Stephanie Mills is at a career crossroads. The problem is…if she were to walk away from her teaching job it would not only impact her husband and two children but it would also change the lives of over one hundred children in the poorest region of Ethiopia who without Stephanie have no chance for a decent education. It would be safe to say the ‘crossroad’ Stephanie is facing is an emotional one that will touch more than just her life.
The Story of Dawit Hailu’s Life has already been written. He has been an inspiration to many but Dawit wouldn’t be where he is today without a very important person at his side, his wife Stephanie. Together they run the English Alive Academy in Nazareth, Ethiopia. Dawit handles the job of manager and principal while Stephanie works at an international school in Addis Ababa. Almost half her salary goes toward the everyday funding of the English Alive Academy two hours south of the capitol city.
Stephanie was born and raised in the United Kingdom.
“I trained as a teacher in the U.K. but had an urge to travel and help the poor, corny as that sounds! Initially I thought about Non-government Organization (NGO) but realized that instead of living in hard conditions etc. all too often they just drove around in four-wheel drives (reaping in a percentage of donated funds for their own comfort) and realized that that wasn’t for me!”
Stephanie’s first job was in the very remote mountains of Pakistan – at a local school for the poor in Chitral, North West Frontier Province.
“This was a very hard place with strict purdah (the practice of preventing women being seen by men) being observed and it being accessible by road only in the summer months (a trip of 10 hours) or by a small plane which was frequently cancelled since it had to squeeze through a mountain pass. In the winter all those who were not essential for the town had to leave due to a shortage of food. I stayed there for three and a half years and then decided that in fact I needed to get some money behind me since the school paid only to survive and I had to find my own funds to travel back to the U.K on holiday etc. As a result, I came to Addis Ababa with the international school as a teacher. Although I liked the work, I felt as if I as in the wrong place since I felt as if I really wasn’t making a contribution – the pupils were all posh people whose families were very well to do so I felt as if although I was in Ethiopia I was not really serving Ethiopians. It did my Masters in education with the Open University during this time.”
Stephanie loves the children of English Alive and she continues to donate half of her personal income to their future. She also writes the exams for the students at the academy. Just recently, the end of the year presented Stephanie with the task of having to write final exams for her students.
“I have been racing to write the exam papers. They still aren’t finished but I am writing them and sending them day by day with someone on the bus who is going to Nazareth and then someone from the school meets them at the bus station. Not the best way – but what else can you do?”
She has also been working furiously on the graduation ceremony for her youngest students.
“Every weekend we are racing on Friday evening to Nazareth and getting the kids in on the Saturday morning to practice the show – then spend the rest of the week trying to make the costumes for them. Not sure how it will turn out but keep telling myself that since they are young they have ‘cute factor’ so hope that if they go all wrong then at least they will look sweet.”
“I would say that at least ½ my salary goes to the school at the moment and without it then the schools would definitely close.”
Through all of their hard work to keep the children happy and educated Dawit and Stephanie also must dodge mandatory power outages within the country.
“The power situation has suddenly got a lot worse. Officially they are still on the one day on /one day off system but now you really don’t know which day is supposed to be the day with power and the day that is supposed to be without. We get about 5 hours of power in 2 days. (I am being generous) which of course means a lot of early nights /the children doing their homework by candlelight. Lots of children at the school are coming to school with candle wax on their books.”
Keeping English Alive Academy alive is hard work, and now something else has wedged itself between the success and failure of the two schools.
“In our personal life I have decided that I cannot continue at the school where I am working – I have hated it since about Christmas and was only waiting for the end of the academic year, however, it is very hard to find a school which will pay enough both to keep us (Stephanie’s family) going and English Alive going. I would say that at least ½ my salary goes to the school at the moment and without it then the schools would definitely close. I have had job offers here but it isn’t enough – thus we are looking at making the hard decision of leaving the country and for me to work abroad. The United Arab Emarites seems the best bet thus far – if I got a good job then Dawit would be able to come back every month or so for a week or so and I could continue to make all the plans and send them over – so the schools would stagger on. It is not easy to think of this option but at the moment we cannot see any other alternatives, however, I haven’t as yet even managed to get a job in the UAE, although I have a masters in education so hope that something will turn up so nothing is for sure.”
If Stephanie had three wishes it would be at the end of the day to not have to worry about where the next dollar will come from for the everyday operation of English Alive Academy. She would wish that English Alive Academy would be approved as a charitable organization so they could have the chance of getting grants for funding and potentially become self supporting, and not having to rely on half of Stephanie’s income. Finally she would wish for peace in her heart at this crossroad of her life, knowing in the end she has done all she possibly could to keep the English Alive Academy alive.
For more information on Stephanie and English Alive Academy you can refer to http://englishaliveacademy.blogspot.com
Thank you Stephanie, for sharing your Story with us.
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© 2009 by Julianne Barclay and Story of My Life