Hello Everyone,

Happy Valentine’s Day! 

tesfa heart

I find it hard to believe that I haven’t blogged about the library in over a year…13 months and 1 day to be exact.  As you may know, I went to Ethiopia this past summer for a month.  I lived with a wonderful woman and my goal was simply to try and experience family life, language and the culture of day to day living in Addis.  I also, had  a chance to do a little teaching with TESFA/Ethiopia Reads at a local elementary school  and to visit the school in Dukem to check on the progress of the library. The kindergarten was there and so was the container and some books in boxes in a locked room…and that was it.  The completion of the library had been frustrated by delays etc. from local officials.  However, our visit with the new school Director seemed to mobilize things.  I was assured that by October, the library would be functioning…but nothing. I contacted Jane and Dana and they felt November might see progress…nothing.  I let things pass into the new year and contacted them again at the end of January.  Here is the result of my recent communication. The following is a summary of conversations that I’ve had with Jane Kurtz and Dana Roskey of Ethiopia Reads/TESFA. Here are some of the things that I learned:

There is a fledgling library in Dukem:

  1. There is a library opened  for higher grades students in a small free-standing building on the Dukem Campus.  At the moment it is being used for older students to study in.  There are a few Ethiopia Reads donated books there.
  2. The Container Library/Reading Room/ Library for Primary students has also been opened.  But, unfortunately, it has been co-opted at this time by some local officials using it as an Election Centre.  Most of the books donated by Ethiopia Reads were for younger grades.
  3. Furniture, supplies and playground toys were purchased for the kindergarten.  Unfortunately, they were not appropriately fenced so they were battered  by some of the older students.  The ongoing repairs will be a point of future leverage/negotiation/advocacy for the ongoing support of educational programs at Dukem.
  4. There has also been some training done for Teacher/Librarians, but attendance has been spotty.
  5. There was a field trip to Dukem. Some teachers and students from Addis Ababa have started Book clubs.  They made a field trip to Dukem to present and mentor them on the process of starting their own book club.
  6. There is a new School Director in Dukem, but it seems that official changes regularly.
  7. In terms of ongoing funding, Dana is going to  rework what some potential costs might be for ongoing support of Dukem.  Some estimates are:

a. Repairs $500-$1,500 (promise of ongoing support may garner better efforts at the school)

b.  Training and Tutorials – $1,500 -$2,000

c. Field Trips  $200

  1. In 2012 Dana’s focus was reorganizing the Ethiopian side of things. This year he will be relocating to the US, and looking at implementing a better Information Flow System, formalizing policies and working with donor communities.
  2. Dana has asked the Staff in Ethiopia (point people: Minna, Itagesu) to organize information about Dukem to share.  Ie. Reports and Photos
  3. So, while there has been some progress, the challenges are evident.  Dana sees this as evidence that we are in the right place.  Work still needs to be done there.  There is still space to advocate for improvements and little by little that can be done.  So…on we go!

Thank you all for your patience and ongoing support.      When I have more information and pictures, I will get them up here for you asap.

And…maybe I’ll have the chance to get to Ethiopia again this year…Cross your fingers for me!




It’s amazing to me that in the creation of this library, so many people around the world are connecting in very positive ways…although most of them I’ve never met.  Here are just a few examples from the past couple of months:

1. My colleague and dear friend Carolyn from here in Niagara has raised well over $500 for teacher/librarian training at the library in Dukem.

2. Jane Kurtz  from Ethiopia Reads is going to connect with Hala Kazim, a life coach and entrepreneur that I met in Dubai (my friend Christie’s friend!) for some fundraising in Dubai in the coming year.

3. Mary Alison Lyman from the Canadian University of Dubai is bringing 15-20 CUD students from around the world to do some volunteering at the library and for a little Canadian charity called “Little Voice”  in May 2012!

4. And finally, today my Facebook friend Samuel Getachew, a Canadian-Ethiopian currently living in Toronto sent me the following interview. Sam is an author and activist (among other things) , and he has just returned from a trip home to Ethiopia, where he met and interviewed Dana Roskey, the founder of the Tesfa Foundation. Dana is the person who has been managing the day to day operations of establishing the library in Dukem in conjunction with a Tesfa -sponsored kindergarten there.

