Meet Ruhama!

When the Roots Ethiopia field staff first met Ruhama, she was working for a road construction company lifting heavy materials. With no parents to care for them, Ruhama and her brother and sister were struggling to survive on their own.  Ruhama wanted to attend school, but regular attendance wasn’t possible. Despite her desire to achieve and learn, Ruhama worried whether a difficult childhood and so many demands on her to take care of her family’s needs would assure she would always be poor and without the education.

Today, with the help of Roots Ethiopia’s School Sponsorship program, Ruhama attends 9th grade. She and her older brother still work to support the family, but the support Roots Ethiopia provides means Ruhama attends school daily.  Your support means Ruhama’s school fees are paid, her school supplies and a new set of clothes, shoes, and a uniform are ready for the start of every school year. Ruhama’s family also receives food support 3x a year.

It’s a challenge for a 15-year-old to balance work, taking care of family, and school. Ruhama is tremendously ambitious and driven. She says, “Even though life is difficult for me living in the countryside, Roots Ethiopia’s support helps me to continue my education and move me toward my dreams. No one can stop me from making my dream of education come true.”

You are making such great strides, Ruhama! Keep up the great work!

Meet Adaneche: Our Latest Self-Help Entrepreneur (SHE) Rock Star

It takes power to stand up for yourself. And knowledge. How do you self-advocate if you don’t have access to the tools needed to improve your life? How do you reach self-reliance? And, finally, it takes a community having your back. Do like-minded community members see your potential and your struggle? Do they believe in you? Continue reading “Meet Adaneche: Our Latest Self-Help Entrepreneur (SHE) Rock Star”

Meet Barkot – a smart young student with an exciting future ahead of her!

We are so excited for you to meet Barkot Alemu,  a 14 year old girl whose name means “Blessing the World”. What a perfect name for a  shining star in her 8th grade class at Mugunja Primary School in rural Ethiopia. Barkot is the top student in her class, and she’s an amazing leader among girls and students in her village.  Continue reading “Meet Barkot – a smart young student with an exciting future ahead of her!”

A special boy is headed to school this Fall!

Sometimes we get to witness amazing stories. Today is one of those days. We celebrate this sweet boy, now fitted with an adaptive wheelchair, who will join the Special Education classroom in Halaba in September. He will FINALLY attend school — something he has dreamed about for so long! Continue reading “A special boy is headed to school this Fall!”

Ethiopia Benefits from a Huge Heart that Valued Education

The Mugunja Primary School Project in Ethiopia is a Learning Resource Project that was donated in honor of lost loved ones who inspired their family to look outside of themselves to find organizations that are committed to sustainable impacts in education.

Robin Zecca remembers her Father, Jack Rubin as an extremely dignified, typical business executive who lived in his suit. His top priority was education and he raised his three kids to be to citizens of world. Growing up, Robin’s house was filled with books, magazines, and newspapers. Robin and her siblings, Michael and Pamela, were expected to read every single day and college just was something that had to happen. There were no exceptions. Robin remembers lively dinner conversations about important topics from a very young age. Politics, current events, global issues and foreign policy were all discussed on a regular basis and Jack and his wife Dian expected his children to be globally minded.

Robin stressed her Father’s HUGE HEART! She remembers her Father always handing out paper money to anyone in need. He joked that giving loose change was undignified. Jack Rubin was born in Manhattan, New York, the child of two immigrants from Poland. He dreamed of going to Medical School but that was unaffordable for his family, so his brother-in-law paid for Jack’s Chiropractic School. Jack opened his office in an underserved community where no one could pay him. That was fine with him. In fact, he never asked for payment and felt very uncomfortable taking money from any of his patients. That worked for just fine for a while, but then his daughter Robin was born and it was time to support a family. However, the desire to give never went away. In the 1980’s when babies were being born in NYC addicted to crack, he would volunteer at local hospitals to simply hold and comfort the struggling babies. Jack also started a a program while he was a Pharmaceutical Executive that expedited getting medicine to the people who couldn’t afford them in the United States or abroad. In fact, this is how he met his best friend, Ramesh. Jack was instrumental in sending cancer drugs to his friend’s sick daughter in India.

After to speaking with Robin, it’s clear that her Father’s biggest success went far beyond the boardroom. He was a wonderful husband to her Mother Dian, who died three years before him, incredible Father and doting Grandfather. Jack had four grandchildren who he treated with extreme kindness, generosity and equality. Robin told us about his special bond with her daughter, adopted from Ethiopia. Robin’s daughter once told her that she was “adopted just for him.”

