My first trip to Ethiopia was ten years ago. The team I traveled with brought over 56 suitcases, most of which were filled with donations which I thought that was fantastic. My goal on that trip was to see Ethiopia, learn about the challenges vulnerable children faced, and find ways I could be involved in making a difference. In my naïveté, I thought handing out our donations to the poor was a great way to help. I failed to realize that donated items from the U.S. can take a toll on the local markets and impact Ethiopia’s economy in a negative way. I also overlooked the way that assistance needs to be much broader than providing aid. I’ve learned so much over the past ten years, and today two of my top goals are to support projects that have long-term benefits, and if necessary, purchase anything we need at local markets in Ethiopia.
In 2016, Partners With Ethiopia (PWE) funded the building of a large-scale library and community center for Shanto, Ethiopia. We were so excited that a local construction company would be overseeing the project, all materials would be sourced in Ethiopia, and local people would be hired to do the work. By my March 2018 visit, the building was almost complete. We decided to go book shopping, and I was taken to what I was told was the best bookstore in the large town of Hawassa. In the back of my mind, I was picturing a warehouse version of Barnes and Noble. However, we walked into a one-room, very small bookstore with limited titles both in Amharic and English. Since English is strongly pushed in their school system, our NGO partner really wanted a mix of books in English in the library. It became evident that we would need to send books over from the United States. I was disappointed, but we found a great option of sending a shipping container through Books For Africa. While purchasing locally is important, at times importing is necessary. In December 2018, over 20,000 books arrived at the Shanto Library. I loved providing books to Ethiopia, and I knew that this was the start of a long-term book project for PWE, but sourcing books locally needed to be a priority.
One of the highlights of my work is collaborating with passionate people who love Ethiopia just as much as I do. The team at Open Hearts Big Dreams (OHBD) is no exception. The Ready Set Go (RSG) book project is amazing! Providing culturally appropriate, early reader books in local languages has such long-term potential to increase literacy rates which will aid in the continued development of Ethiopia. I love the large-scale vision behind the RSG books. It has been amazing to watch Ellenore, Jane, and the whole creative team develop over 100 titles. To date, PWE has provided close to 1,000 RSG books to the Shanto Library, several schools, and to five mini-libraries at drop-in centers for vulnerable children. For PWE, it is time to up the ante and support the printing of these books on a larger scale. As we talked with Ellenore, we expressed our deep desire to support the local economy by sourcing the printing locally. It was great to learn that OHBD has already had success with local printers and they will be continuing down that path. We are so excited to be involved in the printing of thousands of more RSG books this year. We have a connection to a brand-new community library and their local school district in eastern Ethiopia. They are excited to get RSG books in Amharic and some of the newly translated books in Somali! Another outstanding aspect of this project is the development of a teacher training program that is available to help schools implement these books into their classrooms.
This year, on top of printing thousands of RSG books, we are sponsoring the development and publication of two new RSG titles! We also have a goal to help with the translation of many RSG books into the Wolayta language of southern Ethiopia. I am so thrilled about our collaboration with OHBD. Books have the ability to change lives through the knowledge they contain, the inspiration they can give, and the hope they provide to young readers who are striving to improve their lives.