Retired Galway couple’s Ethiopian school mission

Patrick and Mary Clarke being greeted by students of the Haro Jila primary school on their return to Ethiopia to continue their volunteer work in 2018.

A retired Galway couple were so enthused by their success in getting a kindergarten classroom built in Ethiopia through public donations that they are to hit city streets again this Saturday with a feast of music and dancing in a bid to build two more.

Patrick Clarke, from Newbridge, Mountbellew, and his wife Mary Clarke, left their comfortable home in Newcastle behind in 2010 to volunteer in Sebeta, 40km outside the capital Addis Ababa. They stayed for two years, working mainly in Sebeta College, which trains teachers in special needs education, and in Sebeta Blind School, a boarding school for blind children from all over the Oromio region.

They loved the experience with VSO Ireland so much they have returned every year since. Pat worked as an engineer in Galway County Council and Mary was a primary school teacher in ‘the Jes’. They also help out on odd jobs, like building disabled access ramps and painting, during their month-long African sojourn over the last eight years.

Last year they decided to go one step further and raise money to build a classroom for 30 of the youngest children, who were being educated under a tree due to the lack of space in the 350-pupil school.

“The school has four classes in the morning and the older classes in the afternoon and the Kindergarten had no classroom at all,” explained Pat.

“We did much better than we expected by raising €20,000 last year – €4,000 on Shop Street and the rest through family and friends and other donations. It cost €12,500 to build the classroom and another €1,500 to furnish it.”

The two new classrooms will be for first and second graders as well as a resource room for disabled students. Pat and Mary will return to the village in October to oversee the construction and train teachers for the new classrooms.

They couple expect their musical and dancing fundraising event on Shop Street – from 11am to 6pm this Saturday – will involve 100 participants, between bucket collectors and performers.

To donate money for Sebeta’s Haro Jila primary school visit

See full story in this week’s Connacht Tribune.