Debbie goes to Ethiopia! A VSO volunteer in Assosa. Here is my blog.

Hyperbole Magazine – Winter 2014 December 10, 2014

Filed under: culture,development,Out and about,work — debzif @ 10:50
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**Hyperbole Winter 2014**

Above is the link for the latest VSO Ethiopia Magazine.  Some of the articles include:

  • International Volunteer Day
  • A visit from the Irish President
  • A day in the life of a Volunteer Obs Gynae Doctor
  • Setting up a dairy farm business
  • Addis Ababa from the perspective of a newbie
  • Bolivia and Ethiopia – similarities and differences
  • Plus much much more……..!!!!!!

This was my last edition as one of the editors, sad times!  I’ve really enjoyed working on it, good luck for the future, team!


NICUs December 4, 2014

Filed under: development,work — debzif @ 08:10

The two biggest areas that VSO work in are health and education.  I’ve always held heath professionals is very high regard, but even more so while living in Ethiopia.  There is such a need for improving the current available health care – sickness and death are most definitely not uncommon, especially for things that we in the UK might consider completely treatable, or at least not life threatening.  I imagine it must be so frustrating for volunteers to see the available resources and the standards of care.  In education, if there are no resources and the classroom is under a tree, at least noone dies.

Adigrat - NICU (19)On the positive side, I recently was super lucky to be able to go and visit some fantastic work that VSO have been supporting.  I should probably explain what a NICU is (I didn’t know for a long time…) – it means Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.  Basically, a place for premature or sick babies to go and recover.  VSO have helped set a number of these up across the country, providing both the equipment, as well as volunteers to give training to the staff in the hospitals.

I visited two newly established NICUs in the north of Ethiopia, in Axum and Adigrat.  It was incredible to be able to speak to the nurses, the doctors and the hospital management, and hear them talk about their work and the changes they’ve seen.  It was also amazing to be able to see the current baby patients, and chat to the mothers in the next room.

Axum MD Zekarias (3)Zacharias, Medical Director of Axum Hospital: After we established the NICU, the neonatal mortality rate has reduced a lot, with improved neonatal morbidity and mortality rates.  Another impact is the reduced rates of infection transmission. Before, the neonates were cared for in the same room as the other children, where infections could be more easily be transmitted.  Now that the neonates are cared for separately in the NICU, this has reduced infection transmission to new born babies. The training that has been provided alongside the establishment of the unit has had very positive changes.  Previously, the babies would have been cared for by nurses with general medical training, but now the nurses in the NICU have had specialist training in managing NICU patients. We are now able to manage the patients better. The successes in the NICU have been recognized across the hospital, and have been a springboard for changes in other departments, as they can see the gaps in their own care provisions.  We have built a new recovery room and an adult ICU so that we can provide similar care for other patients.

Axum - Nurse SelamSelamawit, NICU Nurse: I graduated a year ago, and after 8 months was transferred to the NICU when it opened.  The training given by VSO was very worthwhile.  When you treat babies for the first time, it can be a little scary.  The training was really nice to see some new things.   It has changed my position, and has made a lot of difference.  The NICU has had such a positive impact.  It must seem like an exaggeration, but really, this is doing a really really good job, it’s saving a lot of babies that could be dead.  

Axum - Ngisti and baby (3)Axum - Ngisti and baby (8)Ngisti is one of the mothers whose baby is currently being looked after in the NICU.  Nigisti required an emergency c-section to deliver her twins despite her being only 31 weeks pregnant. She gave birth to 2 twin girls, both weighing 1.3 kg. The twins were transferred to NICU where they received treatment for prematurity, low birth weight , breathing difficulty and infection. Unfortunately, one twin died on day 2 but baby Fana battled through. She had a turbulent course, where she required another course of antibiotics and developed a suspected bowel infection. However, she is now 22 days old and is able to breastfeed, but still needs support from the incubator to maintain her temperature.  Ngisti is very grateful that Fana has a survived this far, and is praying every day for her to make it home. She is staying in the Kangaroo Mother Care room, and the dad visits regularly, despite having to stay at home to look after the other children. The family is very happy and grateful for the care and support received from the NICU, and are just hoping to take Fana home soon.


Teachertoolkit Blog September 30, 2014

Filed under: work — debzif @ 09:22

Here’s a post on teachertoolkit’s website about…. ME!  And also about VSO.  And Ethiopia.  And teaching.



Educational Language Policy September 24, 2014

Filed under: culture,development,work — debzif @ 14:01
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This is similar to a post I’ve written before, but I find it so interesting I’ve written about it again…..

There is a big drive in Ethiopia right now for supporting mother tongue.  There is also a drive for English.  And Amharic is used somewhat throughout.  This is a complicated system, with the requirement to learn three languages (3 at least – many areas have a number of different local languages used for different levels of society) really to succeed.  It is also difficult for schools and governing bodies to manage, with money needed to promote each of the three.  I have spoken before about English Language Improvement Centres in schools.  There are now many Mother Tongue Improvement Centres in schools.  Perhaps one day there will be Amharic Improvement Centres also; it’s definitely a need as many don’t speak it, yet it’s the language of the government and national administration.

Imagine this – you speak one language with your family, you hear a different language on the tv and see it in the newspapers, and you go to school and have to learn all subjects in another language entirely.  Put differently, as I’ve often seen, you’re in class learning and the book is in English, your teacher is explaining it in Amharic, and you’re discussing about it with your friend in your mother tongue.  (And you’re only eleven years old.)

So what should be the language within the schools?  This is by no means exhaustive of all of the pros and cons of each language, but should give a little insight into how complicated language policy in education can be.



Hyperbole Magazine – Autumn 2014 September 8, 2014

Filed under: culture,development,Out and about,work — debzif @ 07:22
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The latest magazine from VSO Ethiopia volunteers and staff.