Her Mother Dian was very interested in exposing her children to the arts. Robin remember numerous trips to the Guggenheim in New York City as a child and describes her Mother as teaching her the importance in exposing children to multiculturalism. Dian was always looking for books, toys and dolls that looked like Robin’s daughter Mimi, who was adopted from Ethiopia. If she didn’t find what she was looking for, she would always approach the owner/manager and explain the importance to of selling multicultural items to the store manager.


When I asked Robin what questions her parents would likely ask about The Mugunja Primary School she told me that all they would care about was that the school got everything it needed so the kids could feel safe and happy. Robin said they would tell the kids at the school to simply be the best they can be. The entire family is 100% behind this school and trusts Roots Ethiopia to implement the educational resources in a manner that respects and responds to cultural needs. Robin and her siblings hope that by sharing their story, they will raise awareness for the work that Roots Ethiopia is doing to improve education in Southern Ethiopia. We have no doubt that it will!

Top 10 Photography Skills for Travelers to Ethiopia

Contributed by Lauren Werner, our Board Member, photographer, and public health specialist.

Lauren’s Vision: To see the end of poverty in rural Ethiopia.

1. Ask permission to take a picture before you take it. This can be a verbal request or a simple non-verbal acknowledgement. “Photo, yichalal?” is the perfect way to ask.

2. Change up your subject matter. If you gravitate toward landscape, be bold and ask permission to take a portrait. If you prefer people pictures, turn to a house, animal, or sky for new inspiration.

3. Use your voice. Ask yourself what are you trying to say with the image you are making?

4. Selfie, and not selfie. You are “present” in every image, but you only need to be physically “in” a few to make your collection meaningful.

5. Watch the lighting. Early morning and late afternoon light have the least amount of glare and contrast on sunny days. Full sun too bright for your subject matter? Find a shade tree or shadow of a building to take the picture. Cloud cover is your friend.

6. Privacy: Sensitive subjects abound, and are highly visible at times, in Ethiopia. If you take a picture of someone in a vulnerable place, such as abject poverty or extreme illness, consider how that person would feel being portrayed that way to others.

7. Animals make great subjects, but they can move quickly, I have one too many close-ups of a cow nostril.

8. Combine posed images with spontaneous ones for a more realistic representation of Ethiopian life. Capture the movement in a whole marketplace along with individual sellers.

9. If you take a picture of a person, and want to show it to them on the spot, know that it can start a beautiful moment of sharing that can turn overwhelming in an instant. Have a plan to move on if this happens, with a smile and a wave.

10.Share wisely. Facebook is a great way to connect your photos to the world. Share what is appropriate. Facebook owns everything you post. Need a private way to share? Consider Flickr. They don’t own your images, and you can choose how you share them.

NOTE: Lauren’s amazing work can be seen on our social media sites and occasionally during special fundraising events, such as Story of Hope, and Light from the Horn of Africa. Contact us if you’d like us to bring a photography show to your community!

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.

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Ethiopian Proverbs

Much of Ethiopia’s history has been passed on through the generations by mouth. One consequence of this is that morals and lessons have been crystallized in the form of proverbs. We went ahead and picked our favorite Ethiopian proverbs. Some are wise, some are humorous, and some are a puzzle to figure out!

When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion.

This Ethiopian proverb is obviously our favorite as it is even on printed on our mugs and is the inspiration for our community-based work in Ethiopia!

Regret, like a tail, comes at the end.

When one is in love, a cliff becomes a meadow.

A cat may go to a monastery, but she still remains a cat.

A fool and water will go the way they are diverted.

A single stick may smoke, but it will not burn.A good conversation is better than a good bed.

One should punish a child the first time he comes home with a stolen egg. Otherwise, the day he returns home with a stolen ox, it will be too late.

Confiding a secret to an unworthy person is like carrying a grain in a bag with a hole in it.

Coffee and love taste best when hot.

What is your favorite Ethiopian proverb? The BBC News in Africa has a great list of African proverbs on their site. Check them out and be inspired!

In The Mind’s Eye | Stories From The Field

Contributed by Lauren Werner, of Lauren Werner Photography and member of the 2014 Roots Ethiopia Field Team.

