Week 1 in Ethiopia: Speed School, Field Visits, & Food Poisoning

I’m Matt and I’m spending this summer based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. I’m interning with Geneva Global, a philanthropic firm that supervises an accelerated learning program for out-of-school children, called Speed Schools, being implemented with local partners in Ethiopia. Since launched in 2011, over 100,000 students have graduated from the program, gaining foundational skills necessary to enroll in Ethiopia’s public school system. My international experience has been quite limited to Jordan and Europe, so I’m very much looking forward to working in Ethiopia! In my first blog post, I’ll provide a day-by-day of my first week with Geneva Global.

Sunday (June 2nd)
I left for Addis Ababa 9pm EST on Saturday out of Newark and got in around 10:30pm local time on Sunday. The flight felt long, though I slept through much of the first portion and managed to entertain myself during the second leg by alternating between reading Becoming and Notes from the Hyena’s Belly: An Ethiopian Boyhood and also catching some more sleep.

My colleagues, Alemayehu and Getenet, met me at the Airbnb and we walked three short blocks to the office. At 10am we left to catch a flight to Mekele City in the Tigray region, where Geneva Global operates Speed Schools. We met with implementing partners (IPs) in the afternoon to discuss the program and student needs, with a focus on food security. Alemayehu asked about the feasibility of a community-based garden and an IP recommended having a hydroponic garden to grow crops for students. The conversation proved lively and we left the meeting with some thoughtful concepts to explore. I ended the night with a 30 minute run on the hotel treadmill.

We drove out with an IP to observe two Speed School classes and speak with community members. Our travels to the first school took us up a mountain and through a winding valley. The trip had been well worth it to see a Speed School classroom in action and speak with parents, who were appreciative of the model and offered us constructive feedback. 

Speed School visit #1 had quite the view.

We traveled to another school, and while admittedly a much shorter visit, we got to see another classroom in action. Also, quite a great day for eating. The hotel had a lovely breakfast spread and we managed to eat lamb for lunch. In the evening, we split a meat dish over injera at a restaurant that had a live band playing Tigrayan music. 

A Government School where a Speed School classroom is hosted in Tigray.

This morning we headed back to Addis Ababa. I passed the time reading about hydroponics in the classroom and listening to Skepta’s new album. I had a really productive day in the office, only to return to the Airbnb for a 5+ hour power outage. Wanted a low-key night to continue reading Becoming and Notes from the Hyena’s Belly, though having no power or candles made that difficult.

Original plan was to get up early for a flight to Amhara to meet with IPs, visit more school sites, and come back to Addis on Saturday. However, late last night I found myself sick with food poisoning and this morning my team took me to a clinic. Truthfully, the whole day proved quite unpleasant, but I’d be amiss if I didn’t give a special shoutout to the Geneva Global Ethiopia team for waiting in the clinic for three hours with me and all their support thereafter. 

Felt much, much better today. I not only managed to go to work, but also signed a short-term lease for an apartment! I’ll be living with another IEDPer and friend, Anahita. I also worked on Geneva Global’s Speed School Toolkit, which is a collection of documents and a comprehensive guide for Speed School facilitators and various stakeholders to use as part of teaching in and operating the program. I spent the evening lounging around the new apartment as I was totally whipped out from the week.

Anahita moved in today and we promptly went to a supermarket after she dropped her stuff off. I’m happy about being able to make my own food. Many folks I’ve spoken with here have advised home cooking over eating out. Ironically, later we did find ourselves at a Pizza Hut, of all places, which fueled a frantic afternoon chasing down an ATM that could disperse enough bills for us to pay rent. In total, we must have gone to 7 or 8 ATMs (in a downpour) until we found one that had enough Birr, the currency in Ethiopia. We spent the evening in the apartment chilling and I spoke with my parents for awhile over the phone. 

View from our apartment building’s rooftop deck after the rain.

2 thoughts on “Week 1 in Ethiopia: Speed School, Field Visits, & Food Poisoning

  1. Oh, Matt! I am so sorry to hear you got sick on your first week. I hope you are feeling better by now. Your team sounds very caring and supportive! I can’t wait to read more.


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