Our Board Chair and Seldom Seen Photos

One of Roots Ethiopia’s core values lies in our belief that the most sustainable and long lasting change comes from Ethiopians helping Ethiopians. We trust in local ‘tibeb'(wisdom). This value also means you won’t often see our US based Board of Directors in images since we focus on local stories told in authentic ways by local women, teachers, children, elders, and neighbors.
Continue reading “Our Board Chair and Seldom Seen Photos”

Be A Dream Builder Series. Meet Betsegaw

Recently we celebrated the launch of our Roots Ethiopia Education Ambassador program, in which we took the two top-performing students from each of our partner schools on a trip to Addis Ababa. The week was a game-changer, broadening not just their appreciation of their country, but their sense of access to the wider world. It’s one thing to believe in the power of every child’s dreams. It’s quite another to see them catch fire in real time. The gift of our work in Ethiopia is the promise of children like Betsegaw.

Betsegaw is a 14-year-old 9th grader who lives in the city of Hosanna. His top student marks in his primary school—one of our partner schools that draws some of Hosanna’s poorest students—earned him a spot on our Ambassador programs. And like his exceptional peers, he returned from Addis Ababa with new stars in his eyes. The architecture Betsegaw marveled over on his trip added fuel to the fire of his own dreams.

Roots Ethiopia had the good fortune of visiting with Betsegaw so we could admire some of his own architectural creations; models built using brilliantly scrapped-together materials that he collects from the streets and local stores. Bravely practicing his English with us, Betsegaw showed off his small collection of working tools (scissors, paper, cardboard) and the first model he ever made, a hospital he assembled last year. After he constructed it, Betsegaw took the next step to find a mentor and seek out advice. A local architect suggested to Betsegaw that he next train his focus on building something more personal. So, this young man set about designing a model of a Roots Ethiopia school. After all, school is Betsegaw’s kingdom.

We celebrate this young man who has found his passion and created a way for himself to pursue it wholeheartedly. May he travel far in this world to feed both his imagination and his ideas.

Your donations fuel the amazing success of students like Betsegaw. Thank YOU!

School Sponsorship Scholar: Meet Mihret

The Project Officers for Roots Ethiopia are local to the regions where they serve. This has many advantages for both Roots Ethiopia and communities, as it enables us to understand the sometimes unique needs of a community. It also allows our staff to be frequently in different villages (“kebeles”) on a regular basis, developing relationships. Here is a story sent to us by staff who were alerted to a potential School Sponsorship Scholar in Wolayta by a Project Officer…eleven year old Mihret.

When the Project Officer first brought to us meet with Mihret, she was carrying one of her little sisters on her back.  When we get closer to the house, she came to ask us who we were. She looked pale and tired; the look in her eyes clearly touched each of our hearts.

RE team Interviewing Mihret Wondson in Sodo trying to control emotions March 2018

Mihret is eleven years old. She has a twin sister and also has younger twin sisters. Her Mother is a widow who struggles to raise all four girls. Her mother used to work as a laborer. However, now with the younger twins to care for, she couldn’t leave them to go out and find labor work. The family could not afford to rent a house and are living in a small house provided by the local Women and Children’s Aid Society. Mihret was living with her aunt who lives far from her family’s village, and used to attend classes in the local school. Now it has been five days since she left school to return back home to her mother. We asked her why she had to leave school. She explained that “my twin sister got sick and went to Hawassa for medication. My mother wants to find a daily labor work and I am here to help care for the smaller children.”

As we spoke to her, she continued to carry one child on her back while other little ones played. We would have like to find her playing or studying with her friends. Instead, she has left her dream behind to make things better for her family.

Mihret deserves to be supported. She is now included in the Roots Ethiopia School Sponsorship Program. She was happy with tears in her eyes when she received school materials from the team.  She will attend school and there will be help for her mother’s task to care for her sick sister. We know this: we will work together to create a better future for more children who are in need of our help.



School Sponsorship Supplies the School Supplies! (Try to say that 5 times really fast)

Today our field team is working together to deliver school supplies to students who need a ‘refresh’ of materials for the 2nd semester, which starts on Monday.

We are also excited to share that we are now including some additional books for our youngest students in their yearly supplies! We also added tools for math, hygiene materials like soap and lotion, and more everyday notebooks.

Do you want to be part of this goodness?

Join our School Sponsorship program$21 a month supports one of our 200 students!


Breaking Down Barriers to Education!

