We’re Teaching Teachers

Jules teaching a teacherIn 2014 Hearts Full of Happy added teacher training to our support of students in Ethiopia. Interviews at schools during previous trips indicated the need for better English skills and computer knowledge. As a result we brought laptops, projectors, and four U.S. instructors to Berhane Yesus School in Dembi Dollo. The computers were loaded with Rosetta Stone for ESL and Kahn Academy lessons in science, math, social studies and history. We spent two weeks instructing  teachers in the use of laptops in their classrooms. During the 2014-15 school year the teachers told us the students’ favorite classes were when they got to use Rosetta Stone in the classroom. The Berhane Yesus teachers asked us to come back and work with them further in computer training. In this way, we were able to help over 550 students with English skills at Berhane Yesus Elementary School.

Hearts Full of Happy returned in June of 2015 with five U.S. instructors and five more laptops and projectors for classroom use. We continued the teacher training at Berhane Yesus and also worked with fourteen teachers from the Catholic Mission in Dembi Dollo. The laptops were loaded with Wikipedia as well as Rosetta Stone and Kahn Academy. We DSCF0223expect more than1000 students to benefit from this effort by Hearts Full of Happy.

Our support of individual students continues. We have two new students, Mitiku and Garamu, who will go to the university this fall with our help, a new high school student in Gimbie, Chala, a group of 17 girls from Dembi Dollo who we will support, plus continued support for 30 students from Gimbie. We had one proud university student, Girma, graduate this summer with a degree in economics, and are now supporting a medical student, Abdi, and a water engineering student, Abinet, at the university level. Hearts Full of Happy also helps Tulema kindergarten on the outskirts of IMG_0558Dembi Dollo by paying the teachers’ salaries and providing nutritional support. All of these achievements are made possible by the generous and continued support of our volunteers and donors. Thank you.

October Newsletter

Intrepid Travelers

Months of planning, scheming, coordinating, and hair pulling culminated in this summer’s Hearts Full of Happy trip to Ethiopia. Four teachers from the U.S., Julie DuMond, Patrice Prentice, Karen Pagan and I, arrived in Addis Ababba the morning of July 5th, loopy with jet lag but excited. Our luggage was stuffed with 500 toy trucks and art supplies for kindergartens, 600 surgical masks for a clinic, 45 ball caps, four laptops, speakers, projectors, screens, assorted plugs, wires, and surge protectors. We resembled a donkey train.

The drive to Gimbie the next day evoked more than a few gasps caused by sharing the road with cattle, donkeys, sheep, goats, dogs, and people. An occasional muffled scream and much laughter also punctuated our journey. Once in Gimbie, our three university students greeted us in spite of the heavy rain and proudly showed us their school documents and talked about their research assignments. HFOH has helped them since they were elementary students and their confidence in their futures is apparent. We checked on the progress of another 25 students in Gimbie that we help with Sister Susy.

The road on to Dembi Dollo was a quagmire of stranded busses, tilted transport trucks, and immobile bulldozers. We looked down on straw huts with smoke sifting upward and we looked up at mountains shrouded in fog.

The next two weeks in Dembi Dollo flew. We trained teachers, worked with university students, were honored with coffee ceremonies and a splendid feast. We were invited into homes for traditional dinners of injera and doro wot. Twenty of the children we sponsor in Dembi Dollo gathered one Sunday afternoon to show us their report cards and to thank us. We hung out with children from the compound in the afternoons and taught them the Hokey Pokey. They attempted to teach us intricate footwork that accompanied their songs. Nights brought older guests into our living room and we played charades and a written version of telephone with them. Late at night we heard an assortment of things that go bump in the night. The bats chirped as they took off en masse at dusk, monkeys stomped on our tin roof whenever they felt like it, and hyenas and stray dogs howled in the distance.

