Ethiopia’s READ II celebrates 10,000 volunteer community literacy leaders
By Berihun Mekonnen
December 16, 2019
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — Ethiopian literacy project READ II celebrated International Volunteer Day and the 10,000 community literacy leaders serving across the country with an event in Addis Ababa.
People from the Ministry of Education, the U.S. Agency for International Development, renowned artists and activists and 366 community literacy leaders gathered on Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019 to recognize how these volunteers support children to improve their reading and writing.
The five-year USAID-funded READ II project is working to boost the quality of literacy instruction and student support for 15 million Ethiopian children. Volunteers are a key part of helping the project succeed in communities.
Tassew Zewdie, Chief of Party for READ II, noted that International Volunteer Day is an opportunity to promote volunteerism and recognize volunteer contributions in improving the reading and writing skills of children at reading camps.
“We work to engage communities through our outreach programs, as the engagement of parents, community [members] and youth are equally important to improve the reading and writing skills of children,” he said.
READ II, along with its partner World Vision, established community-based reading camps and trained local volunteers to run them. This out-of-school reading program gives children the opportunity to borrow books, sing, dance and be read to outside of the traditional classroom environment. By providing more touchpoints for literacy, the volunteers are supporting children to develop critical skills that will make them better readers and writers.
Sonjai Reynolds-Cooper, Chief of the Office of Education and Youth at USAID Ethiopia, highlighted the importance of collaborating not only at the Ministry and Regional Education Bureau levels, but also with communities and youth volunteers. She noted that community literacy leaders are key to the success and sustainability of the project.
“I commend you, volunteer community literacy leaders, for your invaluable services in this endeavor,” she said. “Children you are now supporting to learn to read and write will grow and remember you and the role you played in their success.”
Ethiopia has a history of engaging volunteers to support literacy. In Ministry of Education representative Ato Ashenafi’s address, he reminded the audience of a 1970s volunteer campaign that played an important role in reducing illiteracy in the country.
“We need a generation equipped with a quality education that can reason logically and embrace diversity,” said Ashenafi. “This is only possible if we equip children with quality education starting from early childhood. The volunteer activities are doing just that.”
He also thanked the READ II project for mobilizing 10,000 young volunteers and training them to support reading camps.
Elisabeth Tesfaye, 25, recently graduated in Water Supply Engineering from Arba Minich University and is one of the volunteers who attended the celebration.
“Helping children to succeed in their future is something that has been in my heart since I was child,” said Tesafaye. “My involvement in these volunteer activities to help children be able to read and write feels like a dream come true. Besides this, the recognition we get today will encourage us all to do more to help children and the project succeed.”
Veronica Melaku, 31, is another community literacy leader who was moved by the celebration. She is a mother of two and, when her children were young, she would study in the evenings to work on her own education.
“At the time I was not able to help my children to read and write,” she said. “I wished I had someone to support me. Now, when I have ample time, I want to help children who need support.”
The project presented volunteers with certificates of appreciation and backpacks at the celebration, and children from the reading camps performed colourful songs and dances.
Celebrity speakers included Ethiopian actor and volunteer activist Solomon Bogale and television presenter and reading activist Zenebe Wolla.
“In the outer layer, a volunteer activity may look [like] something simple, but for those who receive the service it is a life changing gift,” said Bogale. “You are doing a great job to those who are in need and we all should do something good [for] people around us, [for] our country.”
With editing by Ashley Williams