**Hyperbole Autumn 2014**

Articles include information about Ethiopian New Year, surviving in Afar region, schools in Tigray, a volunteers’ lessons learnt, and the power of music and gardening.  Plus a lot more (including comic language moments, one of which is mine….).


Educational Dilemma August 27, 2014

Filed under: culture,work — debzif @ 15:14

Many people I know of, especially at work, are completing part time courses at University.  They range in what they are studying, but there are a few common themes.  They all have English classes as a module, and all of the resources they are given are in English.  English is the medium of instruction, after all.

Now, this is where the problem lies.  I can’t speak for all the students, obviously, but many that I know of, who are completing these degrees, have English far below what is required to understand the course material.  There’s no English ability prerequisite at all.

So, the course itself – this is often translated by the lecturer into Amharic (the federal language, but not actually the most commonly spoken one in this region).  So I hope that the participants can at least understand in the lectures what is going on.  Although those that come from Oromia, or small villages, of course can’t speak Amharic either…

The English classes – these do not seem to be graded at all, with all students thrown in together.  A lot of the material is very grammatical, with a student I’ve been working with on giving personal information, (my name is…I live in….I am…. etc) has been rote learning the difference between different types of clauses in sentences, and learning to identify them by name, without really knowing what on earth they are on about.  I struggled with this activity myself, and I’m not entirely sure I would have got all the answers right in a test.

Anyway, the reason for this blog post is that in the months I’ve been here, I’ve often been faced with a dilemma, and today I faced it once again.  Getting the qualification of their degree or diploma is important, necessary, for many.  But of course many don’t understand the basic assignments sent to them, and there seems to be little or no recognition of this from the side of the university.  A few colleagues have asked for my help in the past, and I try to explain in the easiest possible way what it is they need to do, but I know that it’s not sufficient as we need to go right back to abcs, literally.  A colleague of mine once asked me to proof read his work.  I’m more than happy to do this, as I can explain small errors and hopefully he will learn.  His English is good, it was very well written.  “oh, I didn’t know you were studying at university” I said.  “I’m not”, he said, “this is for my friend”.

After a brief discussion of plagiarism, importance of learning, quality and reliability of education and qualifications etc, he explained his cultural perspective.  Ethiopians, from what I have observed, are amazing at helping each other out.  There is a strong community spirit, and doing favours for people is common, a way of life, and considered by some a privilege to complete.  So this colleague was writing the homework assignment for a friend, who has very little free time as she works in the day, and is busy in the evening cooking and looking after the family.  Plus her English may not be of an adequate standard to be able to complete the assignment anyway.  So as far as he is concerned, he is just helping her out.  When I suggested he cook for her so that she can have time to study, well, that’s a whole other conversation.…But that’s not really the point, the level is so above what the students are capable of, that there’re very few solutions, of which copying from others, the internet or straight from a book is completely the norm.

Today’s example is one of my best friends here who is studying ICT, but has some modules in philosophy.  The relevance of course, is questionable.  The assignment is in English, which she doesn’t understand, and asks for her to write her own sentences, giving examples of deductive, inductive, sound deductive, cogent inductive, strong and uncogent inductive (etc etc) arguments.  Her notes are all in English, copied from the board, and although she can recite what each is, she doesn’t understand it in any depth or cognitive way.

What am I supposed to do?  One strategy for her and her colleagues is to type it into google, and see what comes up.  Which she does, but with difficulty.  Shall I help her with this?  Should I research it for her?  Can I write it for her even?  I’m pretty sure the lecturers don’t even care how it’s done, as long as it’s done; the whole idea of plagiarism is so inherent here, that it’s practically the status quo.  The whole system is so flawed, that although I know and strongly disagree with plagiarism and invalid assessment, if I wanted to help her truly I’d have to go right back to somewhere (where?!) at the beginning.


Positive Discrimination August 5, 2014

Filed under: culture,work — debzif @ 08:04

As I’ve blogged about before, the status of women isn’t particularly high in this country.

One strategy is positive discrimination, or affirmative action.  This is where favour is given to women over men.  For example, the pass mark to enter university is 5 points lower for a female than it is for a male.  If a male and female apply for the same job, and they have equal experience, the female is automatically chosen.  And for managers and supervisors, if a female applies with less experience than the male, she can be given the job.

The reasoning behind this is to encourage female participation in wider spheres.  More women will access university, and hopefully more will achieve.  It is also to address the imbalance – it is tough if you are in a male dominated environment; perhaps by addressing the imbalance with physical presence, this would encourage participation and confidence as well.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of drawbacks too.  For a start, the fail rate for women in universities is higher than the males, and you find a lot of “female support” classes and tutorials.  Which is good that they’re being supported, perhaps they need it because they entered with a lower grade.  But is also gives the impression that all females need extra support.

Recently, I went to a meeting with 2 VSO East Africa senior staff.  As it happened, they were both women.  I happened to mention this to a few male Ethiopian friends, to be like, ha, yes, women can be the big bosses too actually thank you very much.  But far from surprised or impressed, they just nodded.  It took me a while to question and figure out why – they had assumed the women had been placed there by affirmative action, and really their abilities were still in question.

This didn’t anger me so much as when someone, a good friend actually, who after 18 months of friendship, told me he thought I was only a VSO volunteer out here because of the same strategy.  Not because actually I fit the placement better than any other males at that time – in his opinion, of course there were other more competent candidates other than me, I was just chosen to boost figures.  When it becomes personal it hits home harder.

There needs to be a lot done to support women out here.  And positive discrimination is one way of getting and encouraging women to access more opportunities, and perhaps go in a different direction to generations before them.  But there needs to be more done to encourage the beliefs that we can actually be good at what we do, and are not there only because of some government strategy.