An experience I’ll never forget

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GARSTANG student Eleanor Old spent three weeks of her summer break working on a school community project and trekking in Ethiopia. Here she reports on her “life changing trip” and experiences on her first alone venture away from home.

We arrived in Addis Ababa, the capital city of Ethiopia, at 6am and drove through the city to our hotel as the sun began to rise.

It was such a contrast from Heathrow, London, where we had left 16 hours earlier.

There were goats in the road, people sleeping in sacks on the pavement and weirdly, a slum placed underneath a billboard for the Ipad2.

The next day we travelled to Debre Zeit, a town about 80 kilometres south of Addis, where we stayed at a school for the next week.

We set up camp and the 15 of us spent the time there restoring eight classrooms, which squeezed up to 75 students in at a time, and which had also almost completely fallen apart.

We all really enjoyed our time at the school, and the classrooms looked great afterwards.

The next problem was the toilet block; it was very unpleasant to say the least – and not just by English standards.

Sadly, they are so bad that many girls stop going to school when they reach puberty, as they are too embarrassed to use the toilets.

The school had such an amazing atmosphere and family, and we had a great connection with a lot of the students, especially the older ones who helped us with the classrooms.

We have vowed as a group to raise the funds needed for a new toilet block, so work on that begins soon!

The pupils and staff were so welcoming; they gave us a coffee ceremony, and freshly prepared a meal of goat for us – in other words, the goat had been alive and bleating outside our tents that morning!

Leaving the school was sad, but we have exchanged email addresses and we are going to keep a strong link with them through our school, Lancaster Girls’ Grammar.

We went from Debre Zeit to a town called Dodola, labelled as “dusty and depressing” in a guide book… and it sure was! There was more poverty there than Debre Zeit, and everybody stared at the group of five white girls with blonde hair walking down the street when we went shopping.

We set off on a five-day trek from here, which was really hard due to the altitude. We got to 3,500 metres above sea level at our highest point and the air was so thin we all found it really hard to breathe.

It was great seeing the breathtaking scenery of the Bale foothills, and odd seeing children as young as two popping up alone in fields as they were the herders for the farms in the summer.

On the last day we rode horses, which seemed like a great idea at the time, but after about 20 kilometres we were all a little sore!

After the trek we travelled to a place called Lake Langarno, where we saw a hippo!

Then we went to Awash National Park, which was exciting… mainly due to the fact that as I got off the bus, a baboon came round the corner and ran straight for me, swinging off my hair, stealing my wet wipes and then running straight at my friend Ellie Edmondson, forcing her to leapfrog it!

After we had recovered from that encounter, we started on the 10-hour drive to Bahir Dar, where we stayed at the Ghion hotel, whose previous customers had included Mussolini and his army on his takeover of Abyssinia.

We carried on with the culture via a visit to an old monastery, where we learnt about Ethiopia’s version of Christian history.

From Bahir Dar, we went to Gondar, which was supposedly a tourist town, and although we did find a restaurant that served chips, the rest was not as good as we expected. We did visit their Royal Enclosure though, which was complete with lion cages!

The trip was such a fantastic experience for all of us, and the hard work we all put in to raising the money to go made us all the more appreciative. The whole group would like to thank everybody that helped and supported them; we had such an amazing time.

We are so lucky to have had such an experience and we will definitely be looking at things from a different perspective from now on.