We left Dembi Dollo early one morning with the Colobus monkeys chattering overhead while pitching avocado seeds at us and the donkeys braying. We were ready to get to Addis and to running water and were tired of our daily diet of potatoes, rice, cabbage, and carrots. But, we were sad to leave the kids who hung around the guest house, the teen aged boys who visited every evening, the teachers we had so loved to teach, and the kindness, hospitality and generosity of the people of Dembi Dollo.

-Sue Leister

We Left Our Hearts in Tulema

Our adventure today took us to the Tulema kindergarten. We haven’t had as much interaction with children as we would like since most school is on summer hiatus, so we were excited to pile into a truck and head to nearby Tulema. Our driver Alemo was pretty good about navigating the sea of mud that took us through town and to the school, though we still white-knuckled over a few of the hills and potholes. When we arrived, we were greeted by 25 – 35 beautiful children who lit up a dark, muddy school house with a darling version of Frere Jacques and other songs. More arrived throughout our visit.

The children followed us to a church building where we met with the school principal and various elders who gave a report on how Hearts Full of Happy funds are being spent. Though this was an adults-only meeting, we could hear the whispers and giggles of the children outside. Karen had brought out donations of art supplies, including glitter, and that proved to be a HUGE hit with all the adults, who had never seen anything like it. Later, when the kids were able to see the material, it was clear that they wanted school to start immediately!

The meeting was followed by an absolute feast of lamb on a spit and potato-chippy things, ending as always with Ethiopian coffee.  They gifted us all with beautiful beads, and they dressed Sue like an Oromo bride. The kids were peeking into the room, so at Karen’s suggestion, we did a very popular round of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes, and the Hokey Pokey. The children were still excited to do more, which inspired Julie to teach a version of Singing in the Rain. It was a hoot to see her surrounded by a huge group of children of all ages singing and dancing.

Too soon, it was time to head back. It was very hard to leave the children. Though they are desperately poor, they are so full of life, hope, and fun. They followed us all the way back down the hill.

With an increase in rain, our vehicle shimmied and skidded all over the road on the way back. As soon as we returned to the guest house, we started to think about how we might further support this wonderful group of students and even grow the number of kids who attend the school.

-Patrice Prentice
Teaching at Berhane Yesus

High on the wall of the Teacher’s Room at Berhane Yesus school in Dembi Dollo is a shallow cabinet. Behind the locked glass door are dozens of small sticky notes covered with tiny handwriting. This is the yearly master schedule for the entire school: who teaches what, where and when. Lining the walls are narrow wooden lockers, one for each teacher. There is plenty of room inside each locker for personal belongings and a full year’s supply of classroom materials. In most cases, the materials are nothing more than a teacher’s manual. Chalk and erasers are available, but must be checked out on a daily basis from the principal.

Berhane Yesus is a series of single and double room buildings connected by walkways on the side of a well-shaded hill. Colorful murals are painted on the ends of the buildings. Lining the walkways is an assortment of flowers and shrubs planted and maintained by students. Low two-foot fences have been built out of long saplings to protect the gardens. Along the top row of each fence, as an effective deterrent to perchers and sitters, is a single row of barbed wire.

Our four computers were loaded with Rosetta Stone and Kahn Academy software and our job was to ease the severe shortage of textbooks by introducing the use of computers and software to be used in the classrooms by individual teachers. Wakgari, the principal, let us choose the library to teach computer classes for two weeks. Setting up the room was simple. Tables were pushed together and the projector screen was attached to the wall using a rock to drive a nail into a wooden bookcase corner. Electricity was usually available if it was not raining and mostly allowed the four laptops to stay charged throughout a full day of classes.

We had the privilege of teaching six enthusiastic and dedicated teachers daily for two weeks. Adanech and Terfatu, two women who have taught there for over 30 years, sat side by side watching us and uttering barely a word. The school had one ancient desk top computer which the women were not allowed to touch. Towards the end of the first lesson Adanech hesitantly took her turn at the laptop. Fifteen minutes later she had turned on the computer, opened a program and managed to type her name. Her face lit up with a brilliant smile at her achievement!

