By Tadias Staff
Updated: Tuesday, November 25th, 2014
New York (TADIAS) – Atti Worku, a former Miss Ethiopia (2005), started Seeds of Africa school in her hometown of Nazret, Ethiopia with 16 students and one volunteer teacher in her mother’s backyard six year ago. Atti had attended college in Addis before embarking on her modeling career and didn’t finish college until she went back to complete her education at Columbia University this year. Atti vowed to provide quality educational opportunities to children in her birth country, and today her non-profit organization provides scholarships to approximately 100 students from Pre-K through 2nd grade.
In an interview with Tadias Magazine Atti announced a milestone for Seeds of Africa Foundation: The Dream School Initiative to build a state-of-the-art education facility in Nazret, Ethiopia. “We believe that this facility will be one that will be comparable to international schools all over the world and will prepare students to compete in the global market” Atti told Tadias. Currently the school adds a grade level each year but only accepts Pre-K level students. “We decided that the most impact we can make is if we get to them at the youngest age,” she explained.
The Dream School Initiative was launched last month with a fundraising event in Dallas where 14 local chefs did a tasting menu that was inspired by Ethiopian cuisine. On December 8th, Seeds of Africa will hold their next fundraiser in New York City at the Schomburg Center in Harlem, and next year the foundation will hold similar events in Chicago, Washington DC, London and Paris. “A year from now, in Fall 2015, we’ll break ground in Nazret to build the new school, and construction is expected to go on for two to three years” Atti says.
“The Dream School Initiative is a continuation of the work we’ve being doing so far,” Ati adds. “We’ve been around for a little over 6 years. The initiative is to expand our program to accommodate more students (from Pre-K through 12th grade) and also to increase our community development program.” Since its inception the Seeds of Africa school has incorporated programs for mothers in the community including providing literacy and health education courses as well as access to funding for local small businesses.
“The community development program has always been a part of Seeds of Africa’s mission because we strongly believe that to really work with children that come from some of the poorest backgrounds you can’t succeed if you just single out a child. You have to really work with the family as a unit” Atti asserts. “Most of our students come from single mother homes, who either have small businesses or they want to open a small business.” Household income is a primary criteria for children selected to be enrolled at the Seeds of Africa school.
“We call our education program ‘seeding education,’ and we provide free tuition, meals at school, and we also provide some food subsidies that the children may take home for their dinners” Atti shares. “We cover the cost of uniforms and school supplies, and the children also have access to healthcare. Starting next year we’re also setting up an emergency health fund.”
In 2014 Seeds of Africa received 68 student applications but could only enroll 20 eligible students due to lack of space. “That’s why we have to build so we can provide educational access to more children” says Atti.
Seeds of Africa is based on the premise that a community needs more than just access to educational opportunities to thrive, so it jump-started community chats over biweekly bunna sessions among the mothers. “And the community development program really grew out of these sessions,” Atti notes. “Three main issues were addressed at the mothers’ bunna sessions: the need for literacy programs for adults, access to health education courses, and funding to start small businesses to sustain their families.” Seeds of Africa gave mothers opportunities to gain financial and literacy skills before providing access to credit. “Right now we have about 40 to 60 credits that have been provided to the children’s parents. Some have already paid back their original loans and are returning for a second round to expand their businesses,” says Atti. She beams when she shares some of the types of businesses opened up using these loans. “The small businesses include a cell-phone charging business and really cutting-edge stuff such as one mom setting up a prenatal food business. And it’s been a part of our goal to improve the household income of a family so that the child succeeds with the family together.”
The curriculum of the school is likewise innovative and is inspired by the Reggio Emilia program, which focuses on a holistic approach to education where the child is the center of the learning environment. “It’s really looking at each child as an individual that has different needs so you try to tailor the program to the needs of each student, which is why the classroom size has to be so small” emphasizes Atti.
Seeds of Africa looked at some of the best educational systems available including Montessori and designed an educational environment that embraces Ethiopian culture and allows students to engage in project-based learning from a young age with a hands-on approach to solving local problems.
“We look at how children can be leaders and creative problem solvers. I think that’s really important because you can’t get out of poverty if you’re solving other people’s problems, which is what usually happens in schools,” Atti says.
How did Atti get interested in building a school in Nazret? “I’m not an educator by training, but I do have co-workers who designed the curriculum who are trained educators” Atti says. “My thing came from having grown up in Nazret. I grew up in a neighborhood that was very poor. My parents were a middle class family and they sent me to the only private school in town, and there was a huge difference in the access to education that my brothers and I had compared to the kids in our neighborhood” Atti says. “It was really heartbreaking to see children that I grew up with that were unable to continue school; they were failing and dropping out of school, or the girls got pregnant at some point, or any of those socio-economic factors that hindered education. As an adult reflecting back I look at it as socio-economic issues linked to poverty that was happening to them, and it wasn’t happening to me or students in my school. That really kind of just stayed with me.”
“Our first high school students will graduate in 2024, and our goal is to place them into colleges in Ethiopia and abroad,” Atti says. “And I have no doubt that they will contribute back to their community.”
If You Go:
New Yorkers for Seeds
Monday, December 8th, 2014 7pm to 11pm
The Schomburg Center
515 Malcolm X Boulevard, New York, NY 10037
Photos from the Dallas event: