Madeline Martel and her mom, Diane Martel, went on an adventure-filled trip to Ethiopia in July via the ANSO Collectives and Educational Support Society, based in Grande Prairie.

By Joanne McQuarrie |

Diane Martel, a teacher at Good Shepherd School, was intrigued by her husband, Paul Martel’s enthusiasm about a session he attended at a teachers convention in Grande Prairie in March of this year about an English bootcamp in Africa.

The camp is connected with ANSO Collectives and Educational Support Society, founded by Chris and Cathy Anderson. They’re Grande Prairie residents who started the foundation in 2005. It’s dedicated to the advancement of education, the relief and poverty and the improvement of the status quo in disadvantaged communities in Africa.

The Andersons have worked in many countries in Africa. In the last couple of years though, they found there was a need in Ethiopia and focused their attention there.

Cards are sold to raise money. “Any money raised goes to programs – the English Language Bootcamp, for example,” Diane said, “They help people open micro businesses for Ethiopian women. You can purchase a card or make a donation to the English Language Boot Camp for $85; a Micro Finance card is $100.”

As well, cards are sold that represent animals; $40 for a goat; $50 for cattle; $25 for a chicken; $75 for a donkey; $500 for a camel.

Another type of card will get you health services; it’s $50.

Paul’s excitement about the English bootcamp caught on. “He was so enthusiastic about it, it made me enthusiastic about it,” Diane smiled.

She phoned the Andersons about it; soon, she and her daughter, Madeline, had signed up for the trip to Ethiopia.

“The only requirement to go on the trip is that your first language is English; you don’t have to be a teacher. It’s helping them to learn vocabulary development and oral expression,” Diane said.

“It’s to improve their spoken English skills; it’s a lot of comprehension,” Madeline added.

“At that point in time I didn’t have a passport so I had to get my act together, get a passport, arrange flights; I arranged a journey before the program started,” Diane said.

They left for Africa on July 7; three others from B.C. – Debra Boos, Brenda Kuetzer and Kailah Keutzer were on the trip too.

“We toured around Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia,” Diane said.

“We went to a lot of churches and museums; it’s a very, very religious society,” Madeline noted.

Diane noted, “The Christian church there is primarily Ethiopian Orthodox. There are other religions – Muslim and Evangelical Lutheran.”

“The first place we visited, Bahir-Dar is a small city – over 300,000 people. It’s on the shore of Lake Tana, the source of the Blue Nile; it’s a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We also visited Gondar, a city, (in which there is) a castle with several palaces and other buildings that were built over a long period; it was founded in 1635.

“We also went to Lalibela (a city), the site of rock-hewn churches and a UNESCO World Heritage site also.”

“Then we flew back to Addis and met other Canadian teachers there,” Madeline said.

At the boot camp in a rural community in the Fantalle Region, Diane and Madeline were helped by five educational assistants from Ethiopia.

The nearest town was Matehara.

Classes spanned five and a half days a week; Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. (which, the Martels said, is the hottest part of the day); classes resumed at 3 p.m., ran until 5 p.m. Saturday’s classes were conducted from 8 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

There were about 75 students from ages 13 to 25; they were grouped according to their English skills.

“The kids were so enthusiastic about learning,” Diane said, “and they were curious about everything.”

“We brought a few thesaurasus’ and they loved it!” Madeline said. “They would leaf through there and ask you about the words.”

Diane said, “They just loved them! I left all the copies I had there; I think there were 13 – one (went) to a teacher’s assistant, the rest to students.”

During their stay, Diane and Madeline slept in a compound.

“It was very basic, nothing extra, sometimes there was water, sometimes there was electricity,” Madeline said.

“Sometimes not!” Diane added with a smile. “When the water was working we used the showers. When it wasn’t, we poured water over ourselves.”

“Sometimes the toilets worked, sometimes they didn’t,” Madeline said. “Sometimes we had to pour a bucket of water in the toilet.”

After their arrival, it rained more frequently.

“That brought lots of bugs, beetles, flying insects,” Madeline said.

Diane had a close encounter with one of them. “I got attacked by a bug that gave me chemical burns,” she said. “I woke up and there were blisters on my arm; that left a scar. That was a little bit of a weird thing!”

Madeline noted, “Everywhere we went, there were herds of animals. Even in the cities with bumper-to-bumper traffic there were herds of goats and sheep, people running in and out of traffic.”

Africa is a hot place. Madeline said with an average temperature between 35 and 37 degrees, “You don’t go out in the sun if you don’t have to”.

“You can’t stay out in the sun because it’s so hot,” Diane continued. “You have to keep yourself hydrated.”

Diane and Madeline drank only bottled water and avoided ingesting any other water, accidentally or otherwise.

“We had to close our mouths during showers,” Madeline nodded.

“The rule was, ‘Don’t get any water in your mouth!’,” Diane said. “It’s full of parasites.”

Diane also noted, “medical care there is hit and miss”.

“You don’t know if you’d get fake medication – for example, malaria pills,” Madeline said.

“We didn’t have any problem with anything going missing; we never felt unsafe,” Diane said.

Madeline concurred, “It was never an issue to feel unsafe.”

During their travels in that area, Madeline said, “We got stared at a lot because we’re white.”

“For some of those people we were the first white people they’d seen,” Diane pointed out.

During their chat on Nov. 10, both wore dresses they brought from Metehara. At a farmers market, Diane and Madeline purchased fabric and took it over to a fellow onsite with a treadle sewing machine; he whipped up a dress for each of them.

All in all, Diane and Madeline are very happy they had the adventure.

“The overall experience was great!” Diane said. “It’s really, really worthwhile. I would recommend to anybody, to go!”

Source: Peace River Record-Gazette
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