I spent my childhood in Ethiopia and my attachment and love for Ethiopia was rekindled when I returned as an adult over 30 years later.
The inspiration for Project Pencil Case (PPC) came to life in 2008, when my teenage son presented me with numerous pens and pencils he had never used while clearing his room and suggested I take them with me on a planned visit in 2008. I then purchased inexpensive plastic pencil cases, filled them up and during the course of three trips in 2008/09, I distributed them at random on the streets of Addis.
In 2009 Bluecoat Primary School (Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire, UK) became involved generously donating Pencil Case supplies and I was able to distribute over 50 pencil cases to needy children in Addis Ababa.
Initially inspired by the experience I had as a volunteer teacher for a vocational school in Addis Ababa, I quickly became aware of how impoverished many schools and students in Ethiopia were. I soon came to realise that supplies in schools are often limited and absolutely nothing is taken for granted. Both the scarcity and the cost of supplies means that essential items such as chalk and paper have to be used sparingly.
Students I met clearly valued education – whether at a free government school or small private school. As I walked along the colourful and vibrant streets of Addis and encountered children (half of the population of Ethiopia is under age 21), most children were keen to practice their English and told me with pride which grade they were in or how much they liked school. It seemed such a simple gesture to provide a small pencil case to help a student and yet satisfying knowing that this pencil case was a gift that was both useful and a positive support of their educational journey.
In June 2010, Ethiopian born and raised teacher Mikele Goitom joined PPC as a volunteer partner. Mikele was born and raised and educated in Ethiopia. He brought with him valuable skills and ideas and a valuable Ethiopian perspective. In 2012, Mikele became the Ethiopian Program Manager for Project Pencil Case.
In 2014 Mikele and Arabella were given the unique opportunity to devise and develop Arakele Fashion Design College which they run as joint General Managers. Seed funding was generously provided by philanthropists and Arakele was established as a social enterprise to train women from primarily marginalised backgrounds to sew and design. Upon graduation with a government recognised certificate, Arakele connects graduates to employment with organisations in the textile sector in Ethiopia and some graduates have gone on to set up their own fashion businesses! Project Pencil Case and Arakele partner with Arakele producing pencil cases, uniforms and reusable sanitary towels to help girls stay in school.
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