Educating the Ethiopian girl child


Minnesota organization taps Africans for participation.

A Twin Cities charitable organization involved in the education of girls in Ethiopia hosted a fundraising dinner in Minneapolis that was also an attempt to get the African community involved.

Dubbed “Food for Thought,” the Aug. 14 dinner was held at Kilimanjaro Café by Fill a Mind & Heart, a Minneapolis based nonprofit organization that supports four schools in rural Ethiopia. While many of the guests had attended most of the organization’s fundraisers in the past, they said that that evening was special because it was the first time they were partnering with the African community.

Tim Carroll, the organization’s president, said that money raised from such events had helped change the lives of Ethiopian girls.

“I don’t mean to sound cliché, but donations from events like this are about how a little bit can go a long way if put it in the right hands,” Carroll told an estimated 100 people who attended the dinner.

One of Fill a Mind & Heart’s founders, Greta Sebald, said the dinner was an effort to meet Ethiopians and other Africans and learn how better her organization can help Ethiopian children.

“We hope to share our experience and learn more about the culture,” said Sebald.

Sebald’s first trip to Ethiopia was in 1999 as a volunteer for a Don Bosco school in Zway, 60 miles south of Addis Ababa. Accompanying her was co-founder, Christine Carroll. They were struck by the condition of the school.

“There was no curriculum and the children had no pencils,” said Sebald. “What a great need there was among the children.”

According to statistics released by UNESCO in June, youth literacy in Ethiopia stands at 50 percent, with men being 20 percent more literate than women. That was the reason why the Salesian sisters, who run the Don Bosco institutions, set up in the most poverty stricken areas of Ethiopia schools to educate girls.

Moved by the experience and determined to make a change, Sebald said she came back home to Minneapolis and founded Fill a Mind & Heart to support the Don Bosco schools. Sebald was quick to explain that Fill a Mind & Heart is not affiliated with any religion. She chose to work with the Salesian sisters because of a shared vision.

Sebald’s group now works with four Don Bosco schools in Zway, Addis Ababa, Adwa and Dilla to provide over one thousand children with education, food and basic medical care.

“In 1999 we found bare classroom walls, but now those walls have colorful wall hangings and the shelves are stocked with books,” Christine Carroll said happily.

In addition, five of Sebald’s first students have graduated from college, she said. Two are nurses, one of whom works at Addis Ababa’s Fistula Hospital, which received much attention after it was highlighted on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Another student graduated with a degree in microbiology and is pursuing medicine. One graduate of the program who attained a degree in Computer Science is now teaching at one of the Don Bosco schools. The only male student in the program was in training to become a priest.

The organization attributed the success of the program to the donations of well wishers, 100 percent of which go towards the programs. Sebald said there were no plans to expand beyond the borders of Ethiopia because the need is still great.

It was through Ethiopian board members – a couple, Amelech and Girma Wolde-Micheal – that the group was able to use Kilimanjaro Café for the benefit dinner. Before dinner Girma Wolde-Michael gave the guests a crash course on how to eat injera, Ethiopian staple flat bread usually eaten by hand, “like an Ethiopian.”

“You pinch off a bit of the bread and scoop up the meat, or chicken stew, or vegetables, or lentils with the spongy side,” he further demonstrated.

While some guests dared to eat with their hands, the vast majority opted to use forks. In addition to the delicious food, guests listened to local artist Teshome deliver sweet Ethiopian tunes and 80s hits from musicians like U2 and Lionel Ritchie. Others were lucky to win gifts from the array of Ethiopian baskets, scarves, coffee, trivets and hand carved crosses dished out during multiple drawings held throughout the evening.