Tigray’s education sector has suffered severe setbacks due to the devastating war on Tigray. Schools lie in ruins, with students and teachers facing tragic fates. Those who survived are grappling with profound trauma, teachers are leaving, and the remaining few are without salaries. Consequently, students’ interest in education has plummeted. The challenges to rejuvenate Tigray’s education are formidable.
In an effort to reignite hope and interest, several efforts are undergoing. As part of this, we have also organized an awareness and fundraising event in Amsterdam, featuring music, dance, and testimonies. You can watch the entire recording of the event here
Looking Back to the Past for Inspiration: Kellamino
To infuse hope into Tigray’s education sector, we turn to the past for inspirational stories. Kellamino is one particular success story. We conducted an online questionnaire asking individuals who completed their 8th grade between 1998 and 2013 about what Kellamino meant to them.
31 partipants who completed their 8th grade between the start of Kellamino (1998) and 2013 particpated. Participants live in Tigray, Addis Ababa, different European countries, USA, and the UK. The educational levels of 30 of them are shown in the chart below.
The main questions were two and they had to write a paragraph or two to answer them. The first question was:
Q1: In your elementary school, what was Kellamino for you? How did it influence you? Please write your answer either in English or Tigrinya. Tell us in more detail in one or two paragraphs.
Kellamino as Inspiration
Many of them wrote positively about its inspirational value.
Neway who didn’t join Kellamino recalls “during my elementary school, Kellamino was just a gate for wisdom and a place where quality education is provided. Students talked a lot about it and Its name was special.”
Guanshe, who also didn’t join Kellamino said “simply the name kellamino was a motivation for me because there was one senior student from my elementary school who joined kellamino. My brother used to tell me to be like him. The person whom I only knew in rumor became my motivation.” Guanshe didn’t have the opportunity to join Kellamino because, unfortunately, kellamino didn’t receive students in the year 2006.
A girl participant said “I heard about kellamino when I was in 6th/7th grade. I was always good in school but the idea of joining a special boarding school gave me bigger dreams and motivated me to excel in my studies.”
Another participant, Birhanu Kahsay, said:
I used to hear rumors that it is a school where outstanding students learn. When I reached sixth grade I came to know a person who was a student there. I began to spend summer breaks with him and he helped me with science subjects. He also used to tell me stories about Kellamino, and encouraged me to aim for it. I was inspired to do well in my primary school.”
Yet another particpant, Yosef, said:
“I heard probably when I was in grade 2 when people used to talk a lot about how beautiful and friendly Kallamino is for excellent students. Some of my elementary teachers were also encouraging me to excel in order to join Kellamino. That made me want to join Kellamino. Others also wanted to join and that indeed increased the competition among us.”
A particpant by the name Mebrahtu Hagos said “I started school right after the victory of Weyane Tigray, in 1992 and the teachers used to tell us that education was the key to personal success and to develop our Tigray. We were trained that Tigray was waiting for us. In the middle of this, Kellamino came to life and it drove our love for education even more to a higher level. Competition among friends and classmates rose dramatically as well. I didn’t make it to Kellamino but I think its existence by itself contributed a lot to my success in education. I hope that the hope, optimism and competition we had in my childhood will be back to our schools in Tigray soon.”
Another participant, Hailay, said “it was an inspiration for studying hard. I heard about it when I was in grade 4. A Kellamino student told me about it, including a detailed criteria to join the school. After that it became my dream. Starting from grade 5, I started paying the fullest attention to my education despite traveling on foot for 4 hours per day. There were competitions between students and schools that helped us to master our course materials.”
