Jonathan Dimbleby: Why Ethiopia is not a basket case of skeletons

From a speech by the broadcaster at the Voluntary Service Overseas annual meeting
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The Independent Online

I have just got back from one of many trips to Ethiopia. This glorious country that has struggled for generations, facing - at different times - the extreme effects of poverty, climate, misrule, war and an enduring instability throughout the region. And as a result, a rapidly growing population (now 75 million) not only endures minimal public services, but a support network that has been terribly dislocated.

I have just got back from one of many trips to Ethiopia. This glorious country that has struggled for generations, facing - at different times - the extreme effects of poverty, climate, misrule, war and an enduring instability throughout the region. And as a result, a rapidly growing population (now 75 million) not only endures minimal public services, but a support network that has been terribly dislocated.

Ethiopia is too often seen simply as a basket case of skeletons. The truth is otherwise. Take education. Ethiopia's crises meant that for generations only a minority of children learnt to read or write. Even today the number of children who go to school is way below those UN millennium goals, which, if the Chancellor is right, will only be met in the next century, rather than 2015. But the absolute numbers of children at school is rising; so is the proportion of a growing population.

Children are also staying on longer at school. Why? Because despite the ravages of poverty and civil strife Ethiopia is more stable. The government has made "education, education, education" much more than a rhetorical flourish. There is genuine commitment.

VSO is part of this great project. We work alongside Prime Minister Meles and the Ministry of Education through to universities, the civil service, teacher training colleges, and schools.

Our purpose is to help improve the quality of teaching. Ethiopia is very short of trained teachers and the curriculum has been way out of date. Our volunteers are working alongside our Ethiopian counterparts to remedy these shortfalls. We have to avoid undermining the local job market or propping up broken systems. There is no doubt that we are having a real impact. Volunteer teachers will tell you this is the most rewarding work in which it has been their privilege to be involved.

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