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Eritrea, 18 February 2016: Donkey for school: Making education possible

© UNICEF Eritrea/2016/Reddy
13 year old Benhur riding his donkey.

18 February 2016 – The road to the village of Himbirti on the outskirts of Asmara passes through numerous traditional Eritrean village homes built of stone.

In one of these homes sits 13-year old Benhur Ermias, quiet and observant. This gentle young boy listens attentively as questions are posed to him. Benhur is both slightly physically and mentally disabled, a condition he was born with and one for which he takes medication.

Over steaming cups of spiced tea and home-baked bread, the family speaks openly about the difficulties that Benhur has faced. Among these challenges was the difficulty he had going to school. Without any other means of transport, Benhur would be assisted by his father on the one-hour-long walk to the Fre Tsama Elementary School. The journey, in the baking sun and on uneven roads, was a difficult and time-consuming daily exercise.

Help however arrived through the support of UNICEF and the Ministry of Labour and Human Welfare. With funding from the Swiss National Committee of UNICEF, the Donkey for School programme was established in 2010. The programme works to support disabled children, who are among the most vulnerable members of society, to be able to get to schools that are otherwise inaccessible owing to their disabilities.

Now in the 5th Grade, Benhur is the eldest of his two brothers. Despite the challenges, this determined young boy attends a mainstream school which he enjoys and, according to his father, “he never misses.”

Beaming, his proud mother Selam, informs that Benhur was placed 7th in his 4th Grade class last year. This is a notable accolade when considering he attends a school that does not cater specifically for children with disabilities. Listening to his parents, it is clear that Ermias is in a home filled love and support.

His father, Ermias Yacob, is a former school teacher who is currently unemployed and money is scarce for the family. Having the donkey has been a great asset to the family as they now have a means of getting to school in far less time and in greater comfort. Furthermore, when not taking Ermias to school, the donkey is used by the family to fetch water.

It is clear that the provision of a donkey to this family in December 2014 has contributed to this academic success. From a one-hour difficult walk, Benhur now has a far easier ten-minute commute to his much-loved school.

Watching Benhur riding his donkey to school, it is clear that through a combination of compassion and innovation, the Ministry of Labour and Human Welfare and UNICEF are able to make education a reality for those who would otherwise not have this fundamental opportunity.



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