Local residents make big impact by helping build school in Ethiopia

RISE UP FOR AFRICA: Local residents make big impact by helping build school in Ethiopia

By Sheri Gourd

Entertaining children of the Lehaite village in Ethiopia is John Yeutter, a Northeastern State University professor and Rise Up treasurer.

(tahlequahdailypres) — On a mission to help educate children, two Tahlequah residents traveled over 8,000 miles to a small village in Ethiopia.

John Yeutter and Pam Moore went with Rise Up Inc. founder Scott Batie to the community of Konso to break ground on a school there.

“Konso is kind of like ‘Muskogee’: It’s a region, a language a tribal culture, and the main village is also called Konso. There are nine clans,” said Yeutter, an associate professor of accounting at Northeastern State University.

 Rise Up is a Tahlequah-based nonprofit started three years ago by Batie, a Hulbert Elementary School teacher, and his wife, Amy, a Cherokee Elementary School teacher. The mission of Rise Up is to provide “educational spaces, opportunities, and learning resources to rural, developing, and indigenous communities around the world,” according to riseuped.org. The group has already completed one school in Ghana.

The Konso location was chosen for the second school because the Baties found out the birth mother of two of their adopted children lives in the village of Lehaite. She had given up two of her five children after their father was killed in a car accident and she could not afford to take care of them all.

“I generally travel alone. I was happy they went along. The winter and fall were pretty stressful. John and Pam ended up being my saving grace,” said Batie. “It was a super-emotional trip.”

Yeutter is the treasurer for Rise Up and he

invited Moore to accompany him to Africa. He didn’t even have a passport when he decided to go.

On the airplane, they were each allowed a carry-on bag, and two bags weighing 50 pounds or less. One of the 50-pound bags was packed with their personal belongings, while the other was filled with donations – shirts, shoes, school supplies, deflated soccer balls, and soccer uniforms. The soccer uniforms were donated by Tahlequah High School soccer coach Greg Hall, Northeastern State University women’s soccer coach Chase Wooten, and MTSC United in Tulsa.

The couple flew into Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. From there, it was a two-day drive to Konso. They stayed there for a week.

Lehaite was less than a mile off the road, and a drive through rough country. Villagers were clearing vegetation off the makeshift road when the Rise Up van, including guides, arrived.

“Nearly everything is done by hand. The soil is like Cherokee County: a lot of rocks. But they were bigger,” said Yeutter.

The area is a World Heritage site.

“Not much has changed in the past 2,000 years, as far as we can tell,” said Moore.

The first day, they met with elders and community children and saw the current mud school in the village.

The school is for grades 1-4. To attend grades 5-8, children have to walk 45 minutes. If a building is erected, the government will provide teachers. The community has to provide everything else for almost 300 children.

“We have enough funds for a four-room block. Then we hope to do another four rooms. We want to get grades 1-12 there,” said Yeutter.

The cost of the four-room block is $25,000.

“A dollar has a monstrous impact over there. Look at what they got and the impact $25,000 will have, compared to what $25,000 will do here. To me, it’s a no-brainer,” said Yeutter. “They are fellow Christians on the other side of the world.”

In the village, there is no electricity and no water. The bathrooms are tin shacks without doors. The “toilets” are holes in the ground.

“Rock and Roll Camp for Girls is sponsoring a bathroom. For little boys, bathrooms aren’t really a big deal. But when girls reach maturity, they need privacy, or they just don’t go to school,” said Batie.

His wife volunteers at the camp in Oklahoma City and is scheduled to make a presentation about the Rise Up school and situation this week.

“If they don’t go to school, they have to go to work, or the girls have to be married. We are talking about 11, 12 years old,” said Moore. “Education is the key to violence against women.”

Moore should know about that; she was the first director of Help-In-Crisis. She’s also worked as an advocate to educate indigenous tribes about domestic violence.

The little kids had never seen white people before, according to Moore.

“They wanted to feel my skin and touch my hair. The elders said, ‘She’s just like you, them them alone,’ but I said, ‘No, I’m not. Let them feel,'” she said. “They also don’t have mirrors so they wanted to see the photos I took [on a tablet].”

 Water bottles are prized there, according to the visitors. and the children would ask them for their empty bottles.

“There is no potable water. It comes from a stream and you don’t know what’s upstream. Foreigners drink only bottled water and you don’t use ice,” said Yeutter.

The water has parasites in it.

“When you shower, you have to keep it out of your eyes and ears,” said Moore.

On the last day they were in Lehaite, the Rise Up group was to meet in the village at 9 a.m to break ground and clear the area for the school’s foundation.

“When we got there, they had five or six shovelfuls left,” said Moore.

About 200 community members began working at 5 a.m. They had dug out trees, roots, and rocks – all with their hand tools.

“Then they danced. They were celebrating, of course, but when they were done, the ground was packed flat,” said Moore.

Yeutter said the dance seemed organized, and similar to a powwow grand entry: The elders began, others joined them, and then the children came in. Batie was encouraged to join the circle of dancers, since he helped to bring the new school.

Then came the speeches, and one thing was said directly to the mother of Batie’s adopted children.

“She was shunned and was not supported when she gave up her children,” said Moore. “The chieftain apologized to her. He said that this school is a result of your sacrifice.”

Yeutter believes that having a new school will change not just the current community, but generations to come.

“They no longer want to be farmers; they want to be doctors, teachers, or pilots. It changes the perspective of the children,” he said. “It changed my perspective of what Africa is.”

Next year, the group hopes to take more people to Africa. The more that travel, the more donations can be taken over, and the more people are impacted.