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!


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!

Special Education in Ethiopian Schools

Roots Ethiopia will transform the current Special Education classroom at The Haile Bubamo School in Hosanna, Ethiopia. In response to several conversations with school leaders, the classrooms will receive audiovisual aids, new furniture, toys, educational cards, writing materials, hygiene materials and sporting equipment. A bright coat of paint and much needed repairs to the roof and door of this classroom will also be included.

The Best Part?

A parent awareness training will be conducted to encourage families to send their children with special needs children to school. Rural communities in Ethiopia often believe that disabilities, especially cognitive disabilities, are caused by evil spirits or are the result of a curse from God. This can prevent families from advocating for the care and education of their children. The Ethiopian Government and community leaders are trying to include children with special needs in the greater community, but progress is very slow and it takes time to change attitudes and beliefs.

How Did Roots Ethiopia Get Involved?

We heard about the Special Education classroom during our 2014 field visit and were intrigued. This past October, we visited the classroom which is the first and only government school in Hadiya zone that has a program for children with cognitive disabilities. On the day of our visit, three of the registered twelve students were there to greet us. Of course, there are many, many more children in this region with cognitive disabilities, but they are often kept out of school. Our Program Director told us that the school was very interested in improving conditions for the children in this classroom. We were ready to listen and now we are responding.

Roots Ethiopia had already worked with The Haile Bubamo School on a Learning Resource Project and we were blown away with the results under the leadership of Tagye Dube. Since our school intervention, the pass rate results of the 8th grade National Exam skyrocketed. Before our Intervention, 43% of 8th graders passed the test. In one year, the number grew to 65.1%.  The Vice Principal is motivated to improve his community. Tagye told us this past October,


“We invited the community to come and see our school and all of our improvements. All of the teachers came and students brought their parents. The parents were so motivated to see college standard books in our library, and three microscopes in our science lab. Then, we showed them we have four computers for teachers to write exams and prepare lessons. Parents were so excited. They decided to help more and the parents organized and collected 37,000 birr ($1761 USD) so we could buy a duplicating machine. Our community is motivated to succeed! This was a big victory for parents too!”

In regards to the Special Education classroom, Tagye said,

“Our leadership cares about these children. They each have unique talents and skills, but no one knows unless they come to school. Parents need to see the joy that school brings and what their children are able to do.”

What’s Next?

The improvements are underway and an outcome survey will be conducted in May 2016. This will measure the rate of change in enrollment and attendance. Roots Ethiopia will also survey the parents to measure their participation in their children’s education and their feelings about the improvements to the classroom. We look forward to updating you again later this year. We also hope to implement the second phase of improvements to this classroom in the future. If you are interested in hearing more about this project, please email us at


Roots Ethiopia is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization working in Africa, specifically helping Southern Ethiopia. Roots Ethiopia supports community identified solutions for job creation and education.