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In Ethiopia, students learn environmental responsibility through active participation

By Natan Tilahun

DEBRE MARKOS, Ethiopia, 13 October 2011 – According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Ethiopia and most countries in Africa suffer from several forms of environmental degradation, leading to desertification and a detrimental impact on food and agricultural productivity and production.

VIDEO: UNICEF correspondent Anja Baron reports on a new generation of environmentally conscious school children in Ethiopia.  Watch in RealPlayer


Ethiopia’s Government has already put in place a number of policies and strategies to address environmental degradation.

Moreover, Ethiopia is one of the 20 countries covered by the Africa Adaptation Program (AAP) whose goal is to implement comprehensive climate change adaptation actions and resilience plans. As part of the AAP, UNICEF is supporting the government in a wide range of activities, especially in schools, aiming to mobilize children in primary and secondary schools to demonstrate, promote and advocate conservation and environmental responsibility through learning by doing approaches.

Eshenew Alamerew, the principal of Yenechi primary school in Machakel district, recalled the devastating effect environmental degradation had on his school when it was established in 1996.

© UNICEF video
A student in the school garden at the Yenechi primary school in Debre Markos, Ethiopia.

“There were no trees in the school compound and a strong wind destroyed the classrooms,” he said. “In addition, due to heavy rains new gullies were being formed, others were enlarging as a result of water runoff and the soil was losing its fertility due to erosion.”

Currently, several trees dot the school boundary, protecting Yenechi primary school from an event similar to the one that happened when the school first opened. Adding protection, numerous trees and other vegetation cover the compound helping to avoid soil erosion. The remaining water run-off is prevented by the terraces built by teachers and students. Water from the run-off is also collected in specially dug ditches which help as sources of water for the various plants and vegetables during dry seasons, from December to February.

Students take part

Samrawit Temesgen, 10, a bright fourth grade student discussed the various environmental protection activities she takes part in.

© UNICEF video
Recently planted trees at the Yenechi primary school in Debre Markos, Ethiopia.

“We clean our classrooms and dispose waste which we collect from the compound,” she said. “We keep ourselves healthy by washing our hands after going to the toilet”.
The school is a shining example of the positive impact students can effect on their surrounding environment. Farmers and district officials have visited the school to observe the terraces and compost prepared by students, and specifically to have a look at a ‘model farmer’s house’ constructed by the students.

“We have built a model farmer’s house consisting of a living room, recreation room, kitchen, store room, toilet, separate room for domestic animals, water retention ditch, garden and area for compost preparation” said Ayalew Tesfaye, an active fifteen-year-old boy and student at the school.  

A major goal

Mr. Alamerew is a nominee for a regional environmental protection award for his leadership activity at Yenechi primary. He is happy about his school’s achievement but wants to do even more.

“We will plant more trees this month,” he said with pride. “We will cut some trees which are fully grown, sell them and build a stronger fence around the school. We are rehabilitating and conserving our environment by our activities and we will continue to do so.”

If such environmental activities are focused around specific communities and closely tied to socioeconomic setups it will surely help in achieving the seventh Millennium Development Goal ‘Ensuring Environmental Sustainability’ in Ethiopia.



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