Here is Sam’s wonderful interview and Dana’s inspirational story.

Interview with Dana Roskey

Submitted by: Samuel Getachew

Bio:  born in California. B.A. at the University of California, and Master’s at the University of Minnesota, in Education. Taught for 15 years in public schools in Minneapolis and community colleges in Minneapolis and area. My fiancee, Leeza Woubshet, died in an auto accident in Minneapolis in 2003. Her dream was to return to her home, Ethiopia, and establish a school for the poor. I didn’t want her dream to die, so I established the Tesfa Foundation, a US nonprofit, to fund schools for the poor. My first visit was in Jan 2004. Founder and board member for the Tesfa Foundation in the US. Currently, country director of Ethiopia Reads.



“You have been coming to Ethiopia for eight years and been involved in many worthwhile initiatives. Share with us your Ethiopian journey so far.”

I became involved with Ethiopia because of my loss. But with the grief came a blessing: the opportunity to participate in the lives of thousands of children, youth, and families here — even if only indirectly, — helping to bring education and opportunity to people who deserve it. The Ethiopian people are very gracious, the country is beautiful, and I feel blessed to have spent as much time in this country as I have. I hope that Leeza’s dream has been realized. Whether it has or hasn’t, I will continue to work for the children and youth of this country, for as long as I am able.

“Tell us about Team Tesfa.”

Team Tesfa is a club based in Addis Ababa, founded about five years ago. Its purpose is not only competition, but to provide humble support systems for young athletes who have a dream to make their lives better — especially young women who have come to Addis from the countryside, hoping that running will lead them toward success and better lives, but then find themselves struggling to survive in the big city. I’m a runner, and that’s why I took an interest in the lives of runners here. I want to see them have a chance to pursue their dreams. We at Team Tesfa have a long way to go, but so far we have been able to support a number of teen girls with housing and education. We support young women with athletic gear, educational support, and vocational skills. And we have started to help some young men with vocational skills, as well. I see a bright future for this program. I’m concerned that Ethiopia’s young athletes receive the respect and the resources they deserve for full and satisfying lives. A few athletes become rich and famous, of course. But the majority work very hard for years and don’t make it.  They sacrifice everything for the dream, and afterward they have nothing to build the rest of their lives on. This is what I would like to see change.


“The Tesfa Foundation is involved in many initiatives. Share with us some of these initiatives.”

There are many children in Ethiopia who have no access to education. We are just one of many organizations trying to help the government in its effort to reach those children. It’s a matter of resources. The Tesfa Foundation has focused on the youngest children, and more recently, on rural children. We have funded the establishment of eight schools in Ethiopia. Five of those have been kindergartens, and the rest rural, non-formal schools for primary ages. We have invested in good teacher training, and in some cases have been able to help moms with micro loans and help children with shoes, clothing, and nutrition. Now, of course, the Ethiopian government is implementing kindergarten-level education in its government schools. This is an exciting time as we see a new push for quality in early grades literacy. We at the Tesfa Foundation would like to offer a hand to help schools implement high-quality kindergarten education. We see that many schools do not have the resources to train staff in the unique needs of kindergarten-age children, buy age-appropriate materials, or furnish classrooms appropriately. We are currently piloting this kind of assistance in several local schools.

“How about Ethiopia Reads?”

Ethiopia Reads has been working in Ethiopia for over a decade, establishing school and community libraries across the country. To date, we have established almost sixty libraries around Ethiopia. The mission of ER is to encourage a culture of reading, and that goes well beyond the supply of books. We offer librarian training twice per year, and monthly professional forums for librarians. We invite librarians’ colleagues, their school directors, teachers, and local officials to attend because we believe that a successful library and a strong reading culture depend on whole communities. We organize book events and book clubs in schools. We invite Ethiopian children into our programs. We sponsor rural mobile library systems to deliver books and opportunities for literacy to children deep in the countryside where there is no access to schools. Again, it’s an exciting time to be in this line of work, just as people are re-discovering the importance of reading to happiness and success.

“In the last decade, there have been many changes in Ethiopia. What are some of the positive changes you have observed over the years?”