One of the things we are most passionate about here at Roots Ethiopia is identifying and removing the barriers between all rural kids and a good education.

Some of those barriers involve financial means or distance from a school or adequate seating in a classroom or the availability of books.

And sometimes the barrier is a pair of eyeglasses.

Yesterday a volunteer team of Ethiopian vision professionals visited the school children we work with in Halaba.

This is especially important for the 30+ children in our special needs program in Halaba. Children with Down Syndrome have a higher rate of vision impairment, and our plan is to serve their vision needs as fully as we can.

We love that over 80 students and their families were included in vision testing. We planned to evaluate 40 special needs students, but word got out and our team of volunteers worked as long as daylight allowed.

We love knowing that so many kids saw themselves in the men and women who tested their eyes — representation matters! Maybe there is an ophthalmologist in the crew of kids tested!

We are especially grateful for the kindness and generosity of the volunteers! The children benefited from their time, their skills, and their compassionate care. What a difference this will make!

Next step: providing proper eyeglasses for these students. Stay tuned for more details!


New Office in Addis Ababa!

Two of our leadership team members from the USA are with our Ethiopian team in Addis Ababa this week. Welcome to the Roots Ethiopia office in Addis! It’s a very productive space with so much good work happening.

Lots of meeting about the nuts and bolts of getting the work done efficiently and cost-effectively over the next three years. Meetings, reports, numbers, and more meetings.


But it’s also Ethiopia. So thank goodness for BUNA!

Special Education Classroom Gets Needed Supplies

Longtime friends of Roots Ethiopia, The Rikkers Family, held an online fundraiser to support teacher training requested and hoped for by the special education classroom teachers in one of our community schools. 

“It was our family’s good fortune that the teachers in Ethiopia had been designing and building a wish list for their classroom, including teacher training for students with autism, Down Syndrome, and other special needs. We were ready to lend a helping hand with a fundraiser, and help supply and deliver the toys and games for the students.”  — Jeni Rikkers

This article discusses how the special needs project in Ethiopia started.


Special Education Requires Special Materials

It’s unusual for Roots to bring materials in from outside of the country because we are committed to sourcing labor and materials locally. This was a unique case because of the difficulty finding local items. Roots Ethiopia’s team, the teachers at Haile Bubamo, and a special education consultant crafted a “wish list” on Amazon. The project was off and running. 

“Our family used social media and email to share our effort to outfit this classroom with these specific hands-on classroom toys. The call to action was sent and within days the boxes arrived at our doorstep.  Oh, so many boxes from people all across the country!!!  Boxes were filled with goodness, such as sensory toys, puzzles, balances pods, Magnatiles, fidget toys, and blocks.  Toys for large and small motor skills, to learn counting, colors, and letters.  As we opened each box we could feel they were filled with…. hope!” –Rikkers Family

Students Enjoy Toys, Games & Puzzles

The delivery of these fantastic learning resources made students and teachers inside of the cheerful blue walls of the classroom jump in delight! Volleyballs and soccer balls were pumped up; Magnatiles were assembled into colorful structures; balance pods were laid out on the floor; fidget spinners were distributed, and blocks were fashioned into “mekina” (cars). No common language was needed to understand how to experiment with these colorful items.

Teachers Enjoy School Supplies, Too!

Jeni received some basic training during the months prior to travel so that she could demonstrate the use of many of the items for the teachers. Each toy was a source of inspiration for working with students. Blocks, games, and puzzles were discovered with laughter, fun, and learning.  For example, the teachers loved how the game Twister is used to identify colors, simple instructions, and identifying right and left.  The room full of children and adults alike were exploring, laughing and playing!

Now, these teachers can “pass on their knowledge” and new experiences to other teachers who serve children with special education needs in other schools!

“After all the pieces of luggage were emptied, we shared an Ethiopian coffee ceremony and ate himbasha bread together.   We took the pumped up soccer and volleyballs into the courtyard and realized, again, that language is not needed to connect.  A ball, a sense of play, and a desire to be together are all that is ever needed.” –Jeni Rikkers

Roots Ethiopia’s Community Identified Work Is Changing Perceptions of Special Needs Children

This classroom is, in fact, very special, and now has superb learning tools contributed by so many loving people across the world! What’s more —- THIS WEEK the teachers and their vice principal are in Addis Ababa to receive special education training. The teachers asked for this opportunity, and with the help of Roots Ethiopia and another generous family, the teachers are growing their toolkit for these precious students in Hosanna.

