip of poverty had no gateway of hope.
Facing The Challenge
In 2016 the local authority helped us along in our resolve to help local people do what they can to provide early years education for their own children. They said the premises was no longer suitable for the number of children attending and that it should close immediately. A stay of execution was granted when angry parents presented their case that this was the only possible facility their children were able to attend and therefore time had to be given to try to build an improved Nursery school.
As in 2012 when the abandoned building was shown to me, when this crisis was related to me we were totally without funds to do anything at all. When considering our options, and the budgets involved, there was an option to close down and walk away. Yes, children had already been helped and would now attend the local schools. Excellence had been achieved by many and so a pathway of opportunity was laid down before them to walk on. However, in our hearts we knew that this was not God's heart and that many more children, even generations of families, could benefit from our very next step! We began the drive to build a brand new, permanent school building for The Deborah Nursery.
Many Hands...and Feet
Marathons were run, fun days, tea and pudding parties, coffee mornings and a creative list of get togethers were enjoyed, raising vital funds. A charity auction raised great hilarity and boosted the purse.
There was sacrificial giving, donations and offerings large and small. There was even what can only be described as miraculous money from heaven! All to come to the aid of some of the tiniest most vulnerable chidren in the world!
When we stand on the side of the poor, the bible tells us and I have experienced it so often, we really do stand right where God stands! Personally it is my favourite spot to be.
Our Integrity Promise
As is our promise, we began to send 100% of the incoming funds to our trusted partners on the ground in Ethiopia. Ordinary women who, with faith in God's almighty hand, are launched into quite extraordinary exploits!
Grandmothers began negotiating with builders to get the best price and value for the work. These women became architects, planners and project managers as each block was chosen by hand and the price haggled down to the best possible. Oh and they know how to haggle every penny!
In June 2016 Deborah Nursery closed. Many imagined, sadly, that the dream was at an end.
However, during the summer break, despite the seasonal rains, a new school began to emerge. Like a butterfly struggling free of its casket and caterpillar life. As they watched, local people could scarcely believe their eyes. The little friendly nursery building had been wonderful to them. This new build of five classrooms/toilets and playground equipment was beyond their wildest dreams.
Welcome to Fikir KG
Due to there being a similarly named facility within the region where the nursery is located it had to be renamed. It will now be known as Fikir Kindergarten. Fikir is a word in the Ethiopian language meaning "love", so it is certainly well named.
School term restarted in September 2016 on schedule! 58 children registered with half of those being children with no means at all to pay fees or provide pencils, books or educational items.
When I visited in February 2017 I found some very happy children. The general excellence of premises, increased staff members, playground equipment and developmental learning was most encouraging. Our local advisor, an experienced educator who pioneers such early education in Ethiopia, agrees that all is very, very good.
To my delight too, parents have formed a supportive group and one father, unable to express himself to me in anything other than expressive body language, clearly indicated his awe and wonder and delight at this amazing miracle on behalf of his children.
Creating Educational Equality
As I travelled to and from the Nursery I noted the number of working children and those whose sole task is to collect water every day. I also noted that there are big families with so many children.
By providing early education for the poorest and most vulnerable children we are creating equality of opportunity. If school is only available to those who can buy a pencil then there is no equality. For the poorest children to learn alongside those who are better off, even slightly, we have discovered that the development of such a child, motivated and encouraged along the way can far exceed expectations.
As the principal partner in this amazing little school we have the opportunity not just to change one life but to impact whole families and communities for future generations.
An Expanding Vision
The first children who graduated from Deborah Nursery are now attending local schools. Before 2014, when Deborah opened, this was only an impossible dream in the hearts of parents. Now it is reality.
At Fikir we are seeking to expand and continue schooling on site by building a new classroom each year over the next few years. This will enable children to come to Nursery from 2 years old and continue through until they leave for High School. The value of such a centre of education for this community is immense.
Securing Their Future
We are currently working with our local partners to secure education opportunities for many more children, even for those generations to come.
Staff and volunteers currently work very hard at bringing the best nursery education to the children and we are agreeing with them to do our best to help provide running costs.
There are currently a number of ways for friends of PovertySwap to do this.
Monthly donation by standing order.
For just a few pounds per month you can know you are changing the life opportunities for some of the world's poorest children.
One off donations by individuals/families/groups
Friends of PovertySwap include churches, WI groups, Mothers Unions, Guilds and others who by giving gathered funds to our registered charity consider they are making a 100% valued added investment for the benefit of those who need it most.
Bake sales, auctions, fun days, sponsored sports events, tea parties, pudding and prosecco. There is always room for creative fundraising and we will do what we can to support you in your fundraising event.
Young Fundraiser of the Year
In 2016 we were very impressed with a creative idea launched by a young person, William Thompson of Cockermouth and awarded him Young Fundraiser of the Year. William created a cartoon picture book and entered a national competition. Of 5000 entries I believe, he won first prize. His prize was 50 published copies of the book. He sold those copies as well as auctioned some more of his fascinating cartoons and raised around Â£500 to equip Fikir KG. We were able to deliver some excellent materials to the school to expand children's learning through play. Children and young people helping children and young people of their own age is always very powerful. If you have a young fundraiser in your home, family, school, brownies etc we would love to hear from them.
Connect My School
Our first school to connect with Fikir has been Seaton Juniors in Cumbria. As a school project some of the children made posters and a school shield in support of the opening of the new school building. Both staff and children in Ethiopia were thrilled to know that other children and staff are thinking about them and the gifts were placed proudly on the school wall. Upon my return I was able to do an entertaining Assembly which was well received at Seaton Juniors and plans are underway to raise some funds and consider how to further support the Nursery.
Your school could connect in a very simple way with Fikir too.
Sponsor/Support individual children
For a more personal connection it may be possible to support an individually named child over the period of their education at Fikir. You would receive an information card for your supported child/children and may be able to offer words of support of your own over that time through letters or cards.
Join A Team Trip
The value of meeting people face to face is priceless. To read on a website or listen to a presentation about Fikir KG and the children who live around there is useful and interesting but to taste the red sand, walk the cobbled roads they walk, eat the food they eat and experience what it means to live as one of the poorest people in the world is a gift that is immeasurable.
It is possible to come with us to Ethiopia. Trips are self-funded and we try to keep costs as low as possible. We are especially interested in those who have gifts/qualifications/interest in Early Years Education and could mentor current staff.
Inspired? Want more information?
Contact me, Helen Faulds
Tel: +44 1900 829525
I'll be happy to hear from you