BROOKVILLE — What began as a ripple in Brookville has spread across the country to meet the needs of poor villagers in Ethiopia.

About six years ago volunteers from the Brookville area, including Clarion, DuBois and Punxsutawney, began making uniforms for school-age girls in Ethiopia, where uniforms are required for school attendance.

Colleen Kaleda McCracken (wife of Thad McCracken, formerly of Brookville) of Oregon and Angelique Kidd Smith of Ohio, co-founders of The Community Project, are overseeing the project.

Members of Alpha Delta Kappa PA Omicron and other local volunteers made 500 dresses for the girls to wear to school. Uniforms for boys were purchased through an agreement with Elder Manufacturing in St. Louis.

The vision shared by McCracken and Smith included the building of a school campus. Plans for the campus include classroom areas, a playground, hand washing areas, apple orchards, a community center and a site for bamboo production.

“We have just completed the first building of four classrooms,” Smith said, “two for kindergarteners and two for first graders. The Ministry of Education sends the teachers and will maintain the school once we have helped the community finish construction on all the buildings.”

Adding to the community’s excitement for the development of the community project in Debre Birhan was the building of a playground on the school grounds. “Our community had never seen a playground,” Smith said. “Our beautiful playground brings together the community from miles around, filling the valley with children’s laughter. The playground is now central to their village, changing the culture of parents who are now playing with their children in a shared community, not seen before.”

As the project grows, “we have saved space for a soccer field and 400m track to expand the children’s educational opportunities in sports and team learning,” she said.

“Our school is now recognized as a model at the United Nations for all of Ethiopia as we make our own bricks from the soil,” Smith said. “We make 600 hand-pressed bricks per day, working into the evening by the light of a 10-watt solar bulb. Children help do everything.”

Each classroom costs $10,000 to build, Smith said. “Currently we need to raise $5,000 for solar panels to apply light in the classrooms and $3,000 for glass for all the classroom windows to protect from the torrential downpours of the rainy season.”

She said “We have two composting toilets built so far and next we will build a multi-unit composting toilet. The toilets are used to recycle waste back to the depleted soil to grow vegetables. Vegetable gardens outside the classroom teach children to grow seeds to take home, building nutrient rich diets for their families.”

Not only will the children learn from the school facilities. “We are developing bamboo varieties to give local farmers an opportunity to develop a new industry in our area,” Smith said. “Bamboo is the fastest growing plant in the world, secures the soil from erosion during the rainy season and is a renewable source of building material, furniture making and basket weaving. The new shoots are even a good food.”

With the first classrooms complete, Smith said, “We plan to build three more classroom blocks, each with four classrooms, and the administration building, which will house a small lab, health room and library. After the school is complete we will build a community center for the village to have a protected place out of the weather for all kinds of community gatherings and skills training. Educational centers like this are an Ethiopian national initiative as a way to bring communities together and develop economic strength through added skills.”

Smith said “we are grateful every day for our generous donors whose big hearts make our work possible.” Among the countless people who have added to the success of the school are:

  • Dave and Anita McCracken of Brookville, who “made the Bamboo Initiative possible with a contribution that enabled us to buy a water tank, bring in good soil and hand dig a pipeline bring water 350 meters uphill from the local river to water the bamboo and the vegetable cards outside each classroom.”
  • A small factory in Royersford built a pump powerful enough to do the job and went the extra mile to give a hand up. “This included hand carrying from the United States the disasembled water pump on Ethiopian Airlines,” she said.
  • Engineers Without Borders, USA, who bring their technical skills to excavate the foundations for the classrooms.
  • Kids Around the World (USA) “helps non-profits bring over recycled playground equipment to build sacred space for the children,” she said.
  • Durfee Burtner, of Brookville. “Because of her generosity, the girls’ uniforms were made of top quality cotton fabric. Without the many local seamstresses, making 500 girls’ dresses would have been impossible,” Anita McCracken said.
  • Alpha Delta Kappa PA Omicron, who hosted sewing days to make the girls’ school uniforms, donated money toward building materials, a hand-washing station, shoes, books and schools supplies for the kindergarten and first grade classrooms. Last year all PA chapters were invited to join Omicron in the purchase of classroom libraries for the kindergarten and first grade teachers, with more than $700 being donated.

“There is nothing so powerful as an education to give our children a life of opportunity. Your community has made a huge impact in Debre Birhan, forever changing their future for the better. Thank you so much for sharing! Brookville exemplifies the best of American generosity and partnership, giving a hand up, helping a village to educate its children. Brookville makes us proud to be Americans,” Smith said.

Anyone interested in making a donation to the school project can send their check made out to The Community Project to Angelique Kidd Smith, 506 North Parkview Avenue, Columbus, OH 43209.

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