A book, a smile and a fresh coat of paint

Addis Ababa has an energy that’s hard to capture with words. The city is vibrant. Its inhabitants are of more than 80 nationalities speaking more than 80 languages. Addis Ababa is sharply divided by class and ethnicity. You can stay in a five-star hotel with heated pools and a full spa -- five blocks from a city slum without electricity or even simple sanitation infrastructure. It is an intriguingly indigenous African city. Unlike many other African capitals, it’s founding, growth and development, are not rooted in colonization. The city often smells like the Eucalyptus trees that surround it.

Yesterday afternoon we turned off a busy Addis Ababa road into a densely populated low income area of about 35,000 people. The streets became very narrow and full of life as children darted here and there to watch the wide bus proceed carefully down the hill.

We were there to see the Lidetta Reading Room. The reading room is a small library that was recently completed with support from CODE. It was sporting a new coat of paint both inside and out and was full of tables and chairs - ready for the first shipment of books to arrive this week. The committee was all smiles as they greeted us and showed off the work of the community. They say they think the small library will make a difference to as many as 10,000 children who attend nearby schools.

The paint was still drying in this reading room, soon to be opened in the poorest neighbourhood I have ever been in. Still in Addis Ababa, the literacy rate here is at 30%, 12% under the national average. – Stefan Hensel

Today we woke up early and set out for the Holletta and Addis Alem reading rooms. With yesterday’s image of a brand new library fresh in our minds, it was great to see what could happen with long term support. These two libraries have been working with CODE for a while. They were brimming with great books and enthusiastic teachers who have taken courses in teaching reading.

The children were anxious to show off their reading skills and completely charmed us with songs and gifts. The small bouquets of roses and traditional blankets we received from them were a testament to Ethiopian hospitality and kindness, and we were extremely touched by their generosity.

In Holletta we also had a chance to visit the beginnings of a hostel for girls. We were all inspired to learn that the girls had contributed 1 Birr each towards building the hostel. One Birr is only about ten cents Canadian, but it is a fortune for an Ethiopian child. The girls’ excitement and willingness to contribute showed us that they knew the value of education and we were all touched by their efforts.

This will be a dormitory for young girls who study at the local high school but live in villages too far to return to every night. The hostel will be home to 4 girls in each room. They need some help. – Stefan Hensel

CODE supports another hostel in Southern Ethiopia that provides a safe place for 120 girls to study. The hostel and the reading room attached to it prevent girls from having to travel long distances to and from school in sometimes unsafe conditions. The female students hoping to stay at the Holletta Hostel face similar challenges and currently attend classes at a local high school where most classrooms contain more than 80 students.

Once again we’re humbled by the realization of what we take for granted in Canada.

The trip to and from the reading rooms was slow but we were kept busy taking in the many sights outside our bus windows. I think all of our eyes were darting from one side of the road to the other, noticing the development of a new flower export industry and the signs of growth that are accompanying it.

We’re looking forward to more window-watching tomorrow, as we begin our travels north into the mountains.