University Transition Awards – Abaynesh’s Story

For Abaynesh and thousands of students like her throughout Ethiopia, 12th grade was supposed to be a year filled with preparing for graduation and studying for the national university entrance exam. Instead, it was cut short when schools were abruptly closed in March 2020 due to COVID-19 and students were told to return to their villages without knowing how they would finish the school year. In total, more than 26 million school children were affected by closures throughout Ethiopia.

Abaynesh’s family lives in Gumdri, a community located 15 kilometers from Dangla town, where they grow teff and raise livestock. When she was very young, Abaynesh’s father grew ill and died suddenly. Two years later, her mother remarried and welcomed two sons to the family. At the age of 10, her family faced yet another tragedy when her step father unexpectedly passed away leaving her mother to raise three young children on her own.

When she completed 8th grade at Gumdri Primary (a school Project Ethiopia began working with this year), Abynesh’s desired pathway was to continue on to high school at Dangla Preparatory School in Dangla town. For rural students living far away from the high school, the only option is to pay for room and board in town and return home to their villages on the weekends.

In Abaynesh’s case, her mother simply could not afford those costs. Without pressuring her daughter, she advised her to think about marriage and life as a farmer. Abaynesh was not ready to give up on her dream. She told her mother, “Don’t worry. I can attend high school in Dangla and work daily jobs after school and on the weekends to cover my living and school expenses.” Her mother knew this meant she would only see her daughter on holidays and told her, “It is a big burden. Think wisely. But if you want to try, you can.”

Her efforts to earn the money necessary to cover her living expenses were successful even though it meant being separated from her family. At the end of 10th grade she passed the exam necessary to continue on to university preparatory school (grades 11 and 12), placing her one step closer to achieving her dream of a university education. When schools closed in March, she was just three months away from taking the national university entrance exam.

During the closure, Abaynesh continued to work daily labor jobs at different construction and building sites, doing her best to continue her studies on her own in the evening and on holidays. As schools remained closed and no information was forthcoming on when 12th graders would be allowed to take the university exam, Abaynesh grew increasingly discouraged and worried. “When school was closed for such a long time, I began to feel hopeless about my education.”

When the government announced the reopening of schools and the chance for students to make up the time and prepare for the university entrance exam, Abaynesh began studying even harder in the evening. Her opportunity finally arrived this past May to sit for the exam and to her great joy, she earned a passing score to continue her education at Gambella University, approximately 700 km from Dangla.

However, one last barrier remained – affording university materials and the cost of transport to university. She felt her only option was to delay her university education for a year and continue working daily labor jobs. Thankfully, Project Ethiopia selected her as one of 100 students to receive a University Transition Award this past June providing her with a suitcase, backpack, blanket, bedding, cell phone, and round-trip bus fare to Gambella. Her dream was back on track and on June 30th, she left Dangla town to begin her first year of where she plans to study Accounting!

“No one could see my pain this past year, but thanks to Project Ethiopia, my materials and travel expenses are covered,” she recently shared with Project Ethiopia staff. “It provides a big relief for me and my family. Now I am ready to attend Gambella University!” We are so happy for Abaynesh and want to wish her every success in school and beyond!

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