Final reflections on the CHANGE project in Ethiopia

26 March 2024 by Jemila Hussen, People in Need

I am Jemila and I have worked for People in Need (PIN) CHANGE: Improving Access to Education in Ethiopia for most marginalised girls project for the last five years. I was the project manager, overseeing the project activities, budget, action plans, logistics and other project related tasks.

At the beginning of our project, we found that identification and enrolment of out-of-school and highly marginalised girls were the biggest challenges. There was no information on out-of-school girls: no data at the school level or in education offices at Wereda, zonal or regional levels. Instead, we had to tap into the community members and local government structures.

Our early objectives were to identify out-of-school and highly marginalised girls and enrol them in the non-formal education system to develop their literacy and numeracy skills, and secure their attendance. The non-formal system includes Alternative Basic Education (ABE) and Integrated Functional Adult Literacy (IFAL) programmes.

A two-to-three-year commitment for these girls was challenging. Many of them were the most marginalised – poor, young mothers, and some with disabilities. They often came to school without having eaten. If they were too hungry, they simply didn’t come. Families often needed these girls to support household activities and to engage in work to earn money for their families.

So, we mobilised the Community Action Groups to work beyond the classroom with the girls and their families. We found that our best solution was to offer flexibility – adapting to when and how the girls could learn. We even went as far as changing the teaching and learning schedule.

Another challenge was the recruitment of teachers – or facilitators to teach these girls. There was a shortfall, particularly in the availability of female teachers in our operational regions. In response, we consulted and worked closely with the local community and the local government.

We offered two options.
Option 1: we would finance the facilitators salaries for the first year, split the cost with the government for years 2 and 3 – and they would takeover in year 4.
Option 2: We would fully finance the facilitator salaries for the first two years and then hand over to the government.

They went for option 2. In this way there were able to see the full impact (and build trust) before taking on the commitment – which they did!

Through first phase of recruitment, the project trained 70 facilitators (32 female and 38 male) and the government is going to continue to pay their salaries going forward.
Currently, they are government employees and they are working and supporting girls in the school system, which goes beyond the project’s original objectives.

Another key achievement has been the educational support of the girls in ABE. These girls had either dropped out of school or never attended. However, the first cohort enrolled and stuck with the programme for the three years, transitioning into formal education. In fact, many of the girls were the best performing in the school system. This provided inspiration and momentum for other girls. Many of these girls (now 15-year-old young women) led the celebrations for International Women’s Day on 8 March last year.

When you see their self-confidence, their capacity to express themselves, their plans to become more powerful, you realise that it is one of the most successful things that we have.

The biggest changes we made in Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) were to adapt project delivery during the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the period of school closures, we developed our home-base teaching and learning approach. We had the advantage that our Community Action Groups were already in place. They had frequent contact with our field teams. They were able to assess the status of the community and, importantly, the status of the girls.

A large number of girls were at increased risk of gender-based violence and some were being married off at this time. We were concerned that if they detached from the programme would we lose them as they were often the most vulnerable groups in the community.

Our Community Action Groups stayed in constant communication, going from home to home, convincing families to engage in the home-based approach to education and encouraging them to provide spaces in their compounds/backyards for classes. At first, there was hesitation – how would this work? Would it be safe? So, we started with small groups of three to five girls with one facilitator in outdoor spaces. The Community Action Groups organised these classes of two to three hours every two weeks – with work assigned in between.

In SNNPR, the first adaptation activity was the expansion of the kebeles (areas) in which we were working. This was due to the scarcity of learning spaces and the high number of out-of-school girls. We did a rapid assessment and, as a result, the intervention kebeles were expanded from 12 to 17.

One other adaptation – small but significant – was that we enrolled a final cohort (Cohort 3) of ABE girls for a shorter period and with Cohort 4 (IFAL) girls we took an accelerated approach. We intensified the teaching programme so that it could be covered in the remaining years and the ABE girls could transition to Grade 3 in public school (rather than spending three years with us and transitioning to Grade 5) and IFAL girls joined SHG and TVET short-term trainings.

I believe our biggest legacy is the presence of trained facilitators now in the communities and the government school system. They are skilled and experienced. They have had unique training and come equipped with innovative solutions and tools that they can use effectively. They are using quality lesson plans and modern methodologies that are gender-sensitive and inclusive, and meet the needs of children with learning difficulties or disabilities.

They are more deeply engaged in the communities than other teachers, following up on absences and visiting homes.

The is the same for the Community Action Groups – another project intervention that will continue. They will stay together beyond the completion of the project. They know the families, they speak to them regularly, they can offer a kind of layperson counselling. They are often the first to know if there is a security or safeguarding issue affecting a girl. They work hard to prevent drop out.

Personal reflections
For me personally, my work on this project shaped my life. It gave all of us some sleepless nights. We faced many challenges but always worked together to find solutions. For the future, I believe the quality of education is the most important thing. We also need to consider all of the elements – at the community level – that are affecting the girls we are supporting. Are they safe? Are they fed? Are they happy?


You can read the Final Reflections Summary Report here