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Carolyn Charles has been involved in structured philanthropy since 2016, assisted by Equity Trustees. Since creating her sub-fund, she has had some incredible experiences. Here she reflects on her recent trip to Africa.

I have been friends with the Head of Education at Plan International (“Plan”) for many years and have been inspired by the breadth and depth of her work. Plan works with families in the poorest and most disadvantaged communities to prepare young children for success in school and life. I was impressed by their holistic approach and sensitive community consultation process, which fosters project ownership and skills to ultimately be self-sustaining. So when the chance arose to travel to a Plan project I eagerly accepted the invitation. We were off to Africa!

My first destination was Ethiopia, land of mystery and the unexpected. I found myself sitting in the shade of an ancient tree surrounded by families and their children awaiting the arrival of a donkey library. A donkey library is basically a mobile cart of books drawn by a donkey. In Ethiopia there are plenty of donkeys but very few books, so donkey libraries are an effective way to
share limited resources in remote rural areas. The children love their storybooks and storytelling is very much a part of their culture.

Sure enough, the donkey library’s arrival is met with joy by the children who eagerly select their books and settle down on a log to read. There is a murmur of children’s voices reading softly as the parents chat and entertain their infants with toys they have created. Trucks are made from old plastic bottles, rattles with metal bottle tops and various figures sewn together from plastic bags and rags.

This is the heart of Plan’s early education program. While the children are engaged with the donkey library, their parents are able to conduct a community meeting to raise issues regarding their children’s health and wellbeing. They identify the need for a more accessible water supply as well as more local-language storybooks.

Originally these pre-school sessions were held under the trees and run by community members. Now the communities have basic kindergartens and outdoor playgrounds, as well as the opportunity to receive teacher training, financially enabled by Plan International’s Early Learning project. Since 2012, the project has built 17 kindergartens benefitting 3,685 children and their parents in North Ethiopia. The national government considers the kindergartens to be models of excellence.

I was truly impressed by how everyone worked together for the children’s wellbeing, and touched by the level of cooperation between people as well as their ability to seek creative outcomes. During my trip, the community proudly reported that more land has been donated by villagers and is being used to grow crops, which are used to pay the teachers who guide the children at this crucial learning stage until they are ready to transition to primary school at the age of seven.