Guest post: against a backdrop…

Today’s guest post is by Max Robinson, co-founder of Rainbows4Children.

Max & Kathryn Robinson, Rainbows4Children
Max & Kathryn Robinson, Rainbows4Children

We will never forget Tuesday 21st August. Walking to the school in Mekele, we received a call on our mobile from Solomon, our Ethiopian guide and friend of more than 10 years. He was calling us to break the news that Meles Zenawi, the prime minister of Ethiopia had died suddenly whilst recovering from surgery in hospital overseas.

Arriving at the school 10 minutes later, we found the staff in a state of shock and most of them in tears. If we didn’t already know it, it was clear how much this leader meant to them all.

We even discovered that one of our cleaning staff, a very modest and rather fragile lady in her 60’s who had helped nurse our paralysed student back to health, had fought alongside Meles during the country’s struggle for peace and freedom. The fact that she obviously knows how to handle an AK47 machine gun means we now treat her with even more respect than we did previously!

For the last 10 days, we have encountered groups of adults and children in tears and holding candle-lit vigils for him.

Not within our lifetimes have we previously seen such an outpouring of genuine emotion for a political leader as there has been for Meles Zenawi. For those of you who follow the commentary about Ethiopia in the media, you may have picked up on the fact that the government and especially Meles have led a rather authoritarian regime for the past 20 years. Nevertheless, the media also report that this man who led an austere life free of corruption has lifted millions of Ethiopians out of poverty during this time.

We know quite a few people who were very well-acquainted with Meles and apparently he slept no more than three hours per night and had an incredible intellect.  He lived in a very simple government house with his wife and two children and had very few possessions. Everyone we talk to says he just worked and worked for his country with almost no time for his family.

With this as a background, you can imagine how hard it was for us and especially for our friend and visiting trainer, Phil Stockbridge to kick-off a cross-cultural and communications training session scheduled to begin at 9 am on the day Meles died.

The only way we could get going was to invite everyone present from our school staff and our partners, the Tigray Disabled Veterans Association to talk about their feelings for Meles and to hear the stories from those who had known him personally.

Eventually we did get started after lunch and had a very successful four day session of which you can see a part on the video below. Our thanks go to Phil and to his company, Global Integration, for the generous donation of time to run this extremely valuable workshop for our combined team here in Mekele. (For anyone in the corporate world looking for a great consultant in the area of communications and cross-cultural working, we can highly recommend Phil.)

At present, the children are still on summer vacation, so our other news concerns the construction of the High School which is progressing well.. We are on schedule for the first students – 90 children for grade 9 – to start school next month in September. There will be an official opening in October.

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