During our #100Kids School Sponsorship Campaign, we are sharing the personal stories of our field work in Ethiopia. These are the stories that inspire and remind us that education is a right, not a privilege.

In The Mind’s Eye

In Ethiopia, the space of land surrounding a community church holds a certain sanctity, one I cannot fully describe in words. I am the Roots Ethiopia photographer, so I have the incredible honor of speaking without words. My eyes do the listening. My photos do the talking. It is a privilege to be part of the team in this quiet and impactful way.

The physical property around any Ethiopian church in the southern region is simply a modest reflection of the surrounding landscape, no more, no less. However, in every community I have visited, within the gates of church property, serenity has long ago taken hold and refuses to let go. During my last visit, we visited a church in Hadero. Entering the church grounds was like a breath of incredible air. Like an inhale the blue-green gates drew me in, and like an exhale, the shaded space within offered me precious relief from the intense heat of the day.

Even as the grounds filled with curious school children, many of the same children I had met the year before, peace would not take a seat. Rather, it commanded our attention by being ever present despite the giggles and chatter that filled our midst. One of our Roots team members, Jeni, brought out an instant camera. “What is that? What will it do? What do you mean you SHAKE the picture to make it appear?” And the gentle breeze brought the intensity down to a mellow kind of questioning from the young audience. Jeni began make pictures with the camera for each child. Soon, dozens of children were shaking their tiny pictures, reflections of themselves. Even as each student saw the image appear, he or she kept fanning the air with it, waiting to see if something else magical would shine through. The children looked like they were holding dozens of colorful butterflies fluttering in the afternoon light.

In each student there is a kind of sanctuary, a grand reserve of creativity and hope. Children who attend school, like those in the churchyard that day, have the opportunity to nurture their minds. And within the sanctity of their own growing minds, they can imagine their own future full of the flapping of magical images, where almost anything that can me dreamed of, can happen.


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.

In Ethiopia, the Magic of Photography Transcends Differences

Contributed by Jennifer Rikkers, of Jennifer Rikkers Art and member of the 2014 Roots Ethiopia Field Team.

During our #100Kids School Sponsorship Campaign, we are sharing the personal stories of our field work in Ethiopia. These are the stories that inspire and remind us that education is a right, not a privilege.

Do you believe in magic? I do. Let me tell you why.

These days it seems there is little magic in taking a photo. In its purest form a simple photo is a beautiful thing that captures a moment and tells a story of who we are on that day, in that moment. It is so commonplace that the first world has become “selfie” obsessed. At any time we can use our various forms of technology to capture a moment, but I doubt anyone in the first world would call it magic.

As I looked forward to working in Ethiopia with the Roots Ethiopia team I was trying to think of ways in which I could bring something that is both joyful & meaningful to share. It seemed natural to bring the gift of photography to rural Ethiopia as it is something I truly love. While my 35mm camera was certainly going to be doing a lot of its own work, I couldn’t use that camera to connect with people or leave something with them there. It occurred to me that a simple instant camera (Fuji Instamax) could be both a fun and meaningful offering.

I did not know when or where we would want to pull out the instant camera, but I was certain the moment would present itself. And then it did. On what was a very busy day, our Roots Ethiopia team was going between school sites when we made a quick stop at “Meseret Cristos Church,” which is the center of the community in many ways. There were a variety of people of all ages from the local community on the church grounds. I quickly realized it was the perfect space to use my instant camera (with 40 photos). The word travels very quickly among the neighborhood children that there are visitors, so it went from several children and quickly turned into at least 20. Our Ethiopian friends translated what I wanted to do with the instant camera and quickly 40 different instant captures were made.

While the instant photo itself is “magical” in its own way, the real magic emerged in the smiles and the joyful energy of the space. You could feel the magic as people flapped their photos to dry and the anticipation of seeing their very own photo…perhaps the only photo they have of themselves. The magic was in us watching their faces, young and old alike, watching their images develop on these photos. But the real magic was in the connections we were making with the help of an instant camera that transcended all that may divide us in language and culture. There wasn’t any mystery to this type of magic. It was beautiful, simple, joyful, filled with gratefulness and connections.

At the end of the day, hours after we had taken the instant photos at the church, as we were driving away several children were running behind our van waving their photos. In that moment I felt the magic again and knew that it would be nearly impossible to recapture, but was so grateful to have felt it at all.

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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.