Against the Odds

Editors’ note: In “No Longer Cursed,” Ethiopian-based journalist Maria Gerth-Niculescu writes about how blind Ethiopian children and teens — against all of the odds their culture sets against them — receive an education and a chance at independence, thanks to the dedication of a community of religious women, the Daughters of St. Anne. Listen to Maria’s personal impressions after having visited the rural school. A full transcript follows.

Reporting on the St. Raphael Boarding School in Azezo was a very humbling experience. It was at the same time uplifting to see that, despite all the challenges for blind children to get proper access to education and other activities in Ethiopia, such initiatives do exist and they fulfill their mission with great care and dedication.

But some moments we witnessed were also a reminder of the precariousness in which many blind children grow up in Ethiopia. The boarding school provides classes until grade four. But after that, students attend public school. This is important for them in order to meet students outside of St. Raphael and slowly get prepared for life after school.

But when we visited one of the public schools, it was sad to see how bad the teaching conditions were for children in general, meaning overcrowded classrooms with few standing desks or benches, but also classrooms that were falling apart, let alone for children with disabilities such as the students of St. Raphael. The terrain was extremely difficult to navigate for them, with stones and roots sticking out of the ground. 

Another thing that I vividly remember were the hours spent outside of classes in the St. Raphael compound. There is this one shelter where children spend hours listening to the radio in silence and with the utmost concentration. There are many other activities they engage in, but this one seemed to be one of the favorites. And through this medium, they also quickly learn about the outside world. 

Sister Haregewein, who runs the compound, said that they were very well aware of the political conflicts going on in the country and in the Amhara region where they live. These children are and will be an integral part of the community, the town they live in. Some of them become lawyers, work at the local administration, or even start teaching. And I think these perspectives for the future is what keeps the people who run the boarding school going and explains their dedication.

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