Many thanks to the Rikkers Family and the other generous families who helped to make this unique and special delivery possible!

Donate to the Roots Ethiopia General Fund to support increased community-led work in Ethiopia.

This story was contributed by Jennifer Rikkers, of Jennifer Rikkers Art. Jennifer is a longtime supporter of Roots Ethiopia and has traveled to the field with Roots Ethiopia twice. 

If you found this story inspirational, please SHARE it with others who have a passion for lessening the stigma of special education throughout the world!

Exceptional Results at an Ethiopian School

It was a day of celebration when our team arrived at The Jajura Primary School on October 19, 2015. The children cheered and the teachers boasted about the initial results of the Learning Resource Project that Roots Ethiopia funded last year! Check it out!

You Won’t Believe These Results!

The Jajura Primary School, a Learning Resource Project (LRP) that was funded in 2014 reported a 99% pass rate on their 8th Grade National Exam. Prior to providing essential resources, the school reported a 66% pass rate on this exam. The results are remarkable. The Principal, Wondimarium, attributed much of this success to the School Library which is filled with books and is regularly visited by students and staff.


Wondimarium was beaming when he told us:

“We are so proud of this library. It is unbelievable to see the amount of people checking out books. It is so popular that we remain open on Saturdays, and allow the entire village to use the books.”

There is More!

  • More girls in school! Enrollment of girls prior to our LRP  was 50% of the Jajura Student body. It is now 55%.
  • More kids in school! School registrations have increased from 2,016 to 2,213. Parents are excited about the results and are encouraging their children to attend this school. The leaders at The Jajura Primary School are committed to working hard to sustain these results.
  • Kids helping other kids! They have created a peer-tutoring group. The higher scoring students tutor the lower scoring students. Lower scoring students also receive additional materials to strengthen their areas of weakness.
  • Teacher accountability! They have created programs that hold teachers accountable for planning for success for their students.
  • Motivated students! Of the 34% of students who did not pass the exam in in 2014, 100% returned and passed the test in 2015.
  • Confident leadership! In the entire 8th Grade, 1 student failed the National Exam. According to the Principal Wondimarium, “They will come back and they will pass the exam.”
  • A successful library! The improved library is now open all day Monday-Friday. 100 students per day go to the library. It also remains open on Saturdays, a rarity in any community.
  • Regional acclaim! The school is part of a cluster of 5 schools in the region and 70 in the district. It has outperformed all of these schools and is receiving regional attention as a result.

What’s Next?

The school reported needing science materials, improved latrines, computers, and better buildings. Roots Ethiopia does not build buildings as it is out of our scope of work. However, The Jajura Primary School will be included in our hygiene and sanitation work.  Roots Ethiopia will also improve science materials and we look forward to working with the school to improve its Science Curriculum!


Read our previous update about the Jajura Primary School and contact us about leading a Learning Resource Project to transform Ethiopia’s most vulnerable communities!

Top 10 Reasons We are Headed to Ethiopia This Week!

Let’s get right to the reasons our team is headed out this week to Ethiopia:

1. Our fabulous photographer, Lauren, will spend an entire day by the side of a local woman documenting her ‘day.’ Lauren will be able to create a body of work that is unique and powerfully speaks to the work of Roots Ethiopia.

2. Hygiene: We are in the assessment stages of including a major latrine and handwashing station build at all of the local schools where we have LRP’s. Our hygiene team will be hard at work gathering data, visiting latrines, and interviewing school children and their families.

3. Coffee. The best 40 cent macchiato in all the world.

4. Parachutes – there will be 3 enrichment projects at 3 of our LRP’s and they will include art AND parachutes! Artist volunteers Jeni and Marci will lead these beautiful school programs.

5. LRP’s LRP’s and more LRP’s! We will see 2 new proposed LRP’s and 2 LRP’s completed earlier in the year. Then, we will celebrate our 9 LRP’s by gathering our USA Team, our team of community facilitators, and leadership from these 9 schools to talk about how our educational enrichments strategies are meeting community needs and concerns. This ½ day event will allow us to engage in deep listening as communities tell us what they need. We hope to experience another bonfire evening with singing and dancing!

6. We will visit 2 new community sites, Shone and Mudula. We will get a bird’s eye view of Roots Ethiopia community work on this trip; visiting IGA’s, sponsored students, and learning more about these 2 special communities.

