EDUCATION: Schools in Kembata-Tembaro

Ethiopia’s population tops 85 million. Ethiopia is a country in which literacy rates are well below 50%, and half the population is 16 years of age or younger. School enrollment figures have never topped 70%, and the school enrollment figures among children 6 years of age and younger are below 5%. A commitment to education and literacy is crucial for those living in this nation that has historically been a leader in Africa, and consistently stands as a bulwark in politically fragile East Africa.

Tesfa first began  working with children who were of kindergarten age,  because this was where there was the biggest need. In 2004, there was no public kindergarten available in Ethiopia. Only about 3% of kindergarten-age children were in school. Tesfa has since focused on supporting education for primary ages in the countryside. Recently the Ethiopian government has made a commitment to early childhood education, implementing kindergarten in urban schools.


Today, the Tesfa Foundation has three schools located in the Kembata-Tembaro zone in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples Region (SNNPR). In 2012, the first primary school was completed in Kembata-Tembaro in the village of Kololo. In September of that year, over 225 students started their education, many of them stepping into a classroom for the very first time. Looking over the hills of Kembata-Tembaro, children at Kololo now have access to education, a library, and a daily food program.

Azedebo and Fundame

Beginning in October of 2012, the construction team of the organization began working on two additional schools focused towards preschool and kindergarten students. These schools are located next to primary schools in the communities of Azedebo and Fundame. In the fall of 2013, 400 preschool and kindergarten students began attending the schools. Since then, approximately 60 new students are added to the enrollment of the two schools each year, providing the students with an opportunity to learn the foundations of education and giving them a step-up and a step-ahead for the rest of their primary and secondary education.


In Ethiopia, long-distance runners are heroes. Every year hundreds of teenage girls come to Addis Ababa from the surrounding regions to train as athletes, hoping to escape poverty through their talent. At the least, they hope for education and employment in the capital city. The majority of them have no friends or family to support them. Many of these girls will be victims of abuse. Many will be forced into labor like servitude in order to survive. In Addis Ababa, more than 30 per cent of girls aged 10-14 are not living with their parents. Twenty per cent of these have run away from child marriages. Twelve per cent of adolescents aged 10-14 surveyed in Addis Ababa were domestic workers.

Team Tesfa

Team Tesfa is a powerful medium for reaching these girls. It becomes a support structure in a dangerous and alienating environment. It provides vulnerable young girls with the skills and confidence to lift themselves out of poverty and become self-reliant models for other women. Team Tesfa provides an opportunity for teens to live in a safe and secure environment, while also receiving an education and support for their desire to run. The sports for development program is key at meeting teenagers where they are at and helping them to develop into young adults who can contribute to society and become stronger individuals.

A sample of innovative Team Tesfa programs over the years to support young athletes:


The Women Athletes for Literacy and Learning (WALL) Program places young athletes in schools and school libraries to assist and to mentor children. With training and support from Ethiopia Reads staff in Addis Ababa, women athletes lead reading circles in primary school libraries and classrooms. They lead in the formation of book clubs. They assist school staff. Women athletes get a chance to see themselves in a different light. That provide confidence and motivation in their own education. Many are still finishing primary or secondary grade levels in night school. They gain work experience in a new and challenging environment, and they will be mentored by professional women.

Teen House

We discovered early in working among the athletes that the most vulnerable among their number were, not surprisingly, the teenage girls. They are quietly dedicated to their training, living out daily lives in dangerous circumstances, committed to that opportunity for education or success that never comes. The teen house was established in 2008 as an environment for four teens (ages 14-18) to have safe shelter and education, a chance to train and acquire the education and skills to make their lives better as adults, while they get to train with the team, and — more importantly — giving them an opportunity to live without fear. They live together in the house, go to school, and spend their afternoons training with the team and also training in the sewing program. We are working on building a program in which alumni from the teen program take turns running a small, resident NGO or charity that administers to the needs of the new teens and the women of Team Tesfa. This program is called the ‘Transitions’ program. More news on this soon!

Work Skills

Our ideal is to provide our athletes with the tools and dignity to run for love of the sport, rather than from a desperate drive to survive. One key is education. Another is vocational skills. In one recent program, five women athletes were trained in marketable computer and design skills while working on real-world projects for the Twin-Cities firm of Bond and Devick.