Adanech and Terfatu spoke very little that first week of class. With furrowed brows and pursed lips they listened, watched, and slowly tapped away at the keyboard while learning various programs. After a few hours of hard work each morning, a much needed coffee break was taken where both women spoke animatedly. One day, with dancing eyes and beautifully accented English, Terfatu explained how she and Adanech had told Sue and Ryan the previous year that Berhane Yesus needed computers. Neither had expected it to happen so soon and they told everyone in the teacher’s lounge that they were the ones who made it happen. “Berhane Yesus will be famous now,” Terfatu exclaimed. “No one else in Dembi Dollo has computers in the classrooms or knows how to use the projectors. We will be famous.”

Hearts Full of Happy simply provided a few tools and instruction. The Berhane Yesus teachers provide the enthusiasm, drive and creativity to figure out the best way to use those tools to expand their teaching and enrich their students

-Karen Pagan

Then & Now (A Post By Ryan)

The first time I came to Ethiopia was in the summer of 2010. At that time, Sue and I had no preconceived goals or expectations for what I should film, she just knew that I needed to capture the people & culture that she has fallen in love with these past 10 years…

Now back for my second time, we are here to dive further into some of the problems that students face. We are learning about education initiatives, what works and what doesn’t, and how we can best help in addition to the student scholarships that HFOH is currently providing. As with any large and complex issue, there are no easy answers, nor is there any single thing that will solve the problems of overcrowded schools, malnutrition, scarce learning materials, and limited english-speaking teachers…

Yesterday we were told by the head of a government high school that the average class size is around 95 students… and we thought as Americans that our classes were too full…

There are many educational support opportunities for HFOH to contribute to in the future, but we do not want to be so quick to give any recommendations. We will listen.

Ryan’s Film

But A Dream from Ryan Gaddis on Vimeo.

In the summer of 2010, Ryan Gaddis had the unique opportunity to travel to Ethiopia with Sue Leister to shoot a documentary on behalf of Hearts Full of Happy. The video above is his reaction to this experience.  The Ethiopian folktale below is a part of his film.

“People don’t like stories that have no endings,” I said. “There must be some sort of ending.”

“Very well,” he/she agreed. “Here is your ending.”

The case went before the three wise judges again. The first judge said that the girl should go to the musician. The second judge said she should go to the marksman. The third judge said the girl should go to the strong swimmer. “There is your ending.”

“But that isn’t an ending,” I protested. “Nothing has been decided!”

“Nothing is ever decided in this life,” he answered. “But here is another ending for you.”

The father, in desperation, finally decided to leave the choice up to the girl. From that time on, women have been allowed to choose their husbands “That will make the story interesting – but false.”

“And whom did she choose?!” I asked.

He laughed. “She could not make up her mind. I like that ending. It has some truth in it.”

“But it is not an ending,” I protested. “We are right back where we started.”

“Good,” he said. “Then I must go. If you want an ending for that story, you must find it for yourself.”



(October 26)

Sunday night Lema told me “good dreams” as he left my house. He sleeps downstairs in a salon of sorts and I assumed he slept on the one couch in the room. He told me he sleeps on the floor but has the blanket I loaned him. He also told me he is “Sue guard” and will return to his room once I leave. That night he heard a noise so came upstairs and woke me to make sure  I was ok. He knocks on my door at 7 every morning, first to check for varmits in the living room because I slam the door shut at night, then he boils water for my coffee and bucket shower before he walks down the road for bread. Last night he sat at the table rubbing his head and telling me I was going to America and would forget him. “Teecha, mother, grandmother,” he said as tears streamed down his face. Don’t forget Lema. Write.