Well, the perspective of a faranj (foreigner) will differ from that that of locals. The faranj sees the rapid growth of Addis Ababa, the construction, and the proliferation of supermarkets and consumer goods. Addis Ababa is a much more comfortable city for faranjis than it used to be. Obviously the national economy is booming, even as many poor people’s lives are becoming more difficult because of inflation. It’s a time of contrasts. Even as there are more roads and more schools, there is famine and profound suffering for many. It’s our job to reach out to the poor and to the youth, and to make sure they aren’t left behind.

“For someone who wants to emulate such an enterprising career what advice would you have?”

Know what’s right, keep your focus, and be determined. I’ve seen many kids come to Team Tesfa who are all talk. They are sure they can run like Haile. But in athletics, you either prove it by your performance or you don’t. It’s all about persistence and intelligence. The beautiful thing about athletics is how it teaches us about life. Anything you want in life, you earn in just the same way.

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Library Update

Here is the latest update…photos to follow!!


Early 2012 report on Dukum for Shari

The Tesfa Foundation began as an agency dedicated to expanding educational capacity, which—for most of Ethiopia right now–starts with buildings and takes a long time to reach issues of educational quality.  Initially Tesfa had established private kindergartens in several locations, including Dukum, and provided sponsorships so that kids from poor families would have a shot at beginning their educational lives with a strong underpinning.  Over those first years, Tesfa also became an agency concerned about quality in the classroom, interested in creating opportunities to upgrade, train, and supply classrooms properly.

The Ethiopian government has mandated the building of more schools, but cannot provide for any but the most meager of operational support.  There are thousands of schools in Ethiopia now, all in some stage of lingering start-up, crowded with children who are receiving education of the most basic sort, delivered by a new generation of teachers rushed to the front lines without adequate training, adequate pay, or adequate material supplies

In 2011, Dana Roskey, founder of Tesfa, also became coordinator of the in-country work of Ethiopia Reads (which means that Tesfa and Ethiopia Reads are now closely collaborating).  He recommended that we re-position ourselves as a partner with government in improving educational quality. Under this new model we can reach more children as we provide training, material donations, and possibly sister-school relationships with UK or US schools.  One first step was seeking donors to plant a library in each of the sites where Tesfa had been operating kindergartens—mercato, Dukum, and Shiro Meda (another Addis Ababa neighborhood).  Another was beginning assessment of each of the already-planted Ethiopia Reads libraries and inviting some of those library managers to do pilot projects; those libraries, too, need to develop capacity to become true literacy centers and not just places with books on shelves.

Tesfa is now helping the private schools they had established in Dukum and Shiro Meda to transition into becoming part of the kebele, providing avenues for the mid-career KG kids to finish their KG education, and designing strategies for engaging with kebele efforts to expand kindergarten education in their districts.  This new approach means more than ever needing to have productive conversations with kebele officials, never a simple and smooth task in Ethiopia.  Dukum, for example, is receptive and even eager to get a community library going, but the process has nonetheless been a very slow one.  We’re ready to go with books and the container (which is on the property) as soon as all the papers are stamped and in order.

Here’s a report written by Stephanie Schlatter whose word you’ve seen on Facebook:

Dukum is a small town about 30 min outside Addis Ababa the capital city of Ethiopia. I had the opportunity to visit Dukum in December of 2011, a trip I won’t soon forget. It started out with my first flat tire in 6 years of visiting this land… the fact that it was a first for me was alone amazing. I felt the panic creep in sure that we would be late and not get our full time with the children. I had only 2 hours to paint a mural with children who had never had an art class. Five short minutes later, barley enough time to take posterity photos of my first flat, our trusty driver had us on the road again. A sigh of relief …we would make it in time.

As the founder of Art Aid for Tesfa I had chosen 5 years ago on my second trip to Ethiopia to work only with Tesfa. My first year was sprinkled with many NGO’s and many frustrations. Tesfa was a solid organization and it made sense to me to partner up where I could make the greatest impact. For me that was with an established organization on the ground that cared about quality control and creating solid schools. i have never regretted that decision. So… it was with apprehension I entered this huge crowded government school.

