Christmas in Addis!

January 7th, 2015

Merry Christmas from Addis Ababa! The TC SLP team started off Christmas morning at a leisurely pace (apparently being transported back in time 8 years didn’t make any of us eager to rush downstairs at dawn), spending the morning chatting and enjoying each other’s company. In the afternoon we began to prepare for our upcoming cleft palate workshop at Yekatit 12 Hospital, including a refresher course on feeding considerations for infants with cleft palate led by the indomitable Jayne.

We then set out to begin our Christmas Day festivities in earnest. After a quick stop by a beautiful outlook in the mountains that let us get a fantastic view of the whole of Addis Ababa at dusk (which included a fast dance lesson/party with our bus drivers), we arrived at Soliana’s house to spend a fantastic Christmas night with her and her family.  We all agreed that it was wonderful to spend the night in a joy-filled home surrounded by a warm family, particularly after living in hotels away from our own families for a little bit.

We were warned before dinner started that Soliana’s mother was renowned for her fantastic cooking, and everything was indeed fantastic–easily the best meal we’ve had on a trip that has provided its fair share of amazing meals! Everything from the tej to the injera was homemade and delicious, and the wonderful conversations in between bites was the icing on the cake (or maybe the egg in the doro wat?). We couldn’t have asked for a merrier Christmas in Ethiopia!

[Sorry for the lack of pictures–sometimes you’re too busy having fun to remember your camera!]


Of Bunna and Baboons

January 8th, 2015

Good morning from Rebecca (and the rest of the TC SLP team)!

We woke up this morning to the news that the inclusive community school (St. Anthony’s) which we were scheduled to visit was still closed for Christmas break. Being the adaptable and resourceful team that we are, we decided instead to go see the Debre Libanos monastery (after one more delicious cup of bunna (coffee!) at the hotel, naturally).

After a two-hour bus trip (made shorter by singing and playing games, or sleeping for the wiser among us) through the scenic countryside, we arrived at the Ethio-German Park Hotel for lunch before making our way over to the monastery. Our stop at the hotel turned out to be the highlight of our excursion! The hotel is located on the edge of a canyon, which provided absolutely breathtaking vistas and some A+ wildlife watching while we ate lunch. We enjoyed watching large birds of prey swoop through the canyon (and watching the feral cats that were watching the birds), but nothing compared to the marvel of a troop of baboons wandering by.


Can you spot the troop of baboons?


After lunch, most of the group went to go hike down the canyon to see the views (and more baboons) from the Portuguese Bridge, while others stayed on higher ground to continue sight-seeing while enjoying “coffee tea” (sugary Ethiopian tea with a shot of expresso on top).


The baboons started getting too close for comfort...
The baboons started getting too close for comfort…

After a fast, uneventful stop at the monastery,  we piled back into our buses to watch the sun set as we traveled back to the hotel. After arriving, we immediately set about the important business of ordering dinner and drinks from the hotel bar while making some final preparations for the first day of our cleft palate workshop at Yekatit 12 Hospital Medical College. We start at the hospital bright and early tomorrow morning–stay tuned!

Communication, Collaboration and Community Integration at ENAID!

Today we had a fun and successful half day at the Ethiopian National Association on Intellectual Disabilities (ENAID), a vocational training program for adults with intellectual disabilities. The director of the center, Mihret Nigussie, gave a tour and provided background about the adults that attend the center. She explained that some Ethiopian primary and secondary schools have special education classrooms where the adults would have been educated as children. At 18, they leave those classrooms and come to ENAID where they continue with some classroom learning and receive physical therapy. However, the primary training they receive is vocational. They design and weave beautiful and high-quality goods such as scarves, dishcloths and welcome mats from cotton and wool. They also have paint blocks that they use to print designs on some of textiles they create. There are currently 60-70 adults who attend the center, and the day we visited there were approximately 40. The others did not attend due to the Christmas Eve holiday.

Sam at Loom

When we arrived, the members (adults participating in training) greeted us with smiles and handshakes. Almost immediately they started to show us the looms and how they make the different products. During these interactions, it was evident to us that they had limitations with verbal production that did not allow us to understand what they were trying convey about their goods and which would also prevent them from interacting directly with customers at the markets without assistance from staff. We saw this as a perfect opportunity to help facilitate functional communication with low tech AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication)! To do this, we decided to create a modified market card, which are used in Ghana to allow children with limited communication to go to the market alone to buy items for their family. With collaboration from the Director of ENAID, we designed the Market Seller Cards to contain an introduction and ENAID’s name on one side and the names and prices of the items for sale on the other.


Before we got to work, the members performed a dance for us, which we quickly joined! We were also offered coffee and popcorn as part of a traditional Ethiopian coffee ceremony! After the festivities, Cate and a group of TC students explained the cards and how they would be used. The members immediately understood the purpose of the cards and got very excited about making and using them!