7. Our Board Treasurer in the USA will meet our Accountant in Hosanna. Fiscal transparency is one of our top priorities!

8. Videography! Our dynamic duo will take to the field and begin our first efforts at videography. Desta, our Board member raised in the area, and Jeanne, our Board member with videography skills, are readying themselves for a full week of beauty caught on film.

9. SO many new IGA’S! ALL of our community facilitators have had special continuing education/training to better facilitate our small business start-up grant selection and support. And, ALL of our beneficiaries are currently attending local workshops at our 12 community centers to build their business skills. We will visit these hardworking business women and men and learn about their work and their goals for the future.

10. Meskel Flowers. It’s the season.



Stories From The Field | Teachers and Innovation in Ethiopia

This post is contributed by Jessica Steinberg, member of our 2014 Travel Team and Board Member at Roots Ethiopia. Jessica will return to Ethiopia next week where she will continue to work closely with school leaders to develop policy around data collection and reporting for each of our programs.


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The universality of a teachers’ love for their students is something I have witnessed firsthand as I have traveled the world. Many teachers around the world work in less than desirable conditions and are often significantly under-resourced. As a former educator, I understand what it means to have to be innovative in the classroom. Teachers around the world are often underpaid and in the US are also underappreciated. Most public schools are underfunded and lack many basic supplies. Many teachers I know spend a percentage of their paychecks buying supplies for their classrooms and extras resources for their students. Being a resourceful teacher in the US often means the difference between a classroom filled with electronics, learning supplies, and supplemental materials, versus the bare minimum of state-issued textbooks, notebooks, and some writing utensils.

It wasn’t until our recent visit to Ethiopia, that I truly saw what a resourceful teacher can do. It was absolutely awe-inspiring to see the number of teachers who took time out of their busy days to meet with us and share their stories. They spoke about the challenges of trying to teach a class of 60 students with no standard curriculum, no books, and barely anything, but benches and a blackboard in the classroom. They spoke about the challenges of getting girls to come to school on a regular basis. And, they also spoke about the challenges of getting higher level degrees for themselves which would, in turn, help their students. The most interesting part though was that they were not saying these things to complain or for us to feel bad for them (I don’t even know if the concept of complaining exists in Ethiopia.) They wanted us to understand that were able to achieve success with their students even without any real resources. This helped us understand how much more they could do if they actually had some quality supplies and resources to work with. As they each told their stories and shared their hopes and goals for their schools, there was an excitement to their tone and a spirit from within that assured us that they were doing whatever it would take to help their students and school be successful.

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At each school, after we spoke with the principals and teachers, we got a tour of the classrooms and the resources that were available. My mind was truly blown by the innovation and ingenuity that the teachers used to create resources for their students. In a strange sort of way it almost made me disappointed in myself and all of my teacher friends who regularly complain about the lack of resources in US schools. If these teachers could do so much with so very little, we had no excuses for not making more out of what we have. While we saw innovation in every school we visited there were two specific instances that literally brought tears to my eyes. They were not tears of sadness or even tears of joy; they were tears from overwhelming inspiration. We met one science teacher who showed us his “science lab”. Most anyone from the US who walked into that room would have seen some broken glass, a dusty old microscope, and some woven material and scraps with no seeming purposes. As we asked the teacher to describe what he had in his lab, his face lit up. He explained to us how he used old buttons and twine that he had fashioned into a model of a molecule.


He had also created a modified bunsen burner out of some leather, wire, and scrap materials he had found. He understood that the school could not afford this type of equipment, so he figured out a way to create models for his students to learn from. It was obvious how much pride he took in what he created. It was also obvious what this dedicated teacher could do if we provided him with quality teaching materials.

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The other impressive use of innovation was in the learning resource room at another school. When we arrived there were five teachers copying diagrams and pictures directly out of the limited number of textbooks they had. These freehanded diagrams and pictures were far superior to many of the educational posters and visual aids I have seen in schools in the US. As is typical with Ethiopians, they were extremely humble when we praised their work. I could only imagine how much time they must spend each week creating these materials. I thought about what these teachers would do with their extra time if they didn’t have to spend hours drawing and creating posters and other learning materials.

Roots Ethiopia Ethiopian non profit

This is when the value of Roots Ethiopia’s work truly hit me. By supplying schools with additional, much-needed resources, teachers could spend more time doing what they do best – teaching children. What a simple, but challenging concept in these schools. Giving teachers the resources and the time to effectively teach could have an enormous impact on students’ learning curve. I look forward to focusing the majority of my Roots energy on these ideas and making sure the resources and time have a measurable impact on the students and their schools.