The little old man beamed at me, his face lit up with the radiance of a pure soul, his long grey beard stained orange at the tips with henna. “Assalamu Alaikum!” He gives me a fervent double-handed shake. We are in the Principal’s office at Merwa Academy Primary School in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Sheikh Abdul Manan is with his daughter, Ilham. She is 13, in grade seven. She chews her little finger, trying to hide behind her hand. Sheikh Abdul Manan has no home or job. He lives in a mosque.
Ilham’s mother lives in another city to work as a domestic servant. Ilham also works as a domestic servant, living in the house she serves after school. They are so poor they can’t even rent a room to live together in.
Mr Jamal, the principal, informs us “Ilham very bright, one of our best students. But she is falling behind because she has to work, so can’t study at home like the others.”
Merwa Academy, in a green and pleasant suburb north-east Addis Ababa, is one of an only handful of Muslim schools the city of 5 million.
Ethiopia is officially 34% Muslim, so there must be around 1.7 million Muslims in Addis. The dire lack of Muslim-community schools is due to previous governments systematically opposing education in a Muslim-community context.
But, in 2009 a group of community leaders got together to address this, establishing Merwa as a socially and spiritually appropriate environment to raise their next generation in.
Merwa has succeeded academically and has an excellent reputation for the character and discipline of its pupils. It also teaches 50 poor students free of charge.
One of these is Ilham. Otherwise, she’d be forced into a government school with dismal pass-rates and a chaotic environment.
Despite rapid economic growth in the past decade, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in Africa. This growth has not been distributed evenly. As living costs rise the poor get poorer, the rich get richer. Schools like Merwa face pressure from increasing rents.
Salaries must rise to hold onto quality teachers. But fees cannot go up that much or the school would exclude its own community, which is from the poorer section of society. There is no support from the government either.
To address this, we have developed a new strategic plan for the school.
Firstly, we need support to cover the cost of the 50 poor students, which would give Merwa a small profit this year. Then they will invest this into 5 new classrooms.
The additional capacity and ongoing charitable support would put the school in the green, so it can start making money to reinvest in its future, build its strength and that of the whole community.
Alhamdulillah, one donor (may Allah bless him) already covered 26 of the poor students already. Now we are seeking funding for the other 24.
We have launched a crowd-funding campaign. Please help us by supporting our campaign and sharing it with your friends. Jazakum Allahu khayran.