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Ethiopia is a country in which average literacy rates are solidly below 50%; in which half the population is 16 years of age and below, in which average school enrollment figures have never topped 70%; in which average school enrollment figures among children 6 years of age and younger are below 5%. Latest census figures show Ethiopia's population topping 85 million, making it second in Africa, and growing by one of the ten fastest rates in the world. It doesn't take much imagination to gauge the importance of education and literacy in this nation, which is historically a leader in Africa, and which consistently stands as a bulwark in a politically fragile East Africa.

We began by working with kindergarten ages (4-6) because this was the biggest need. In 2004, there was no public kindergarten available in Ethiopia. Only about 3% of kindergarten-age children were in school. Since then, Tesfa has focused on supporting education for primary ages in the countryside. And since, then the Ethiopian government has made a commitment to early childhood education, implementing kindergarten in urban schools. It will be some time until classrooms are available across the country to all ages, but we are committed to being a part of that effort.

Since 2004, Tesfa has helped found ten schools, with the capacity to serve more than 1,000 children.  Learn more about each of these schools below.


A unique and committed community of adoptive parents, fair-trade coffee roasters, and supporters of literacy in Ethiopia, in both the US and the UK, came together to raise funds for the construction of Tesfa’s eighth school, and its first school project in the Southern Nations region of Ethiopia. The region is Kembata-Tembaro, and the small village served is called Kololo.

Donors ran marathons in the US, cycled across Britain, sewed clothing, made jewelry, and donated art and photography for a silent auction. Families signed up to be sponsors, and in just a few short months the money was raised for a nonformal primary school, kindergarten, and school library. Tesfa project manager Cien Keilty-Lucas led a local crew for the build a unique design in local materials, and the children of Kololo were able to enter their very first classroom in the fall of 2012.


Mike Schumacher decided to make his retirement count. He built a school in Ethiopia.

By the time Mike talked to anyone at the Tesfa Foundation, he had done a lot of thinking. Early retirement was approaching, and Mike wanted to do something meaningful with his new time and freedom. He did a lot of reading. He did a lot of questioning: what would be the best way to give back?

His solution was not so different from ours: education is the way to effect meaningful change. It's the way to change the life of one child for the better, and it's the only way to foster permanent societal change for the better.

What Mike found in the Tesfa Foundation was an agency with nuts-and-bolts experience on the ground in Ethiopia. With six school projects under our belt, we had proven that we could fund, build, supply, and staff schools on lean budgets but with an eye on quality. The executive director of our foundation has been directly involved in every build, working side by side with reliable partners in Ethiopia whom he has trained and with whom he has worked for years.

Mike and his church in Green Bay, Wisconsin worked together to raise the funds for the school, Mike himself offering the first and largest donation. He wanted this school to be the finest possible. Altogether, Mike and his church raised over $30,000 for the construction and furnishing of the school, and for the first year of operations. In the future, the church school will sister with the Ethiopia school, and parents will help to sponsor ongoing operations.

The school went up in the spring of 2010 in the village of Ekodaga, a small farming village in the Oromo region of central Ethiopia. Until now, children in Ekodaga have had to walk half an hour to the nearest school – those children who weren't kept home to herd the family's livestock. The school in Ekodaga will operate according to a 'nonformal' format, adapted to the needs of farmers' families. And villages even further from available schools, children who have had to walk an hour and more, will have a closer and more accommodating option.

And Mike? He traveled to Ekodaga with his daughter and participated in the build himself. He made some enduring friendships in Ekodaga. He has seen what the school means to this village. He plans to visit regularly.

Latest contributions to the Ekodaga community have been:  a fence around the school compound, a playground for the community’s children, and an extension of the nearest town’s water pipes so that the community and school have water.

Opened in October 2009, the Mercato School is the Tesfa Foundation's sixth school. A kindergarten project in the Mercato district had long been on of our goals because of the tremendous need. This historic neighborhood is one of the poorest in Addis Ababa and comprises one of the most challenging environments for young children: densely populated, plagued by crime and lacking in safe public spaces.  Early childhood education for the poorest in the city is nearly non-existent.  Funding for the establishment of the Mercato School came from Nathalie Allexant and Gareth Rowland in Salisbury, England who raised funds around their wedding in August, 2008.  This school was one of the most difficult to organize because the Mercato district has little space to accommodate a school.  Nonetheless, it has been the most rewarding so far:  these students are the most disadvantaged among all in our programs. 


The village of Gobame is about 20 kilometers outside of Bahir Dar in the Amhara region of northern Ethiopia. It is a farming village, and the nearest schools were in the city of Bahir Dar. Needless to day, very few children had the option to go to school. Most worked on the farm, tending sheep and cattle as young as three years of age. This project was an opportunity for the Tesfa Foundation to expand its agenda into nonformal primary models for rural families. This is a model that was a model worked out by the Ethiopia Ministry of Education in concert with UNICEF, a curriculum and schedule adapted to farming families whose every member have to work at harvest time. This was also the first opportunity for Tesfa to sponsor full school construction. The project included construction of four rooms in local mud-wall tradition. We helped to hire and train. The student population was 250+. The school opened in 2008. Several years later, local officials took over the facility in order to develop a formal primary program.

The Tserah Tsion kindergarten was a project in partnership with the Tserah Tsion Orthodox church in the town of Mojo. They had built a number of classrooms on a wide plot of land. The Tesfa Foundation helped build more classrooms, staff and train, and launch the kindergarten in 2007, serving 200+ children. Tesfa supported this school directly for two years. Then a local family made a bid on taking over operations, and have since expanded the school to serve even more children.

The Hope Academy in Debre Zeit was the second school founded on the 2005 Annenberg Foundation grant. Debre Zeit is a town about an hour south of the capital, Addis Ababa. The school was opened in 2006, and served an annual population of 60 children, ages 4 and 5, with a two-year kindergarten program for five years. In the recent transition. As new government support for public kindergarten reached Debre Zeit, the Tesfa Foundation decided that this would become one of our experimental transitions into helping the government implement its own kindergarten programs to better effect, so we redirected our resources -- in partnership with Ethiopia Reads -- into developing the kindergartn program at the Dukem Primary School #1, in the same area.

School Number Two was the Tsegereda Kindergarten in Mojo. This was the first expansion project funded by the 2005 Annenberg Foundation grant. The school opened in 2005 and served 150 children, ages 4 and 5 with two years of kindergarten. Two years later, some of the young people who helped implement this program asked if they could form their own resident non-profit to manage the school. The Tesfa Foundation agreed to support them through a transition of taking over the school. They named their organization 'Bright Futures', and took over management of the school in 2007. This project allowed us our first model for passing off our school projects to responsible local partners. Local ownership is almost always the most ethical and most efficient option.

The Tsegereda Kindergarten was our first school project in Ethiopia, opened in the beautiful but poor Shiro Meda district of Addis Ababa, located right underneath Mount Entoto. Tsegereda was Leeza's name among the family when she was kindergarten age, and so the name seemed perfect for the kindergarten project. This school served 60 children from the most disadvantaged families in the neighborhood for seven years. As the federal government successfully implemented public kindergarten among the government primary schools in the district, Shiro Meda became our first experimentation in directing our funding and attention toward supporting the government in its own early childhood education policy. With the same budget outlay, we help more than twice the number of local children, through teacher training and mentoring, classroom materials, and after-school tutorials. Though the Tsegereda Kindergarten is now closed, it lives on in the hearts of the board and Tesfa supporters and symbol of our first work to ensure access to education to all children in Ethiopia.