Report to the Jean Grove Trust from the Holy Saviour KG School, Dawhan – May 2020
“Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you” (John 14:27).
With these words of Jesus we send our greetings to the Jean Grove Trust from an empty and deserted community that used to be full of life, now abandoned because of a war that has left us all traumatised.
This academic year has been like no other. Instead of reopening in September 2020 as had been expected, the school stayed shut down due to government Covid regulations. The school had already been locked down since March 17th 2020. What was to follow was far more fearsome and traumatic than the pandemic.
Refresher Workshop in Advance of the 2020 Academic Year
In anticipation of the re-opening of the school that had been locked down since March 17th 2020, the school organised a socially-distanced workshop for the staff at the end of September on Montessori best practice for Holistic Childhood Education.
Sr. Letebrahet Abraha DC, a Daughter of Charity from Mekelle, delivered the workshop. Sr. Letebrahet had, in fact, trained our teachers in their initial teacher formation many years ago in Walahita Sodo Training College in Southern Ethiopia. There were 2 objectives to the workshop:
1. To re-evaluate the teaching staff to see how effective they have been in their careers as Montessori educators;
2. To introduce them to the most up-to-date Montessori methodology for the holistic education of children.
All management and staff members participated in the refresher workshop.
Preparation for School Reopening in September 2020
The expectation among staff and people in the zone was that after the celebration of Meskel (celebration of the Exaltation of the Cross) at the end of September, the Covid restrictions would ease and the school would reopen. Staff prepared for this reopening with great zeal – classrooms were cleaned up by the class assistants, while the teachers prepared the lesson plans for the semester.
The staff numbers planned for the year were as follows:
Teachers and Class Assistants 8
St Louis Sisters 3
Registration for the New Academic year 2020/2021
With the great expectation for the resumption of the school after the prolonged lockdown since March, many families brought their children for registration. The children and their families were so anxious to return to school to continue their learning and enjoy the balanced nutritious school feeding programme which they had greatly missed.
The total number of children registered was 109, 36 new children who were start KG 1, and 73 children from the previous year who were to be promoted to KG 2 and KG 3.
Outbreak of War
The schools in Tigray were not, in fact, allowed to open after Meskel. In hindsight, this may have been an indication of what was to come. The war broke out very suddenly in November and because we are so close to the border with Eritrea, and due to the bombings and fear of the Eritrean soldiers, Dawhan quickly became a ghost town as the community fled to the mountains to hide in caves. Almost overnight there were no people to be seen, banks were closed down, all means of communication were cut off, as was the electricity supply. In short the area fell into total black out. The Eritrean Military were deployed to the Irob district and engaged in massive destruction and looting of government establishments, markets, stores and houses.
Sisters flee Dawhan
Fearing for their safety, the sisters fled the town on 16th November 2020 and sought refuge in Adigrat with the Missionaries of Africa (the White Fathers). Adigrat was subsequently invaded by the Eritrean army continuing their wave of destruction right across the region. Hospitals, mosques, churches and barracks are supposed to be safe places for civilians but the reverse turned out to be the case. The people were left totally helpless.
The Eritrean troops continued their wave of destruction right across the region beyond Adigrat. Once again fearing for our safety and needing to regroup from the trauma we left Tigray in February for our native countries (Nigeria and Ghana). We returned to Ethiopia in early April and then travelled back to Dawhan.
Impact of the War on Holy Saviour Kindergarten Dawhan
On returning to Dawhan, we discovered that the school was neither looted nor destroyed – due mainly to the presence of our Parish Priest and one of the cooks who stood firm and appealed to the Eritrean Military explaining that the school is not a Government school, but rather for the church and the community. The soldiers came at one point and despite the pleas of the priest broke into the kitchen and took the biggest cooking pot and two water barrels from the two toilets. Food was also taken.
We still have no indication as to when the school will reopen. In the current unstable condition, it is certainly not possible. We only rely on God’s intervention
Impact of the War on the Town and Region
The impact of the war has been devastating. Many women have been violently raped and the men are still in hiding in the hills as the Eritrean soldiers in the area are still moving from house to house searching for men and boys to kill. So far 86 boys have been confirmed killed in the Irob region including Dawhan and Alitena. We will not know for some time all that has happened here during this war, but certainly the impact is devastating.
Developments since July 2020
Construction of a Fence/Wall to Improve School Safety
In the report to Jean Grove Trust in July 2020 we requested to use the surplus of 52,735.79 birr, from funds previously donated for the construction of a shaded area for assembly, for the erection of an overhead tank to store drinking water and the construction of a fence/wall at a part of the school that looks out onto a deep valley to prevent any form of accident and improve school safety.
The wall fence was successfully constructed and completed in early October 2020. The height is above that of our children and thus has enormously increased the onsite safety.
When the school reopens and the children return they will be over joyous with the new facilities in school that have all been constructed or upgraded during the lockdown – the toilets, assembly shade/multi-purpose space, KG 2 entrance, kitchen (as reported in July 2020) and now the wall fence.
In the July 2020 report we also requested permission from the Jean Grove Trust to use some of the surplus of 52,735.79 birr to help to erect an overhead water tank to store drinking water. As the wall was more urgent than the tank for reasons of child safety, we held back on this feature until the wall was complete. Not long after the wall was completed the war broke out so we have not yet erected the water tank. We hope to do so at some stage this year depending on availability of materials and labour in this ongoing new reality of conflict. The remaining surplus of 5,170.79 birr will be used for the tank project.
Further Support from Jean Grove Trust
The support provided by the JGT, apart from the funds that went into the wall fence, was directed completely into teacher salaries and training. This continues to be the most significant support the school receives. The staff are our foundation – without them, the school could not exist, and we would not be able to provide the holistic education to the little children that they so badly need at this time of great trauma.
1. Staff Salaries
Before the war began staff salaries were paid up to October 2020. However once the war began, the banks closed and we could not access funds to pay the staff. When we returned in April we could only pay them for November to January due to the new bank policy which limits the amount we can withdraw. The banks in Dawhan are still shut due to looting and destruction, so we have to travel to Adigrat to access money. In the mid May we will be able to pay the staff up the remaining months.
2. On-going Professional Development of 2 Staff Members
In September 2020 Desta and Aster began the final year of their OPD course. However due to the outbreak of war they had to abandon the training site so they have not managed to complete the course.
Word of Appreciation
In the midst of this pain and suffering, the Sisters, the Holy Saviour Kindergarten staff and children, and the larger community of Dawhan send our warmest appreciation to you Jean Grove Trust for what you have been to the school, the children, the teachers, the parents, and the entire Dawhan people at this time. We are so grateful for the prayers, good wishes and considerable financial support for teachers’ salaries and other projects that give the school a befitting look during this time of destruction that helps to engender a sense of dignity and pride in the town. May the Lord the generous God continue to bless and provide for you and your families.
Sr. Maureen Long’ep, School Administrator
Report to the Jean Grove Trust from the Holy Saviour KG School, Dawhan – May 2020