An unnamed participant said:
“Kellamino Special High School, for me, was a beacon of dreams and aspirations that was ignited when I was just a 6th grader, a tender age of 12. The moment that etched this remarkable institution into my heart happened on the illustrious day known as “ሰነ 30,” [July 7 in the Grongorian calendar] a day when families gathered to celebrate the end of school year and and to celebrate their children’s academic achievements. As an outstanding student, I was showered with prizes and accolades in front of the entire school community. Little did I know, this day would change my life forever. It was on that memorable occasion that a dynamic, youthful alumnus congratulated me and initiated a life-altering conversation. He introduced me to the mythical realm of Kellamino, and the excitement was palpable. At that moment, I envisioned a place where excellence thrived, a school reserved only for the crème de la crème of students. He painted a vivid picture of Kellamino as a sanctuary where the teachers were unparalleled, everything was optimized for learning, and the best part – a full scholarship for four years.
The mere thought of it was electrifying. For the next two years, I was consumed by an unrelenting obsession with Kellamino. The impact it had on my life was monumental. Even before setting foot inside its gates, it transformed me into a more committed, disciplined, goal-driven individual.
Haben Birhane said “during my elementary school years, Kellamino represented an extraordinary place, where the best students had the opportunity to excel” An unknown expressed what Kellamino meant even if he didn’t manage to join: “having such a prestigious place served as a powerful motivator, encouraging us to aim high and strive for excellence.”
Yirgalem Gebremichael said “one of our main goals at that time was to be able to join Kellamino after the 8th grade regional exam.”
Berhane Kiros said ”The ambition to join KSHS was the greatest motivation I have ever had in my life. Not to mention what I learned at KSHS, the motivation and commitment I developed in the four years of preparation (starting grade 4) to join the school shaped my future. … KSHS is one of my stories I wish I could do over and over. It would be a sin not to wish today’s kids the kind of motivation I had when I joined KSHS.
Kellamino’s impact for those who joined it
The second question was:
Q2: If you joined Kellamino, how did you find it? How has it changed your life/career?
Many wrote about its positive impact after joining, and its lasting impact in their lives.
Berhane Kiros Gebremeskel said “My story here isn’t about specific or general experiences I had in KSHS. I specifically want to focus on the power of KSHS and its stories that gave me hope and drive to be a better and hard working person. Growing up in the countryside, I was needed to be productive in helping the family and I was. When I call back home nowadays, everyone tells me they don’t have any future either in Tigray or in studying at all. They want to leave and ask me to help them. And this is why I believe the story of KSHS is needed more than ever. And for the great KSHS stories to come to life, KSHS needs to be great again.”
Teklay said “everything was new to me. The food was new. I remember being embarrassed at the students’ cafeteria because I didn’t know how to twiddle pasta forks. And a lot of similar embarrassing experiences. I remember being at a loss when I was given a toilet paper for the first time. I didn’t know what it was and I wasn’t courageous enough to ask. Regarding the impact of Kellamino on my life, it’s not an exaggeration to say that it was a life changer for me. If I had gone to a high school in the small town near the village I was born, I’d probably have just about staggered to finish high-school but college would have been unthinkable. I’d have probably become a farmer. Kellamino opened up the world to me. I met different people. I learnt how to thrive in a competitive environment. I learned how to handle pressure. And I believe it’s those things that set me up for life.”
An unknown participant said “Joining Kellamino was like stepping into a realm of sheer beauty, tranquility, and boundless excitement. The very essence of the school was enchanting, from the delectable meals to the meticulously maintained campus, and not to forget the sprawling football field that witnessed our dreams take flight. Yet, what truly made Kellamino an unforgettable chapter in my life were the brilliant minds that gathered there – my schoolmates and classmates hailed from every corner of Tigray, each one a gifted soul. As for how Kellamino altered the course of my life and career, words seem insufficient to capture its profound impact. It’s not just a chapter in my story; it’s the story itself, the narrative that defines me. Kellamino instilled in me a love for learning that burns brighter with each passing day. The rest is a story”
Another parcipant said “it completely changed my life. I have a supportive family but it would have been challenging for them to afford quality education. Also if I had stayed at home, I would be expected to do house chores and wouldn’t focus on my studies as much as I did in kellamino. I had the privilege to use my potential and escape early marriage, unlike most of my cousins who dropped out of university to get married. It made my family believe in me and support my career ambitions. I also had the opportunity to study abroad and pursue higher education.”
