Debtsa is a small agricultural community in the high mountains of southwest Ethiopia. It’s a hard 2-day drive from Addis Ababa, mostly on dirt roads. It is beautiful, it is remote. It’s challenging to get there, it’s challenging to stay there, and it’s especially challenging to leave. A piece of my heart is planted there as firmly as the enormous ficus tree that stands in the center of the community.
For this was our daughter’s first home, and it’s where her siblings and their families still live. I live half a world away in North Carolina, but Debtsa and its people are never far from my mind. They gave our family the immeasurable gift of our daughter, Mati. And as her roots are there, I feel a responsibility to plant seeds of opportunity for all the children in the village.
When we visited Mati’s family in 2018, we took supplies for the local school, not even sure if there was a school nearby. We were pleased to discover The Debtsa Primary School, which educates approximately 800 students in grades K-8. Early grades are taught in the local language, Basketo, while grades 3-8 learn in Amharic (the national language) and English. Older children attend school in the morning. Younger children attend in the afternoon.
We were first struck by the beauty of the school, which sits on the top of a hill crowned with that ficus tree and surrounded by lush rolling hills and valleys. But we were also impressed by the commitment of the teachers and headmaster to educating their students. Over fifty percent of the students at the school are female. The headmaster is dedicated to instilling the value of education in a population of largely illiterate adults. He does not tolerate truancy and has been known to fetch children from their homes when they don’t show up for school.
Inspired by this beautiful place and these dedicated people, we asked how we could help the school on an ongoing basis. The staff asked us to build a library for the school, and the Glynn Family Library project was born.
We returned in 2020 with more supplies and a plan to create a local committee to oversee the building using seed money from my clothing business. Over the course of our visit, we created a 16-member committee made up of school faculty and respected members of the community. Women are included on the committee; the head of the finance group is a local women’s health and rights advocate. They broke ground on this first Phase of the project immediately and finished the building during COVID.
Phase 2 of the project was building and delivering furniture – tables, chairs, and bookshelves. This phase, also funded with money from my business and several dear friends, was completed in spring 2022. We are now happily in Phase 3 and onto the truly exciting part: The books! After an initial public fundraising campaign, we’ve made an initial purchase of 10 copies each of 65 early reader books in Amharic and English from Open Hearts, Big Dreams. Staff from Ethiopia Reads will deliver this purchase in November, when they conduct teacher training at the library. Additionally, we will work through Open Hearts, Big Dreams and a local translator to translate some of these early reader titles into Basketo. Linguists first documented Basketo, a distinct language spoken by approximately 60,000 people, just 10 years ago; it’s been designated as a vulnerable language by the Endangered Languages Project. Our library books will be the first children’s books in Basketo! We’ve contracted with Open Hearts, Big Dreams for an initial 20 titles in Basketo, and have the lofty goal of eventually translating all the titles in their inventory.
My daughter’s family once faced the withering of hope, the loss of dreams. Their tragedy is what brought her to our family. My goal is to grow hopes and dreams for the next generation of children in Debtsa through literacy. May they flourish in the joy of reading and see a brighter future through books and knowledge.
If you want more information or to support these efforts, please reach out through the OHBD contact us form.
Thank you, amaseuganalo, galetary! Elizabeth Glynn and family!