Tsehai recently spoke with Seble Habtamu, REAL In-Country Manager, and with each mentor at our eight sites. In addition to the pandemic, there is significant political turmoil in Ethiopia, particularly in the western region where we have four sites: Ayira Guliso, Bodji, Nekemte, and Nedjo. As of late September, all of our girls are safe.
Education situation: As you may know, all Ethiopian students must take national exams following the 8th, 10th, and 12th grades in order to be promoted to the next grade or, in the case of 12th graders, to attend University. The 8th and 12th year exams have not been held yet because of the pandemic, so those students are in a bit of limbo. Hopefully, the exams will be given soon, but then it will also take some time before they, and we, receive the results.
The exams were waived for 10th grade students, and all students (except 8th and 12th graders) have been automatically promoted to the next grade level, even though schools have not reopened. Students are expected to be studying on their own, with any available books and handouts from teachers. Here is the situation specifically for REAL girls:
The girls are meeting regularly with their mentors in groups of four to continue their studies and receive emotional support, wearing masks and observing social distancing. In all but one site (Burayu Kata), there is no internet access, but they do have access to books, primarily through books REAL received through Books for Africa. It is not perfect, but they are committed to making it work. 8th and 12th graders are focusing on studying for the national exams.
We are continuing all the sponsorships from the 2019-2020 school year into the 2020-21 school year. (Normally, 12th graders and girls who failed to pass to the next grade would leave our program.) Site administrators are developing waiting lists of girls to be available for inclusion in the REAL program once the exam results are available.
We have sent additional funding to all the girls and will send at least one more round later this fall. The girls and their families are extremely grateful for this extra support—and we are very appreciative of the many REAL sponsors who have increased their sponsorships to help us cover those expenses in these difficult times.
On September 22, 2020, the Ethiopian government declared that all schools should open, but we don't yet know if, or when, that will happen and what the impact will be on our girls and their families.
The situation in Ethiopia in the coming days and weeks is quite unpredictable, both with the pandemic and politically. We plan to keep you informed, as we are able to, but please know that everything possible is being done by our Ethiopian program administrators and mentors to keep our REAL girls safe and progressing with their studies.