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Kobi Academy

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Rating: 5

I spent April in Addis this year, volunteering for 3 fun-filled weeks at the new preschool/lower elementary school there called Kobi Academy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. It's an English-medium school founded by Ethiopian-American David Makonnen, who is contributing to his native country in this powerful way after living and working in the States since he was 15.

Walking every day from my comfortable, friendly guest house in Addis, I reached the school easily and found teachers outside the gate warmly greeting parents and students as they walked into the school yard. Sixty students - ranging from 3 - 7 and wearing deep red uniforms - dashed around, playing on the climbing gym, going down the slide, and playing games of tag. We got to know each other quickly through songs and dances we did together in those free times as well as lots of conversations.

Kobi Academy now has a small daycare nursery, 3 kindergarten classes (based on age and experience in the classroom), and one 1st grade class. Their teachers are enthusiastic and loving. Now students have "choice time" - a daily 20-minute period - in which they can choose to play with blocks of varying sizes and shapes, put together puzzles, or play board or card games. They love these new experiences! Their regular classes - all taught by the same teacher - include English, math, art, science, and Amharic (the language of their students).

The focus of my volunteering was setting up a library of 225+ books for student and teacher use. Almost all of the books were donated by individuals and schools in Seattle and brought over in suitcases. With help from the school's security guard, a parent, and others, we organized all those books into fiction and non-fiction sections. The books were stamped with the Kobi label; those wonderful "old-time" pockets were glued in, identifying cards stuck in the pockets, and protected labels secured to the spines. We sorted fiction into 4 different levels of reading and non-fiction into simple Dewey Decimal categories, using just 100, 700, 900 etc. to organize them.

We cleared out a room to be used exclusively for the library, had the walls repainted a soft green, and rolled out new plastic "flooring" to cover the dusty cement. Posters on the walls now identify the two sections (fiction and non-fiction) in 3 bookcases along three walls, and little Ikea chairs provide perching places for the kids to look at these new books.

Then came training, class by class, on how to care for the books (wash hands first!), to turn pages without damaging them, and to check them out individually with their own names on the cards. The excitement was palpable as they chose their first books to take back to their classes! Each class has one library period a week for returning and checking out books and hearing stories read aloud.

One of my fondest memories was seeing kids rush to the library when they saw me coming. Like bees to honey, they flew in - eager to look and look and maybe even read a few words in English from a book. "Finish, ma'm, finish!" they said as they turned in one book and asked for another. Their eagerness and joy was written all over their beautiful faces.