Elsa Gezahegn King has been a trustee on our UK board for six years. She has a background in girls and womens equality working in both Ethiopia and the UK and provides vital support and guidance to the Together We Learn teams on approaches to girls’ education, working effectively with communities, and much more besides!
Elsa was interviewed for our most recent School Links newsletter, read on to see what she shared.
How does your own experience of education influence the work you do as a trustee?
For me, education is really important to make sure children, especially girls, have choices in later life. I’m not from a particularly well-off family and grew up in the poorest area of Addis Ababa but my parents were able to pay for an affordable government subsidised school. This meant that there were 70-80 children in my class (compared to 30 in private schools and up to 100 in government schools).
As you can imagine, in this situation it can be challenging to get all the support you need from teachers so it all depends on you to learn, understand and succeed in your studies. Secondary school was no different but I worked really hard and was lucky enough to pass the Ethiopian School Leaving Exam and was selected to study accounting in Addis Ababa Commercial College. Education has given me choices in life, and I want all children, particularly those with multiple disadvantages to have the same opportunity. I have been working in the charity sector both in Ethiopia and the UK for the last two decades and my commitment as a trustee at Together We Learn helps me to contribute to this.
Tell us about your passion project
A few years ago, I was involved in a project tackling the impact of child marriage in Gonder area; in this project I worked with about 15 child mothers and child brides who taught me a lot about the impact of poverty and lack of education. These women were so determined to use their capacity to prevent other girls from being child brides. Therefore, they set up a women’s network called ልጅነቴ – my childhood. After the original funder phased out, I was very grateful Together We Learn secured funding to continue supporting the project for a few more years!
Together We Learn doesn’t just provide the school materials which children need, it also provides social, medical and nutrition support for the whole family. This helps the children to stay in school rather than being forced to leave school to financially support their family. When working with young women, I have learned that most of them had access to primary education but since there are no secondary schools in their local areas, the parents have to make the decision whether they can afford to send their children to the nearest big town or city. Sadly, they have to choose between their children and mainly boys are preferred to girls to continue their secondary education. The girl is often left behind to help with house chores. Her family then decides to marry her off at an early age – as young as 11 years old – to secure her future and have a family of her own. What choice does she have? That’s why I believe all children deserve opportunities in education.
What has been the impact of the recent conflict in Ethiopia on the children in our link schools?
I can’t exactly say that I completely understand what it feels like living in the areas of Ethiopia affected by conflict and how hard life must be for the children at this time as I have been living in the UK for nearly twenty years. But I can relate to the impact of war and conflict in education from my childhood when there was a civil war between the then Derg regime and EPRDF. There were times we had to stay at home for months to be safe with limited learning resources.
Although we were children, the situation affected us emotionally, psychologically and (in some cases) physically. In times of conflict, there are frequent power and internet cuts which limits children’s study time. They won’t even be allowed to play outside. Conflict means that families won’t have as many choices so we might see children dropping out of school. Together We Learn’s continued support is making a huge difference to children.
Since the start of the conflict we have seen children and young people in Ethiopia having to leave education. If you are interested in sponsoring a student, contact our Sponsorship Coordinator, Elle Harris – [email protected].