Thursday, February 17, 2011

Ethiopia: Nazret, Day 9, English Alive Academy

Spent the morning at the English Alive Academy grade school campus, teaching.

During the morning break, there was a great bustling as the 2nd graders moved all of the contents of their classroom into the grade 4 classroom, while the 4th graders moved their room's contents into another room. It took all of about 10 minutes, the children moved so quickly. I no sooner picked up an item to carry than it was whisked out of my hands by a child's hands. Eventually, I just got the hell out of the way.

This activity occurred so a carpenter and an electrician could install a new wall and wiring into the grade 2 room, creating a space for the new "computer room."

At lunch, I went to Azeb's as usual, and Stephanie and Dawit had arrived with their two little ones. (Dawit had called me earlier in the week to say they'd come in to Nazret on Thursday and bring me back to Addis rather than my taking the public bus back. This also gave the young'ns an opportunity to visit with their "Nana," and for S&D to check on things at the school.) Stephanie and I talked the entire afternoon about the school, fund-raising, planning, etc.

Stephanie and Dawit have somehow kept the school afloat for five years, at great sacrifice to themselves. To make their school dream a reality, for example, Dawit actually left his job at an embassy in Addis, a good job that would have provided him with lifetime financial stability. They lived on Stephanie's income at another school so Dawit could devote full time to their vision of a good education for poor children.

For five years, Stephanie and Dawit have used their own Spartan resources to cover gaps in payroll, respond to financial emergencies that come with building, vehicle, and regulatory maintenance; and provide school supplies. (An example of regulatory maintenance: When the government tax people saw that S&D did not operate the school in the black, the tax official said they must be hiding something, because anyone who didn't make money would have closed the school. S&D were assessed 6000 birr for taxes, which is the equivalent to 361 dollars US. This is a huge amount of money to S&D, but to keep the school open, they had to find the money somewhere from their own pockets.)

I talked with Stephanie about how she and Dawit need to at least establish a salary for themselves on paper, even if the school doesn't yet generate any money to pay for it. I used friend Pam's experience as the director of a not-for-profit adoption agency, where even though she only could pay herself if an adoption went through (and one never knew when or how often that might happen), it was important for Pam to establish a monthly salary. This has application at tax times, when applying for grants, for planning, etc. I advocated that this salary needs to be averaged across the 200 student sponsorships so that when there are sponsors, Stephanie and Dawit could actually pay themselves for their work. Besides, their two kids are young and easy maintenance now, but as they get older .... (Currently, Stephanie home schools the two kids. They call her Miss Stephanie during class.)

So Stephanie and I worked out a salary for her and Dawit, currently at half time, as administrators (Stephanie as the academic manager and Dawit as the operations manager), that will provide them with a sustainable income. The amount is so low by Western standards, it is shocking -- less than $200 for BOTH of them together! It adds only 90 cents to the monthly student sponsorship amount.

We also added some bits to the monthly student scholarship fee to start up a reserve fund (with a goal, at minimum, of three months' expenses to operate the school) and also a short-term emergency fund (e.g. building and vehicle breakdowns, etc.) The monthly student sponsorship will be $19.00 per month or $228 per year. Having the reserve fund is an organizational best practice and that, plus a short-term emergency fund will alleviate much current stress the two feel about the school's constant living-on-the-edge existence.

Another funding stream will be through teacher sponsorships, which will eventually cover the teachers' salaries (also shockingly low!), a protective lab coat, teaching supplies, and professional development. Currently, the teachers' salaries are NOT where S&D want them to be, but they can barely pay them now as it is. If the teachers get sponsored, then S&D can increase their salaries to above the going market rate, plus create a stable payroll safety net that does not depend solely on student scholarships.

Eventually, there will also be a building campaign. The Ethiopian government promised S&D to give them free land if they collect the money to build a school on it. S&D are in the process now of pulling information together to estimate the cost to build a school. One dream here is to have dorms so children who live too far from a school can live on campus during the school week.

In a meeting with Adenech this evening, Dawit and Stephanie and she made their decision to add grades 5 through 8 next year! Whew! They are fearless in their dreams. They just do stuff and assume it will work out OK.

And so far, it has.

No comments: