News from REAL: Our Annual Sponsor Appreciation Gathering featured international participation—nearly 50 people on 3 continents!
REAL Program Manager Seble Habtamu invited mentors and committee members from several REAL sites, plus REAL graduates and girls currently in the program to Addis Ababa to participate in our first virtual Sponsor Appreciation Event on January 30, 2021. It was powerful to hear from Seble and longtime mentor Elfinesh Nemerra about the impact of education and REAL support in the lives of so many girls and young women. Seble, herself, is a graduate of REAL; she went on to support herself at University, thanks to money saved as a REAL girl, and graduated and taught for two years before becoming REAL Program Manager in 2019.
Schools were closed throughout Ethiopia in the fall of 2020, but are scheduled to reopen beginning in February. All of our girls have continued to meet with their mentors in small, socially distanced groups and received additional funding from REAL to ensure their ability to protect themselves and to continue learning.
In Ethiopia, promotion to the next level after 8th and 12th grades is determined by passing a national exam. These exams were delayed for months last fall, but happily, girls who had completed the 8th grade were finally able to take their exams. All of our girls passed and have been promoted to 9th grade. The 12th grade students are still in limbo, waiting for their exams (which determine whether and where they will be placed in a university). REAL has continued to support those girls, and they are also able to rely on funds saved while in the REAL program.
Executive Director Tsehai Wodajo reported on the on-going conflicts in Ethiopia. The most serious fighting has been in the Tigray region, in the far north of Ethiopia, far from our sites, but of real concern. Millions of people there are on the verge of starvation and a hundred thousand have fled to Sudan. There are also grave concerns about the possibility of Sudan military action in relation to border conflict with Ethiopia.
There is also unrest in western Ethiopia, where we have 4 sites. Our girls and mentors are all safe, but we continue to be concerned and to stay informed on that situation.
EXPAND ENRICH EMPOWER
REAL Board President Olga Rodrigues announced A REAL Africa Growth Initiative—EXPAND ENRICH EMPOWER—to grow our geographical reach within Ethiopia and to double the number of girls supported form 120 to 240 by adding 3 new sites and increasing the number of girls at each site from 15 to 22 by 2022.
Our first fundraising event to expand REAL is a presentation on The Origin and Evolution of Coffee by Justin Will, with guests Dagmawi Iyasu Eminetu and Sara Yirga Woldegerima on Saturday, March 13, 2021, at 10 am central time. Justin is the founder of Inspired Coffee Merchants, a small coffee trade business that buys directly from farmers, and is dedicated to supporting small farmers like the coffee growers in Ethiopia. He will tell the story of the origin of coffee and how that aromatic bean, first discovered in Ethiopia, traveled around the world, stopping in every country, and arriving every morning at most of our kitchen tables. Click here to reserve your place in this event.
3 Continents? Yes. The REAL Board and many supporters tuned in within North America; Seble, REAL girls and mentors were present in Africa, and the third, Eva Nordin in Europe.
Eva Nordin occupies a central role in the story of REAL. She first met REAL founder Tsehai Wodajo in western Ethiopia when Tsehai was a young woman unable to complete her education and Eva a young volunteer from Sweden. Eva helped Tsehai so she could stay in school.
Fast forward to 2004: Tsehai never forgot the difference that Eva's support meant to her life and she set out to create a program to help young girls like her stay in school—and thus REAL was born. Tsehai looked for Eva and after 30 years, found her; they met in person in 2008. Eva has been a sponsor of REAL girls ever, but this virtual gathering of sponsors was the first time Eva could attend. It was inspiring to "meet" her remotely and to remember the difference one act of generosity can make.