W/ro Ferihiwot Gugessa is a ‘mother’ of hundred children in her “ራዕይ Raa’iy” (Vision) Academy, a charity school she has started and running for the last ten years. She established “Raa’iy” Academy after understanding the needy people’s demand of the area. She spends her days serving the poorest children who lost their families for different reasons. Some of the children live with HIV and all of them are the neediest children who depend on the school for education, educational materials and food.
She has been through lots of difficulties to reach the point where she is now serving more than 300 students and about 50 needy people who are living with HIV and elderly.
All she got to help these needy people is the compassion and sympathy to improve people’s life specially children who don’t have support from their families.
She has reached to the point where she run out of money to feed these hundred children and had to support them from her own house budget, including taking from her biological children’s food and clothing.
Now, Raa’iy academy is celebrating its 10th year anniversary with a bigger vision even though it has difficulties to sustainably support its bigger vision.
I spent a joyous day visiting the school and understand how it sustains the immense need of the children. W/ro Frehiwot warmly welcomed my visit to her academy to spend some time with her and her children. Here below is their stories.
Tell me how you started Raa’iy and your vision of that time:
We started this school as the second branch of the profitable school we used to run in this area. When we opened this branch our expectation was to enroll students who can be able to pay for their schooling.
However, the reality of this area is very much different from what we expected it to be. No parent has registered its children in the first few months but there were many parents asking if we can teach their children for free. When this request has become more frequent and since no paying parents are coming to our school, I happen to have a clear disclosure. I said to my husband “maybe we have to change this school to a charity where very poor children can enjoy free education”.
In our profit making school as well we used to help few students who cannot afford to pay. Once we decided to change this second branch to a charity school, everything was ready in the beginning. So we welcomed our students just like our profit making school, except that no payment is required from the students enrolled here.
At the beginning we received a total number of forty students. Among those, two were street children and now they have reached grade six and seven.
Who is entitled to enjoy education in this school and what do you provide for these children?
Most of them come here by the “Woreda” recommendation after conforming that they don’t have support from their families. We give priority for children living with HIV/AIDS and or have no family. In the beginning “Raa’iy” Academy was only focused in providing good quality education and educational materials.
Like I said, when we started this school, it was a profit making private school, so changing it to the charity school by itself was not an easy task. We had to cover school rent, teachers and administration salary, school uniform and educational materials.
After a few months, the teachers started noticing that the children don’t have a proper lunch. some brought pieces of bread and even “kollo” (roasted cereals). Some of them don’t even have food to eat. Others even eat a little left over from the table. After seeing this, teachers started to share their own lunch with these children. But the teachers’ capacity was limited to address every child. So they informed us about the situation.
If we want to provide education for these children, this was the next big milestone we have to accommodate. With our own limited budget and very little support from other kind visitors who witnessed the children’s situation, we started serving bread and milk or tea in the beginning and then we started lunch.
It’s not easy to provide breakfast and lunch for these children. There was a time that we had very little money to provide for every child. Thus, at some point serving lunch for every child was impossible so we had to prioritize children who are under six years of age and very needy or have nothing to eat at home. After a while this approach of addressing the very needy ones was not something I can carry on with my conscious mind. I said to myself, had these children were my own, I would have split everything among them So, I said, it should be the same way for these children as well.
All we have was faith in God that we will have support as long as we give it all we have. I believe, I have witnessed God’s support a day after we started serving equally for everyone. Two days after we started serving for everyone equally, local visitors came to visit our school and children. They have brought us lots of food items and some cash which gave us a relief and hope for some time.
W/ro Ferihiwot Gugessa
How many children you have in this school and how much does it cost you for a child?
Currently we have 111 students in the kindergarten in three different levels and for the grade students from 1st-4th grade there are 152. In addition, we support about 48 children in other public schools in grade five and six who have been with us until grade four.
Children who are learning in Raa’iy Academy are entitled to free education, educational materials, school uniforms and change clothing’s, shoes as well as food. The students who are attending grade five and six in other public schools benefit the same offer except food. Since they are attending in a different school allocating food for them in our compound is not convenient.
It’s difficult to estimate a fixed cost of a child per month, but we can estimate it from 400 to500ETB. This will include every benefit and facility they are enjoying now. The price range may go up and down according to the market fluctuation.
