By: Nazrawi Belay
My name is Nazrawi Belay and I am a tutor for Wegene Ethiopian Foundation from Atlanta, Georgia. I had the pleasure to contribute to the program’s creation and execution as a tutor, which everyone at Wegene put time and effort into bringing to life. Creating this program required a lot of trial and error–we tested everything, from the device and information we provided our students with to the platforms we used to communicate with them. We all worked closely together to determine the details of the program and how we wanted the students to benefit from it. Much of this included how the Wegene team should invest in and transport the devices for the students to use. We felt it best that each student had their own device in which they could access the program lessons, as well as a device to communicate with their tutors and staff. The former was Biruh Admas, which is essentially a device that does not require WiFi and comes with Khan Academy preinstalled, and the latter being an iPhone that the students used to join weekly calls from and ask tutors questions. I feel that this investment played a huge role in the students being able to see the value of their education and want to invest just as much time into the program as we did.
I immediately saw that the students, being the bright kids they are, were devoted to the tutoring program through how quickly they caught onto how to use their devices and communicate with them with ease. They took their education very seriously, which is apparent through their timely communication and thorough completion of coursework. Everything flowed naturally in this aspect.
However, there were elements of the program that both me and the students had to get adjusted to. The biggest roadblock that we had to overcome, for example, would be the time zone difference, especially during the beginning of our internship. Our meetings had to be planned so that both the tutors in America and students in Ethiopia were able to meet. Our meetings usually took place at 8:00 A.M. EST, which is 3 P.M. EAT. Waking up at 8 A.M. every Saturday was rough at first, but after a few weeks I began to get accustomed to it and enjoyed starting my day off by talking with my students.
There were times where one of us just could not join a meeting or call because of unstable internet connection or power outages. In Ethiopia, the internet cutting wasn’t an uncommon issue, especially during times of distress in the country. This had sometimes affected some of the students’ ability to participate in our weekly calls. Despite this, the overwhelming majority of our meetings were filled with fruitful conversation because of the students’ timeliness and dedcation to program procedure.
Another barrier, though less significant, was language. Though I can speak Amharic, Google Translate often came in handy when I couldn’t get the right word out to communicate my ideas or just felt the need to explain a concept to the students in more thorough terms. Other than that, I felt that we all understood each other clearly and could talk to each other without much awkwardness in terms of language differences. The students were very understanding of my pauses and accent, and I genuinely felt that every meeting was another opportunity to develop my Amharic skills and serve people through their dominant language rather than mine.
Though there were initially some barriers in our initiative that delayed progress, the most rewarding parts of tutoring my students were seeing their growth over the course of the program and experiencing their love for learning in real time. Every meeting, I tried to uplift and motivate them in their learning endeavors. “Bertu” is one of my favorite words of encouragement for the students. I want to show them how proud I am of their dedication and diligence, so I try to end every meeting with that word of encouragement or something similar. The students are truly some of the most self-motivated people I’ve met and have shown me what passion looks like every week. I couldn’t be more proud of their success.