The children we worked with on this day were adorable and as sweet as any, big eyes bright in anticipation of the Forengie carrying so much color. They were very sweet in fact, but we had complications from the start… the children only spoke Oromo and my translators only spoke Amharic and English. Like the flat tire we had to quickly recover and an Amharic and Oromo speaking teacher had to be a second translator as she could not understand my English. We were able to create art, and that is the important thing. There was great joy in seeing children work in color and paint for the first time ever. Like all children they dove in with gusto… that bit always makes me smile. Adults worry about if they are doing a “good” job or not, children don’t care they enjoy the process, this is a constant source of inspiration to me.

After getting the children “warmed up” with paper paintings it was time to move outside and create a mural on their school room for them. The children participating in the mural making were at first confused by smashing their little hands in paint and stamping the wall, but quickly got the hang of it. Bright smiles came over their faces as they discovered that they were creating flowers with their hand stamping.

It was not easy creating this mural in a large part because we were soon surrounded by the whole school. Older kids were aggressive, and the teachers of little help in keeping them from our persons and our supplies; my best guess is the teachers were as curious as the older students as to what was happening here. In the end people seemed very pleased with the mural and the visit in general. The head master seen joining in, in photos was very enthusiastic. All asked when we would be back. The question is a dilemma we have yet to work out. A question I would have loved to answer with “next week” but we can’t say that at this point and I look on to the future and wonder…

The library that Ethiopia Reads is building at Dukum was not yet done. No doubt the head master is brimming with excitement being able to offer this rare educational benefit of books to children. I too am excited for these precious ones, literacy is forever and the stories we read live on inside of us. I hope to see the beautiful smiles of the children when I return to find them in their very own new library. I was able to see the joy on other children’s faces in other Ethiopia Reads libraries. It was priceless.

The Library in Bloom!!!

It’s what we’ve been waiting for!!  I really have no words, just tears of joy!  JUST LOOK!

Here is the library in Dukem…with lovely flowers painted by the children.

Kids in bloom too! 🙂

Artist at Work


Stephanie from Art Aid International “planting flowers” in Dukem!



Here is a recent email that I received from Jane Kurtz…lots of wonderful things going on and lots of wonderful things still to do!

In the hustle-bustle holiday season, my 2012 wish is that you will feel cheered through the coming year with the joyful and transformative things happening in the libraries planted for Ethiopian children by Ethiopia Reads.  What, besides education, can turn poverty around in one generation?  Education did it for my family and maybe yours.  In the crowded dangerous streets of neighborhoods like the mercato in Addis Ababa, children often come to places like the Old Sarum School nibbled by sickness, hunger, lice—and within weeks…

image …they have their childhoods back.

I don’t live in Ethiopia and most of you don’t live in Ethiopia.  So you probably have questions…as I do.  (My family raised money to collaboratively fund a library in honor of our reading mom who did live in Ethiopia for 23 years, but when my brother has taken teachers to Ethiopia in the summer for the past few years, he’s been too busy to visit it.)  Luckily for us, our current country rep, Dana Roskey, founder of the Tesfa Foundation, did live in Ethiopia most of 2011 and has worked—as one visitor told me—all day seven days a week on those libraries and other literacy projects.  He’s taken time to provide some information I hope will be helpful and encouraging for all of you.

When you say “plant” a library, what do you mean?

We’ve used a great sustainability model for most of the 50+ libraries, we’ve planted.  A school provides a room and a person to run the library.  Donors like you provide the funds to build furniture, ship books from the US and buy locally available (usually local language) books, cover basic training.  

The word “plant” is apt because it’s a little like sticking a plant in the ground and trusting it will grow.  This soil isn’t always robust, though, in that the library adults didn’t grow up with a library or books and may well not speak English (even though many of the books are in English because children have to learn to read in English to continue education past about 3rd grade).  As you’ll see below, our focus now includes let’s-add-nutrients-to-the-soil commitment.

When you say “most,” what about the other libraries?

In a few special cases, we’ve created libraries that we’ve staffed and run ourselves.  Shola Library was one—but we couldn’t sustain it because of rapidly rising rent costs.  We have so far been able to maintain the Awassa Reading Center, though rent and staff costs are a tough issue there, too.  In 2012, thanks to a donor, we’ll create a new community library that will operate from Old Sarum School in the mercato.  Thanks to another donor, we’ll create a new community library in Dukum, near Addis Ababa.  We’ll also re-create the donkey mobile libraries to be more mobile and reach children in more remote areas.  We’ll study these models and spread what works.

