Student Union Partnership

Kate Newton’s (University of Leicester Student Union Vice President Welfare and International) visit to Gondar, February 2011.

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Kate Newton (Middle) with Fente (right) from the Kindu Trust and a local orphan who makes necklaces to be sold.

After almost 24 hours on a plane with a rather fidgety couple of passengers, a breakfast of fresh papaya and local honey and the Sunday morning call to prayer, we had finally arrived in Gondar.

The current Leicester-Gondar link is primarily a medical one. The main reason for my visit was to look at expanding the link into other areas such as student links, welfare support and look at possible areas where the two student union organisations could work collaboratively.

The tour of the university campus on the first morning, which included the city university hospital was a real eye opener. Resources in the hospital were incredibly limited. In the university however, huge development was being undertaken. The engineering campus was under construction and whilst their first year students were dutifully sitting their exams in a temporary library, the brand new electronic engineering buildings were being fitted with state of the art equipment shipped in from Germany. One of the local students  took me to their halls of residence to proudly show me where she lived. The halls in Gondar are very different to Leicester. Single rooms are unheard of.  Most rooms consist of four bunk beds and a desk for all to share organised into single sex blocks. I think students In Leicester don’t realise how good they have it.

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Gondar students dormitory featuring 4 sets of bunk beds to a room

One issue we decided to tackle was the new student orientation. Unlike Leicester who have students from all of the globe, Gondar students come mainly from within Ethiopia. Historically, Ethiopia is tribal in nature and although Amharic is the most widely spoken language, the country has numerous languages spoken in different regions. Currently the provision for the orientation of new students is limited and there is little done in terms of social integration or about life in Gondar city. In Leicester the international student welcome programme features workshops and the Fresher’s Week programme, giving students the opportunity to sign up to clubs and sports groups as well as a vast range of scheduled entertainment. Whilst the programme in Leicester would be very different to what the University of Gondar would wish to offer, there are certainly areas we can work together to help to develop the programme.

We looked at the provision of welfare services for students, particularly in guidance and counselling. Problems ranged from money concerns and bullying, right through to suicidal desperation and harassment and these are all issues that welfare can help students with. Once the problem is solved, a happier student is more likely to succeed. The University of Gondar was very interested in the structure and strategic objectives in Leicester for welfare, as well as the operational challenges such as resources and funding. 

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Kate Newton being honoured with a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony

Gender inequality is a huge issue in the University of Gondar. Whilst I was in Gondar, the Gender Mainstreaming Officer passed an on-campus anti-harassment policy, and plans were already in full swing for International Women’s Day (8 March). It was felt that the Students’ Union in Leicester along with the National Union of Students female officer could offer advice and support on dealing with some of these issues. My involvement with the female association resulted in an invitation to a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony (these generally only happen at special occasions such as graduation) and I felt honoured that they arranged one for me. I have officially been converted to Ethiopian coffee, much thicker, sweeter and milk-less compared to the coffee we drink in the UK. Then again you would expect the coffee to be excellent from the country that it originated from!

An area of personal interest was the outstanding work of the Kindu Trust in Gondar. This is a charity that takes orphans living on the streets and through sponsorship, places them with local families. They also encourage older orphans to make and sell items such as necklaces to support their living. This fantastic charity is desperately in need of further sponsors and donations.

All in all the week was an huge success, there was even time for a some sightseeing in the local area including the Fasiladas Palace, an awe-inspiring world heritage site, and some time to indulge in the local speciality food. A hugely colourful and stimulating week filled with lots of exciting opportunities to work together. One of the most inspiring factors was the positivity of everyone I met, something we can learn a lot from here!

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Kate Newton, LUSU Vice President with some children in Gondar

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