Alex Matthews, Development Education Executive for Send a Cow, recently visited Ethiopia to gain a better understanding of the work we do in Africa.

As Development Education Executive for Send a Cow, a large part of my role involves managing the Lessons from Africa resource library – a collection of free curriculum-led teaching resources that bring Africa, global learning and the work of Send a Cow to life in schools. The aim of the trip was to gather content for new lesson resources but also to gain a much better understanding of the work we do in Africa.

First we explored the bustling capital city of Ethiopia, Addis Ababa, where we collected content for a sensory resource comparing urban and rural life. I was lucky to visit so many different areas of the city – an experience which overloads the senses – it’s a sprawling mass of shanty and shops, as well as high-rises, malls, churches and mosques, all surrounded by beautiful hills and mountains.

Addis Ababa

The most valuable experience of the trip for me was my time spent in Ethiopian schools. While in Addis, I visited Selam Children’s Village, which supports orphans who have lost their parents due to natural and man-made disasters. The school has around 1,193 students and 28 teachers – this equates to around 50 students per class. The average class size in the UK is 22 pupils.

The classrooms are very basic and there are certainly no computers! Although the children had very little in terms of money or possessions, they all cherished their education and said their favourite thing about school was the culture of helping others.

We felt very privileged to see more of Ethiopia’s beauty on the way to our next stop, Wolayita. We drove through mountains and around lakes, as well as seeing huge farms. When we arrived at Sodo we had some time to eat and rest ready to prepare ourselves for a busy five days ahead.

Alex photographing families

We visited seven farmers, two springs, two youth groups, one school group, and one self-help group. We also explored Sodo, visited markets, and interviewed students at the local university. Each of these experiences were extraordinary and humbling, but the experience that struck me most was the visit to the school group.

In a number of schools within the region, Send a Cow extension workers run extra-curricular clubs to teach students sustainable farming techniques. This involves training in composting, kitchen gardens, crop rotation and money management. We met a small group of students who had opted to take part in the training with Send a Cow and in the last year they’d created a keyhole garden, four large beds and built their own composter.

Extra-curricular school group learning sustainable farming methods

The group bought more seeds with the money they made from selling their home-grown vegetables and donated towards the cost of buying new books for their school. They’d also started saving. Most poignantly, the group had passed on the skills they had learnt to their families so they could grow their own food to feed themselves.
One of the girls in the group had even invested her money in a chicken and was making additional income from selling eggs.

This story is one of many that that has inspired me from a professional and personal perspective. It was amazing to be with the hard-working teams in Wolayita and Addis Ababa, and to see, hear, and feel our work. It is an experience I will remember forever, and one that will continue to inspire me to make a difference in my work.