Working in a School in Ethiopia: An Interview with Hannah Dillon
There are so many ways to work abroad and immerse yourself in a new culture. This week I’m talking to Hannah, a friend from school, who is now working in a school in Ethiopia.
Hannah Dillon swapped teaching six year-olds in North London for training teachers in Ethiopia in 2014 and hasn’t looked back since. After a year volunteering for an education charity, she is now heading up St George’s School, a free school for orphans and vulnerable children in Gondar, northern Ethiopia.
You can check out the school’s blog on www.broomwoodinethiopia.com/blog and help out by sponsoring their 50 new kindergarten children. £25 a month fully sponsors a child’s education, including food and uniform and the sponsor will receive letters and updates from their child. More info on the website.
Working abroad is a dream for so many people. Please tell me a bit more about where you are and the job you are doing.
My husband Rory and I are both working up in Gondar, in the Ethiopian highlands. Our living conditions are pretty good, especially compared to what most people imagine! We have to put up with the odd bucket shower and evening by head torch (because of power and water cuts), but it’s nothing when you think what most people in this country have to live with daily.
I’m the head of a charity school which has been set up and run by a private school in London, Broomwood Hall School. St George’s School is an incredibly ambitious and inspiring project which I’m really passionate about. We are giving very poor children the chance at a top-quality education and a way out of poverty. Rory also works on improving local schools with the charity Link Ethiopia, so our two careers fit well together.
Sounds great! So what made you decide to do this job and how did you make it happen?
I have always wanted to volunteer in Africa and decided not to do it during my gap year because I couldn’t see what I would have to offer back then. In 2014 I was at a stage in my teaching career where I wanted a new challenge and I was getting jealous of Rory who was spending time in Rwanda and Ethiopia on different projects. So I quit my job and took the plunge. And it’s not something I have regretted for a second.
That’s awesome. What do you like the best about working in a school in Ethiopia?
I would have to say that the children are the best part of my job. Their cheeky smiles and shy hellos have got me through the most stressful times!
But nothings perfect right? Are there any downsides?
Seeing as I am in charge of the whole school, there are a lot of stressful times, and Monday mornings usually involve a lot of problem solving (or firefighting as I like to call it!). The most bizarre one was finding cow dung and hoof prints all over the playground because one of the teachers had brought his ‘Sunday dinner’ into the school grounds to get it out of the rain….!
The other big hassle about working here is the constant bureaucracy coupled with a somewhat relaxed attitude to getting things done. You have to learn to become much more chilled and take things as they come.
Never a dull moment then! Do you have one standout highlight or biggest achievement?
My biggest daily achievement is getting 250 children to their lessons and getting their breakfast and lunch served because every day that these children are in school is miraculous.
And what has been the greatest challenge?
At first I would have said surviving without bacon sandwiches… but I’ve got used to a country with no pork. In fact, I rarely eat meat these days.
No, I would say the greatest challenge has been adapting to another culture and adjusting my expectations of work. Being a woman in a position of power in a conservative and traditional country is a struggle.
What do you wish you had known before you started working in Ethiopia?
I wish I’d known what a pain the working visa process would be… and that it would all work out well in the end! Every time I have to renew, I tear my hair out worrying that it won’t be done in time. But it always is.
So, what are your plans and ambitions for the future?
We are returning to the UK next year and we’re looking forward to settling back into our old lives. Though I’m sure it will be quite an adjustment! I can’t wait to get back into teaching kids because I don’t have much time for that at the moment.
I’ll definitely still be involved in charity work and raising money for St George’s. We’ll have to see how long it takes for the wanderlust to set back in…
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, what tips would you give for people wanting to follow in your footsteps?
If you’re not happy with what you’re doing, quit your job. It almost always pays to take a risk. My dad, who died ten years ago this year, taught me to live my life how I wanted to live it and to never underestimate myself.
And most importantly, pack plenty of books for those evenings by head torch!
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If you’re interested you can apply to volunteer at St George’s for anything from 2 weeks up to a year. Teaching experience is not required. So just contact us through the website if you are interested – www.broomwoodinethiopia.com
Thanks so much Hannah for this interesting and inspirational insight into your really worthwhile work!
If you are working on volunteering abroad and want to be featured here get in touch.