Once the plan was hatched, we got to work and created an assembly line of sorts! We had an artist and lamination team composed of members from ENAID and TC students and supervisors. After the text was complete, the artist team drew and colored pictures of some of the top selling items (welcome mats, scarves, and mops) and the other team laminated with packing tape.

artist group

One of the highlights of this process was that our van drivers jumped right in to help write materials in Amharic, making this a true community effort!


Once the cards were created, the most exciting part of the day was setting up a market to allow the members to learn to use the cards.

Market seller card

Because many of us wanted to buy so many of their beautiful products, these training sessions, which we videotaped for future training purposes, quickly evolved into a bustling marketplace. In fact, the members become so adept at using the cards that they began to move around the crowd to offer their cards to us and the drivers to initiate and complete purchases. And it worked, because many of us left with armfuls of scarves, mats and other items!


Our half day was finished with a presentation of a $200 donation to ENAID from TC International Inclusion Project and a group photo of all of us from TC and ENAID. All in all, this was a most exciting day, as we were able to provide a simple and sustainable AAC tool for the members to enable them to be more integrated into the community at market and to sell their wares more independently.


After our half day at ENAID we had a very educational tour at the National Museum, where we learned more about Ethiopian and why it is considered the cradle of humankind. We then enjoyed a relaxing and delicious Italian meal at a local restaurant before attending a Christmas Eve midnight mass at an Ethiopian Orthodox Church. It was truly a day packed with new friends and colleagues, educational opportunities and integration with the local religious customs.

A Day Without a Break!

January 5, 2015

Twenty teachers and our TC Team of 11 spent a full and fun-filled day of professional development today at Nehemiah Autism School in Addis Ababa. We divided up into six tables—the five teams—Konjo (Beautiful), Nebir (Tiger), Faris (Beyond expectations), Zoe (Godly life), and Gobez (Good job). I was the MC of the day, that was filled with laughter and hard work.

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The Tiger Team!
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Good Job Gobez Team!!

The day started with calendars presented by Annie and Michael. Sounds fairly simple until we realized everything had to be in Amharic and Ethiopians follow the Julian calendar. Yes, it was December 27, 2007 not January 5, 2015. Everyone was 8 years younger—great for me, but some of our students were only 15! Annie and Georgia created a song for the days of the week in Amharic with hand clapping and repetition. Michael, our weatherman, modified all 70 weather cards into Amharic. Grace, Georgia, and I introduced literacy and math through the name tags after Georgia “MacGivered” a classroom display from tape, staples, and yarn.

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Amharic calendar!

Everyone had roles—Amika, Ozge, and Lisa (“Edmondes”) showed how to use the classroom schedules including how to elicit more interactive communications from the students. Finally, Sam, Rebecca, and Jayne introduced Social Stories and every team made one. It was a real collaboration especially with Teddy, Nehemiah’s project coordinator and curriculum administrator, who interpreted throughout the day including making sure that the concepts were understood by the teachers. Soliana’s family was indispensible as they interpreted at the individual tables—thanks to Eamon, Tutu, Beth, Waldy, and of course Soliana! Berhane Abera, an SLT at Yekatit 12 Hospital, spent the day interpreting and joined in the activities.

Afterwards we debriefed and found so many peaks:

When Kaleb, one of the teachers said that his classroom’s schedule needed to list “calendar” going forward;

How great the Nehemiah teachers were– open to learning, fully engaged throughout the day, with strong foundations to build upon;

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Name tags–We knew the teachers would use these!

When we saw the lightbulbs go off as the teachers began realizing how much the strategies could benefit their students;

How we could see the value of our field—the school had so much in place but was missing the speech-language piece—and we fit in like the one missing piece of the puzzle;

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Collaboration–Adding speech and language–the only missing piece of the fantastic Nehemiah Autism School!

When we realized how well our TC SLP students prepared themselves and did so well making sure our work here is sustainable.

Maybe the best evidence of how the day went was that when cookies and delicious Ethiopian tea were served and everyone was offered a break after hours of work—NO ONE STOPPED WORKING, because no one wanted to miss a minute of what they could learn that day.

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Collaboration and Teamwork. Sharing strategies!

The one weakness—just not quite enough time. It was a terrific day. We will return next week to make sure the materials are used. If they are being used, each teacher will receive a certificate of attendance!

As we ended each scheduling activity—ALEKA!!! (finished)

Cate Crowley

Prep Party

Back in Addis! After departing the lovely Lalibela, we spent the afternoon back at the hotel preparing sample augmentative and alternative communication (AAC) materials for our professional development day at Nehemiah. We broke into teams and made calendars, schedules, name tags, and social stories. When we came together, we practiced explaining strategies and activities associated with the materials we made. We are looking forward to collaborating with the teachers to create customized materials for their students and classrooms. Tomorrow will be an exciting day!

Schedule group
Schedule group
Calendar and name tag group

More to come, stay tuned!