Where do you get your finical support to run Raa’iy Academy?
We have no regular support from any one. So far, we have reached here with the support of very few foreign and local individuals support. But it is not something we get in a regular basis. Me and my family life is full of worry and anxiety. What will we give tomorrow? How do we sustain the basics for our children? It’s such a worrisome commitment.
Do you remember any circumstance that touches your heart?
Yes, there are lots of them. Every day you hear a heart breaking story from these bright children. I remember there was a boy about three years of age, who is abandoned by his father and living with his ill mother. One day his mother gets critically sick and wanted him to call for help from the neighbors. The boy was only three and he has been through a lot of trauma with his sick mother. When his mother asked him to open the door and call for help the boy remained helpless and he could not open the door. Apparently his mother died before his eyes seeking for help. This boy shared his story when his teacher asked him to open the door for her. This boy is now 2nd grade student and in a better condition, though there is nothing we can do about his guilt of losing his mother.
What’s the vision of Raa’iy Academy after this 10th year anniversary?
We wish to sustain the basic need for these penurious children. It’s our aim to give education up to 8 grade and even more in our compound. We vision to get reliable support. We know that we are providing the best education we can provide in this squeezed budget. We have won two trophies from the woreda education bureau. Our vision is to improve as many children life as possible.
Who is behind this iron lady?
Would you please introduce yourself? What’s your role in supporting Raa’iy Academy?
My name is Mengesha Gebere-yesus. I am the husband of W/ro Ferhiwot. I serve as the managing director of the school. My wife has big dreams, which I share, of changing these children’s life for better. Even though it gets sometimes very difficult and frustrating, I believe I am doing my very best in supporting my wife’s dream. But it is costing us a lot bigger than we thought it would.
How do you go through all the difficult times that Raa’iy academies cause to your family and business?
I trusted my wife’s faith in God and her dreams. Sometimes her dream is much bigger than the reality on the ground. Our commercial school income, our private life expenditures and even our biological children’s expenses highly affect our endeavor to sustain this school and my wife’s dream. But I had to be patient enough to give her a chance to realize her big dreams. It’s so much difficult than I can tell you. But I was in debt to support her to pursue her dreams out of love and social responsibility. When I see the return of this charity school for many families and children lives I feel more proud of her.
What are the more important problems you are facing now?
We have budget and infrastructure problems. We don’t have sustainable income generation. In addition, our school classrooms construction materials are made from metal sheet and it’s below the standard. We want to provide a good quality education in a well-constructed classrooms.
Above all, we have no water access in our compound. It’s a school where more than 250 students spend their day; we want water for cleaning and cooking. We tried to ask every responsible body but so far there is no repose.
What the teacher learns from “Raa’iy” academy?
My name is Abebech Getaneh. I teach Amharic language and mathematics from 1st to 4thgrades. Teaching in such charity school is very different from teaching in other places. Your concern is not only about their education, but you should be helping as a mother, sister, friend and life trainer. You need to understand these students if they did not have done their homework as they have extended duty to support their families at home. You have to be patient to listen to their most important needs.
Sometimes we even wish not to hear their stories as it’s is so painful and beyond our capacity to ease their problems. It’s very difficult and painful to witness all these, but ironically it is very rewarding as well. Since making a little comfort and changing little things in their lives make me and every one of us so fulfilled.
A little boy with a not-so-common big vision
Abubeker Shemsu is 10 years old and 4th grader. Few years ago he lost his father from car accident. His mother has a surgery complication and is not healthy enough to generate sustainable income for the family. He is the only child for his mother. They live in his uncle’s house with five of his cousins. Abubeker said the house is one medium size room for eight members of the merged family. I asked him about his duties and future dreams.
What is your favorite subject and hobby?
I love mathematics and enjoy painting different arts.
Abubeker Shemsu and his favorite painting
Do you have a duty at home?
Yes. It’s me who do everything for my mother. I clean the house; I make the bed, and carry whatever my mother sells on the street. Since she has three operations (surgeries) she cannot carry things, so I help her.
What kind of support do you get in this school?
The school gives me free education, educational materials, uniforms, breakfast and lunch.
I heard that you are one of the best students that Raa’iy Academy is proud of. What is your dream in the future?