From miles away, Jan Eshete knew she wanted to help her husband’s people. In doing so, she has seen a tiny miracle happen where a school was built, kids are being given an opportunity to learn, and life is improving.
Living in Stansbury Park, Jan wanted to take her children to visit their father’s birthplace, Ethiopia.
Her husband, Rundassa, due to his political stance, could not return home. So in 2012, Jan packed up her five children and flew to Ethiopia.
They arrived in Bojji, right outside of Ambo, where Rundassa’s mother lived in a small home in the countryside.
The home was once a maid’s house. Jan’s mother-in-law moved there after many of her homes burned down when Rundassa was young.
While visiting Rundassa’s family, Jan and her children saw Ethiopian children in the community who were farming or watching cows during the day. They noticed that the children did not go to school.
“They told us that for the little children to go to school, it was too far to walk,” Jan said.
The nearest city with government schools was an hour and a half away. The countryside isn’t easy to traverse. There are rivers to cross, trees to climb over, and mud to trudge through. A motorbike would have a hard time traveling the Ethiopian country roads, according to Jan.
“We saw that there was a need for a school in the community,” Jan said.
Her oldest daughter, Lense, also wanted to do something.
“She has a sensitive heart and told me that we needed to help them,” Jan said. “When we returned home, I put my daughter in charge.”
Her children put together a plan to build the school and finance it themselves, Jan said.
Rundassa’s sister helped and Jan’s sister sent money, all for a school to be built out of sticks and mud.
The Eshete’s created a nonprofit organization for their school called the Pangea Foundation.
The Ethiopian community quickly found out that a school was being built and word was spread wide that it would be opening.
“We could only accept 40 kids,” Jan said. “It was for early elementary children that couldn’t walk to the city.”
Unfortunately, they had to turn children away.
In 2018, they added a supply room, but the supply room soon turned into another classroom because of the demand for children to be educated.
More desks were built and the number accepted into the school was 75.
Currently, two teachers are paid to teach the children. The Eshete’s send money over to pay the salaries.
Jan got creative to help raise funds for the school. Last summer she rented out their backyard in Stansbury Park that opens up to the lake.
“It’s great for small family parties,” she said. “We have kayaks, a stand-up board, grill, a fire pit, a beach area, and fishing pulls. Last year we were able to raise $2,300 for the school.”
The Eshete’s keep nothing for themselves. All of the money they raise goes to helping support the teachers and school.
“Nothing stays here in America,” Jan said. “The nonprofit is starting to carry itself more. This has been my dream; it’s so rewarding.”
Almost a year ago, in December 2018, Jan knew the school would expand to 120 students. But the school needed more desks, supplies, uniforms, and other items. She decided to create a sponsor program where individuals could sponsor a child for $36 a year.
“My kids were really skeptical that this would work, and told me it would not,” Jan said.
She posted the children’s pictures on social media and it spread like wildfire.
“It was a miracle for a couple of hours,” Jan said. “I made it to church, but all day people were calling and I didn’t even have time for dinner.”
At 11 p.m. that night, every child was sponsored. Yet, requests from sponsors still came in.
Jan plans to travel to Ethiopia again without her husband. She wants to help build another room onto the school. But this is Ethiopia’s rainy season and so far it has been too muddy to build.
“My husband has big plans,” Jan said. “He wants to do a center for kids in morning and daytime. He’d like to do a technical school for adults. There’s no electricity so you can’t do anything late.”
Eventually, the Eshete’s would love to have three buildings and a lunchroom.
“This is going to be a big blessing to them,” Rundassa said.
After the school was built the family noticed on their first visit that many of the children go all day without food.
Jan said for two weeks they tried to buy crackers and snacks for the children, but ran out of resources to keep it up.
This year local groups helped donate underwear and uniforms for the children. The students wear khaki pants and red polo shirts.
Jan and two of her daughters have suitcases packed with water bottles, chalk boards, backpacks, and uniforms for the school year.
The children don’t have easy access to potable water at the school. A river runs close to the school where the children are able to wash their hands, but not to drink.
“They have natural springs, but it takes about an hour and a half to get to them,” Jan said.
Someday she would like to dig a well.
They’ve tried to keep the school for young children, but this year the school was asked to accept 12-year-old students.
At first Jan said no, but then she realized that these were kids who weren’t getting educated and didn’t know how to read or write.
“The children there know it is a privilege to go to school,” Jan said. “Most can’t afford the city schools. There’s no bus, there’s no school lunch, no indoor plumbing or electricity, but they’re appreciative. They have to work hard and know if they don’t get an education, they’ll live the same life as their parents.”
With a dream to help the community, the Eshete’s have seen tiny miracles along the way. And neighbors and families have stepped up to help people they’ve never met.
To find out more information about the school, join their Facebook page — Pangaea Foundation or contact Jan at email@example.com.