Lema’s Curfew

Lema. I’m finding him both a joy and a challenge. Lema is an orphan, 24 years old and in the 7th grade because he wants a better life. He came with my house and I’m still not sure of his job description. He hauls water for me but I haven’t a clue where he gets it or on which days. If we run out I point it out to him and sometimes he brings in gallons and other times nothing. He points to the identical jerry cans and tell me “clean” or “washing.” Washing comes from the river, rainwater drips off the rusted tin roof of the house. I boil all of it. One  morning we got in a huge ruckus over the salt I tried to put in my oatmeal. “NO, Teacha, NO, is not sugar.” “Yes, Lema, I know.” Teecha……NO!” I finally won that one and the next morning I noticed he used a bit of salt himself in our porridge. This weekend I stayed overnight at the boarding school and didn’t get home until after dark the next day. Stumbled home in the dark because the power was out but as soon as I found the candles and lit them, Lema showed up. He sat at the table with a very dark face and scolded me for being gone all day…..”where is Sue….all day…many people.” I’m not sure he’ll let me out again. He didn’t show up to prepare breakfast and I think he was getting even with me by doing so. Water has to be boiled on a charcoal fire in the mornings and he knows I can’t do that.
He eats dinner with me every  night and then we play charades although we don’t call it that. His vocabulary is limited to very few nouns and phrases like “inform you, communicate, therefore.”  Makes interesting nighttime conversation until I yawn and tell him good dreams. He then shakes my hand, tells me to have good dreams, and walks off into the darkness. He’s already upset that Teecha Sue is leaving in two weeks. Possibly he thought I’d already left last night when I didn’t come home…haven’t been scolded like that since I was a teen and got home late from a date!

The Look

I couldn’t get the cook or Lemma to understand I needed to be at
school for the opening ceremony this morning so I left without my
porridge, much to their consternation. Then I found out my first class
is at two this afternoon so I volunteered to teach a second grade
class that was sitting without a teacher. First half went
great….”hello, my name is…. this a table, book, chair”. After a
while they got restless so I tried my teacher glare, then yelled
QUIET, they yelled QUIET back at me happily…proud of the new word I taught them! Will see what happens
with grades seven and eight this afternoon.


One should never leave home without it, especially if the trip
involves four legs and one stop in Frankfurt. I stood in wrong lines,
went down dead end hallways, and had interesting conversations with fellow travelers and airline personnel during my 13 hour wait in
Frankfurt. But all the chaos was behind me once I retrieved all four
bags from the conveyor belt in Bole, got through immigration without my luggage being examined, and saw a tall man holding a sign outside customs with Sue Leister on it. He not only had a van waiting for me, he stopped by the Hilton so I could buy a mobile phone that works in Ethiopia, let me exchange dollars for birr, and made a coffee stop before getting me to the guest house in Gulele.

Once in my room I heard a loud discussion downstairs and thought an argument was taking place until I heard loud “amens”….a church service! A lively golden retriever barreled into my room, leash in mouth and growling for a walk. He will be riding to Dembi Dollo with us tomorrow.

Sisters Susy and Mati from Gimbie came by this afternoon and life is good once more. Their cheerfulness, adaptability, energy, and devotion always leave me in awe. Tomorrow we leave for Dembi Dollo with a stop in Gimbie, all fifteen suitcases are loaded and there is room for people in the truck.

Letter from Germa and Ibrahim in 2006

From Girma and Ibrahim  the year after we bought a donkey for each of their mothers. No way can I make up this email!

First of all we want to ask you greeting. How are you? Please Sue, we like to say thank you because of you helped us, always we are thinking about you. When we say this we didn’t see still now like you polite helper and kindful. The donkey that you bought for us she laid a female donkey. Now we have another donkey no need of explain. Yesterday we email for you through your email is reaches you. Just on this email we want explain about our donkey only please email back for us. Please say hello for all your daughters.

Girma and Ibraham

The “daughters” they mention are Ellen, my granddaughter, Caroline, my neighbor, and Corie who is Caroline’s best friend.  All were nineteen and the boys could not understand our connection…….”daughters” works fine for Uncle Sue.