Are all Ethiopia Reads libraries in Addis Ababa?

Nope.  Most are.  But we’ve had a multi-year commitment in and around Awassa.  We tried a pilot projects with Peace Corps volunteers in 3 different locations in 2011.  Now, thanks to a collaboration with the Textbook Learning Materials Project of USAID and the Ethiopia Ministry of Education, we’ve had an opportunity to plant a library in one selected school in each region of Ethiopia.   I have a powerful feeling all 11 will be planted by this time next year.

Planted so far:  Addis Ababa, Bahir Dar (Amhara), Sebeta (Oromia), and Awassa (Southern Nations and Nationalities).

Funding received for Gambella (Gambella), Quiha (Tigray), Dire Dawa

Funding pledged and in process for Afar, Harar.

Given that your staff is very small, how do you balance planting new libraries with strengthening existing ones?

This has been a hard question for Ethiopia Reads.  In 2012, time and money will be devoted to encouraging literacy activities in the libraries—because our assessments in 2010 and 2011 showed that those fledging plants can take some blows:  crowded schools, curriculum geared toward high stakes testing, inexperienced library managers, and little educator experience with either literacy or student-centered teaching. 

Books change lives…but not if they sit on the shelves.  (At least ours aren’t locked away, a common outcome for many NGO projects around the world, alas.)

Here’s how Dana describes what’s going on.

Librarian discussion group:

The group has met twice, always at the end of the month. The attendance has been right around 20 schools, 40 participants. The group has some good momentum, with steady attendance, enthusiasm, and participation. They have collaborated with facilitators in coming up with topics. Facilitators have been good about adding variety to format, in line with our general policy to introduce innovation and variety into our programming – book events, book clubs, trainings, etc. This has been received very well by all groups. The library discussion group has been a place to discuss and evaluate book events and book clubs progress.

Sample topics:

  • Library usage by the community
  • How a library manager can promote reading culture with in the school community
  • Using volunteers (coordinating with book clubs)
  • Library clustering / experience and resource sharing

Library manager training: The whole staff has worked together to create a three-day training that introduces innovation and variety in presentation and topics, trying to model good teaching methodology in our own work. (In other words, we emphasize interaction, integrate discussion, role play, and demonstrate strategies for promoting a love of reading, alongside the fundamentals of school and community library organization.) This is a priority in our work this year, and it has been received very well. The feedback summed up might be, ‘We usually dread trainings, but have really valued yours. Looking forward to more!’

Topics will include:

  • Organizing a library for children
  • Promoting a love of reading
  • Book repair and upkeep
  • Integrating programming with teachers

Ongoing assessment

In honoring another priority this year, trainings are part of our assessment system – learning about what goes on in our libraries; what the challenges and successes are; what the needs are; all informing our strategy for supporting them.

The coming month will mark the launch of our observation and assessment campaign, which will provide us with more first-hand data about the operations of our school libraries. Staff will plan for extended shifts inside all libraries, offering themselves as volunteers to work beside librarians for half a day. Their objective will be to fill out an assessment form – a protocol being developed and refined – that charts librarian tasks performed, interaction with students, student shifts, student preferences in reading, atmosphere in the library, teacher involvement, anecdotal observations, all toward painting a picture of the day-to-day possibilities and challenges in the libraries. It will take time to get a full picture. Complete data will require repeated visits, and will require data from many libraries, including our southern and rural libraries. But I believe this will yield information invaluable to future planning and training. And it will contribute to making Ethiopia Reads a resource for expertise about library and literacy, something sorely needed in Ethiopia.

Book Clubs:

At our orientation for all our Addis Ababa school library managers (with teachers and some school directors), we presented a plan to pilot book clubs among our network. We suggested that we implement first among a third of the represented schools this year, a second third next year, and aim for full implementation in the third year. We asked for volunteers, and were happy to see that we had more than eight volunteers. The point of implementing in stages is so that staff can successfully supervise / participate in the work, and so that each year we can test formats and activities that we can publish in a book club manual at the end of each year. By the third round, we will have a fairly solid model to pass on to new schools, and one that hopefully can be replicated on a larger scale. We’ll also have a small cadre of library managers with lots of experience, and who have advised and guided subsequent generations of implementation.