Yet another one said “once I finally joined this oasis of learning, one of the proudest moments of my life, it opened doors I never could have imagined. Without Kellamino, I might not have completed high school, considering the family challenges and personal hurdles I faced. It sculpted me into the person I am today, both personally and professionally, and for that, I will forever be grateful.”
Teklay Gebrehiwet said “I felt its effect after I left. The experience I had there put me in a good place for the coming challenges and helped me pass them.”
“Obviously it was a wonderful experience. It is a place where you find people of similar minds from all corners of Tigray. In addition to the facilities we were given by the school, the cultural experiences from students of different backgrounds, culture, language dialects and norms prepared me well for my future career.”
For many, not joining Kellamino was a source of sorrow.
A participant who still has a very high regard for Kellamino said the day he knew he wasn’t accepted to Kellamino is still one of his saddest days.
Another said “Kelamino was not there while I was in grade 8. Two years later, while Kelamino enrolled in its 1st batch, I said I wish I was in grade 8.
Kellamino Beyond Tigray
As its name and reputation soared, Kellamino got the attention of Tigrayans that are far from Tigray. To accommodate this, Kellamino changed its policy and allowed students who paid. This allowed Tigrayans from outside Tigray to join. Many were critical of this change, arguing that this act degraded the quality of the school. The impact of this act remains yet to be studied, but the participant below, Fryat, says he has been positively impacted.
It was Ethiopian Millennium time and I heard about the school from a friend that it was advertising to accept students outside Tigray for the first time in its history. I used to live in Addis Ababa at that time and I never heard of it until that moment to be honest. Most of the Tigrayan children born and living outside of Tigray including myself, are not only far from being aware of such an organization, but also we don’t have good communication skills in Tigrinya.
So, when I heard about it, i went to my Mom and asked her for more info, and I remember that she was so happy that there came a chance for Tigrayan students like myself (living outside Tigray), and she started telling me how she would be proud if I would join the school. Then, I decided to give it a try and succeeded. Since then I am always grateful for getting that chance. The school has taught me a lot, both academic and social. Kellamino is always my first choice when it comes to comparing my childhood times.Thanks
What should Kellamino have done better
Some say Kellamino should have done better in some areas. Below are some examples.
One participant said “besides the indispensable impacts, had Kallamino had the following additional activities, my current life/career would have been much more fruitful. The first thing was that it solely focused on academic activities. Its support towards some literature, group projects, and some big group activities are so rare or controlled by some few people. It would have been important for me had it included some field study that involves combining the academic knowledge and the environment you live in.”
Birhane Kahsay reflects “I can describe my stay in kellamin in two ways, positive and negative. The negative side I experienced during my stay was I became socially segregated from society. Especially when I went to my city [Shire], I had no friends because when I left to kellamino they started their own life in highschool. But when it comes to the positive side, I got some other talented students who can change Tigray socially, politically and technologically. The most important question here is does Tigray use those talented students, scholars and programmers for the change we want? Kellaminot was good, but I expected more than I got. As a school of talented people I was not expected to go with the Ethiopian educational curriculum (an education system that kills talents).”
Haben said “academically, Kellamino introduced me to exceptional students with brilliant minds, although cooperation among peers was sometimes lacking. While the school offered remarkable opportunities, the curriculum leaned towards traditional book smarts. I often wished for a more diverse curriculum, especially coming from Mekelle, where I risked losing interest in school compared to my exceptionally bright former classmates. Despite this, Kellamino provided a solid grounding. Although the curriculum and school materials weren’t extraordinary, my active participation in extracurricular activities such as sports and drama enriched my experience with cherished memories.”
The responses from these participants offer valuable insights. They provide lessons on how to reignite the spirit of excellence in Tigrayan students’ educational pursuits. While the significant number of students directly impacted by joining Kellamino is noteworthy, it’s equally remarkable that millions of students across Tigray and throughout different periods found Kellamino to be a source of inspiration, propelling them towards academic excellence. Extracting lessons from this collective experience and applying them to rejuvenate the education sector is urgently needed.