Annie and Sam

Note: We got a bit behind in the blogging during our travels, so be sure to check out the previous posts below from Friday and Saturday.

(Not so) Live from Lalibela!


Hey friends and fam! Annie and Sam here, reporting from Lalibela. We had a thrilling (and exhausting) day exploring and seeing all the sights. Lalibela greeted us with stunning views on our drive up from the “airport.”

View from the top

We got stuck in a bit of donkey traffic, as there are hundreds of people making the pilgrimage to Lalibela for Christmas. They are coming to pray at the 12th century rock-hewn churches, which were carved right into the ground of the mountain and are truly remarkable. But more on that later. First we went to the market, which was big and loud and crazy and crowded and overwhelming and wonderful. Then we walked over to some of the churches, and passed through the pilgrims’ lively campground.

Pilgrim campsite


We visited a cluster of churches. Every detail in the architecture held significance, down to the shape and configuration of the windows and the number of carved decorative arches. One was the largest monolithic church in the world, but even that barely held a candle to St. George’s Church (Beit Giyorgis).

Beit Giyorgis from above

While approaching the church from above, we could hear chanting and clapping. When we descended, we joined a group of women pilgrims, clapping as they sang and danced in praise of St. Mary. It can only be described as magical. In case you’re wondering, they practice Ethiopian (Eastern) Orthodox Christianity, which combines the old and new testaments with the Book of Miracles.

We finished our day by meeting to begin preparing for our work at Nehemiah on Monday. Sightseeing has been fantastic, and now we are excited to dive into work!

Note: We got a bit behind in the blogging during our travels, so be sure to check the previous post below from Friday 1/2!

Excursion to Bahir Dar

Post for 1/2/2015: Hello!  Georgia and Michael here again, here to tell you of our adventures in Bahir Dar (on Friday). Our apologies for the radio silence!

Upon landing in Bahir Dar, we immediately noticed just how lush and green the area was (especially compared to Addis Ababa).  The roads there were lined with trees, blooming plants, and the like.  Our hotel was lakeside of Lake Tana, and each room had a gorgeous view of the lake.  After settling at the hotel, we disembarked via boat for a tour of a local monastery (Entos Eyesu) and church (Beta Maryam).

TC SLPs climbing aboard the SS Slowboat
TC SLPs climbing aboard the SS Slowboat
Sunset outside the hotel
Sunset outside the hotel

The monastery, Entos Eyesu, was located on a small, remote island where 5 nuns and 15 monks lived.  The island was full of birdsong, thick with the smoke of injera cooking, and lush with many types of trees and flowers.  We visited a small museum, where a priest dressed in yellow robes read us passages from a holy book in Ge’ez, (ancient Amharic script) and sang us a beautiful chant in the tradition of St. Yared, the founder of Ethiopian sacred music.

After our visit to the monastery, we took a longer boat ride to the peninsula of Lake Tana to visit the Beta Maryam church.  The path up to the church and surrounding village was lined with merchants selling crosses, prayer books, and other religious souvenirs.  At the top, we walked through the 16th century church.  Its interior was lined with paintings depicting stories from the Old and New Testament, as well as stories from the Ethiopian miracle books.  We were invited to meet the young men who were studying Ge’ez and chant books to become deacons and priests. For lunch, we ate a wonderful meal (fried and grilled fish with french fries) by the lake at the Desset Lodge.

The church at Beta Maryam
The houses where those studying to become priests and deacons lived
The houses where men studying to become priests and deacons lived (at Beta Maryam)

In the evening, after class, we piled into a number of tuk-tuks (known as “bajaj”) and went to a cultural show.  On stage, singers and dancers performed a number of traditional Ethiopian songs. While we enjoyed the performances, most of us partook in ~a glass of tej — a thick, syrupy honey wine.  Annie and I (Michael) thoroughly enjoyed the beverage and drank a few flasks, while the others of the group weren’t so fond of the drink, and (luckily) consumed only a little.  Tej’s distinct flavor is difficult to describe, but imagine a hamburger patty dipped in rancid honey with a touch of cheap perfume.  Given such a description, it’s difficult to understand why Annie and I enjoyed this drink so much.

After the first cultural show, a few of us (Sam, Annie, Dr. Crowley, and I) went to another cultural show.  It was similar to the first show, with song and dance, though the crowd was a little younger than the first.  However, the highlight of this visit — and possibly the whole trip — was when Dr. Crowley was summoned on stage to participate in a comedy/dance routine.  While video of this historical event was recorded, what happens in Bahir Dar stays in Bahir Dar. But I have been given permission to share a picture — enjoy!

Dr. Crowley's debut performance at one of Dahir B
Dr. Crowley bowing after her debut performance at one of Bahir Dar’s cultural shows

Ciao ciao!  Annie and Sam will hit you hard with a barrage of updates from the past couple of days.  Daily/nightly updates should resume tomorrow!

Xoxoxo ❤