Sunday, December 30, 2012
It is an African land whose name evokes images of suffering and biblical-scale famine.
For a generation, Ethiopia brings to mind grim news footage of hollow-eyed children with swollen bellies - the kind that spurred Bob Geldof to mastermind the Live Aid appeal.
But for youngsters at a Norfolk village school the exotic country, although critically poor, is a place of mountainous scenery, beaming schoolchildren, pen-pals and friendship.
Five to seven year olds at Ormesby Village Infant School have been writing letters and swapping information about their schools with chums at Interlakes School, Debre Zeit.
The rural school of 170 pupils is an hour’s drive from the capital Addis Ababa and is partly funded by twinning arrangements like the one with Ormesby which pays £250 a year to help the school and preserve the connection.
Headteacher Lucy Bates said so far the children had only got to grips with the happier elements of the country’s culture, joining with children whose everyday lives were in many ways much like theirs.
She said the school, already allied to one in Southall, London, had wanted to connect with one overseas to broaden the children’s horizons and chime with Ofsted requirements about diversity.
So far youngsters had exchanged letters but in future would identify with each other through shared topics like festivals and celebrations.
Mrs Bates said the school had been looking to make a link in the run up to the London 2012 Olympics and had had some offers from across the globe.
However the suggested link with Ethiopia had come through the British Council and seemed a good match for Ormesby.
So far pupils at Interlakes who do all their lessons in English have sent a power point presentation on their school which seems modern, with flushing toilets.
Next term the children are set to learn more about Ethiopia through the school’s globe-trotting Barnaby Bear who will make it his mission to visit “virtually” and tell them all he knows about the Christian country, said to be the cradle of civilisation, and its customs.
Mrs Bates said the work sent over from Ethiopia was “pretty amazing” since youngsters were working in their second language.
She said: “The country has come a long way and part of our money will go towards improving conditions at the school.
“It is good for the children because they get an awareness of the diversity of the world. We talk about the similarities and the fact that a lot of things are the same although things will be different like clothes and food.
“The world is a big place with a lot of different people. We have a responsibility to promote cohesion and we are trying to make children aware that they live in a diverse global community.
“It is nice that the link is with a school in Africa because it helps us to tackle some myths about starving children, although that sort of poverty still persists.”