By Kellie Picker
Being an educator who has worked in many teaching environments, I learnt very quickly that first visits and first impressions are important because they can have a lasting impact, and my visit to Brave Hearts confirmed this. The effort the Brave Hearts community went too, to acknowledge my arrival with signs, greetings and ceremonies was impressive. What was more impressive were the unspoken things such as the warmth, genuine attempts to make connections and the excitement that came from me being there, which are hard to describe in words but for me, will never be forgotten. The fact that all of this was achieved in a mix of Amharic and limited English made it even more remarkable.
As I imagined, working with the Brave Hearts staff was a very rewarding experience on many levels, particularly because everyone seemed to have adopted a growth mindset. This made them willing to dedicate their time and effort to ensure every endeavour was a success. The staff’s constant support for my work, cutting up and sorting resources and their eagerness to learn ways to help the children improve their ability to speak and read English by being involved in the learning, was a big step to ensure sustainability of what was introduced. It also showed that they believed in the long-term aims of Brave Hearts, and would reinforce learning following best practice principles for the children in all areas of development, whether they were cognitive, physical, social, or emotional.
But it was the Brave Hearts' children who had the biggest impact on my visit to Addis Ababa. The passion, curiosity and openness, along with the smiles, laughs and hugs made working with, and being around the children an absolute pleasure. Having children come straight up to me when they arrived at the drop-in centre after a long day at school and question if they could read with me before they went home, or having one of the young adults ask if he could join a game of sight word bingo, showed dedication and a strong will to learn. Learning was not the only focus at Brave Hearts and was balanced with a sense of community and respect for each other. Here, I witnessed the children working together to help each other in all situations, sharing stationary, carrying equipment, as well as assisting in each others’ learning. This was very refreshing to see because it was a clear indication that the children also believed in, and shared the goals of Brave Hearts the organisation.
Through my visit at Brave Hearts, I also learnt much about Ethiopia and the culture. Coffee ceremonies, Amharic words, currency (Birr), dance, visiting the fossilised skeleton of Lucy, local cuisine (tibs and injera) and the sensory experience of eating with my fingers, to name just a few. But it was the running, reading, playing, piggybacking, learning from and with the children that will stay with me always, and will inspire me to make another visit to Brave Hearts in the future!