How female teachers are shepherding change in rural Ethiopia

School gives girls a chance at life, especially when child marriage, early motherhood and poverty are the only other options. We work to remove obstacles keeping girls from leading healthy,

empowered lives.

Girls in many schools of Ethiopia, particularly rural ones, typically do not perform as well as boys. Domestic work means girls cannot always attend school regularly, or do necessary study at home. CHADET’s Girls Education Challenge project not only supports the most vulnerable girls to stay in school, but also supports them to do well while there. This is achieved by supporting teachers to provide intensive academic tutorials as well as broader care and support for targeted girls. The results can be impressive.

One rural school teacher named Mastewal has been supported by CHADET to ensure her girls stay in school (despite the burden of domestic labour or the risk of early mar

riage) and are able to do well there.

The small town which Mastewal works in is located in the rural highlands of South Gondar, Amhara. To reach it you leave the asphalt road, cross a river, and walk for almost an hour along paths that cut through neat fields of maize, tef and millet, interrupted by forest glades that conceal orthodox churches.

The school is very basic, but well kept. Not far from the school is the teachers’ block, a large traditional house made of woven sticks and mud, with a tin roof and tin doors. It has been divided into 14 very simple rooms for the young teachers who are posted to this picturesque but challenging location.

Mastewal is CHADET’s focal teacher, a young woman who seems remarkably unbowed by her remote rural circumstances. She is not from the local area but is gracious to the parents and community elders, and they clearly accept her. Amharic is her subject, but as a GEC focal teacher she also facilitates Life Skills sessions, and has been trained to run the Girls Club. For the girls she teaches, Mastewal is a figure of education and ambition, but also care. She often puts a protective arm around her young charges, encouraging them to feel safe and speak.

One of the girls that Mastewal teaches is Melesu. Melesu’s early schooling was sadly typical for girls in these rural areas. From her first enrolment she hardly attended and was performing badly. It was obvious why: as the oldest child in her family, it fell to her to look after all her siblings and assist her mother in running the house.
At some point Melesu’s family decided she should take the traditional route and get married. School seemed so unpromising, and the bride wealth that would be gained from her marriage would be transformative for the entire family. Her mother had calculated that it would support the younger children to go to school and be able to succeed there.

Melesu found out about the plan. She understood clearly what it meant:“I felt so afraid and unhappy, because I knew I would be taken from school and I would leave a life of learning and friends”.

But Melesu also knew she had a chance to stop it. The Letter Link box - brightly painted in yellow, green and red - had been used by others at the school, and in their Girls Club with Mastewal they were repeatedly told why it was there. They were also reminded regularly that marriage of children was illegal so they shouldn’t be afraid to report it. Into the box went her letter, a short piece of writing that was her SOS call.

Melesu’s mother Bezunesh is a good woman, traditional in every way but with a strength of her
own. She actually believes firmly in education, but feels poverty left her little choice:

“The fact that I’m not educated really matters. That’s why I decided to marry my child. I knew that with the bride wealth for her marriage I could afford to buy the things her younger siblings needed for school. It was important for me that at least some of my children got a proper education. Now that we are supported with the school costs for Melesu, and now that we are more aware about the bad consequences of child marriage, I would never take that decision again.”

After many talks between GEC members and Melusu’s parents a shift occurred in how her parents value education.  Bezunesh: “I want her to continue her education, and after that she can choose what she wants to do”.

Meanwhile, Melesu’s grades greatly improved and she is about to begin Grade 7. Her favourite subject is Maths and, given her gratitude to Mastewal, perhaps it is not surprising that she wants to be a teacher when she grows up.


CHADET is an indigenous non-governmental organization that works to improve the lives of marginalized children in Ethiopia

by providing access to quality education and improving livelihood opportunities.