The eight schools are: Meri, Atse Naod, Belay Zeleke, Tsehay Chora, Lebe Fana, Addis Tesfa, Feleke Yordanos, and Ewket Fana.

Representative library managers meet at least once a month with Ethiopia Reads staff for planning. Assignments for the first two months have been to form an organizational model for the club, and to begin testing some activities ideas among the students. The managers have been very enthusiastic, and have been coming up with lots of creative activity ideas themselves and sharing them. This week, upon the suggestion of the Belay Zeleke library manager, student volunteers in six of our book club schools will be handing our library cards as a promotion to use the library and read.

Other examples of activities:

  • At Belay Zeleke, the kids pick a book by a famous author, and they read aloud for a few minutes every in the flag ceremony.
  • At Tsehay Chora, a language teacher and the librarian oversee while volunteers from grades 5-8 read to early grade children during free periods.
  • Addis Tesfa has established a School Library Day on December 29.

Book Events:

We have staged 13 book events in Addis schools – and all four core staff members are trained to lead events (two lead at a time). The purpose of book events has always been twofold: (1) to establish a strong Ethiopia Reads presence among our schools libraries, encourage good relations, encourage school staff to see us as allies, promote a good image in the community, and (2) to encourage reading among children particularly at early grade levels, while demonstrating good practice in teaching reading to teachers and librarians. I will now add a third objective, which is to contribute to our assessment efforts – getting to know teachers, students, and librarians. We’ll add simple assessment to the program, such as collecting a few age-appropriate books from the school library and polling the class on who has read them (then reading from those books, encouraging them to go the library) and polling the class on their favorite books and stories to gauge how widely read they are.

Book event programs usually consist of reading a book / story, then leading the class in discussion and games – predicting where the story goes, acting out the characters, drawing, quizzing on vocabulary, reading to music, making up similar stories, creating their own books, and so on.

Can I be involved in making the library I planted better?

Of course!  The most common need to come out of assessment is replacement and expansion of the collection of local language books.  For each library, we are starting a $500 Love a Library fund for this purpose.  As assessment and relationship-building continue, more can be done, too.

If you want to contribute to program general, visit http://www.ethiopiareads.org Buy a book.  Buy some coffee.  Buy a gift card for someone.  Be a monthly donor. 

My library is not in Addis Ababa.  Is that a challenge?

Definitely.  We have five professional Ethiopians running Ethiopia Reads + Dana Roskey coordinating and communicating with the US volunteers.  Every step those six people make was funded by someone just like you, as was the office they sit in, the phone they make a call on, the public transportation ride to the school they visit (whether it’s in an Addis neighborhood or in remote Ethiopia).  So the staff members have to be heroic.  Luckily, they are.  We are committed to reaching out to strengthen all our libraries as we can squeeze out resources.

In the US, crucial things like researching book shipments, packing and sorting books, sending out information, helping donors with their fundraising needs, updating the web page, letting people know of needs and opportunities are all done by volunteers who often give hundreds and hundreds of hours.  (We have one wonderful ½ staff person in Denver—Emily Pramik–who makes sure checks get deposited and transferred when needed, thank you notes get sent out, and inquiries get answered.)  We’re getting better with practice, but if we lapse, let us know.  Gently, if possible. 

How do I know my library is making a difference?

Think of the readers you know.  The ones I know are curious and thoughtful people.  They have practice in imagining themselves into the skin of another human being.  They are hopeful.  They understand life is not without its obstacles and smashing failures, but that these obstacles and failures do not have to have the last word.  They dream. 

Fiction and nonfiction both shape our hearts and minds in these ways—and we know books and stories, reading and writing, are reaching the next generation in Ethiopia, too.

500% more children in Ethiopia are in school than were just a few years ago.  This commitment to education has led to even more crowding of classrooms, even fewer books per pupil.  More than ever, we have an unusual opportunity to fill in a crucial gap for some extraordinarily committed, smart, and determined kids.  Thanks for being on the team!

Hi Everyone,

This weekend, I went to meet Mark Zelinski at Chapters to officially receive his donation of 100 of his photography books.  These books will make their way to Ethiopia on a container ship in the coming year.  Here’s the link to the COGECO TV report.