ATLANTA (ABP) — Dee Donalson grasped a tiny hand and helped an Ethiopian kindergartener trace over stones lined in the shape of the numeral 2.
The Cooperative Baptist Fellowship field worker, whose front porch serves as a makeshift classroom, teaches nine students about letters, numbers and shapes. She uses whatever educational tools she can find locally — including stones, wheat straw and juice boxes — to instruct the students and two teacher trainees.
Before Donalson arrived in Hossana, Ethiopia, last year, most of the village’s young children did not attend kindergarten, because the closest one was too far away. Nationwide, Donalson said, only 20 percent of Ethiopia’s children attend any sort of school, because the government does not have the financial resources to provide enough classrooms or teachers.
Donalson is working to build a kindergarten at Ethiopian Kale Heywet Church Ministry Training College in Hossana. She expects the school, with six classrooms, running water and furnishings, will cost about $100,000.
“Kindergarten taught in a developmentally appropriate way gives them a foundation to build the rest of their education,” she said. “It also teaches them to problem-solve, investigate, explore, examine and experiment.”
Donalson, 65, of Sanibel Island and Ft. Myers, Fla., spent her career establishing schools for young children and training teachers in the United States. In 2004, she felt called to serve in Ethiopia. From 2004-07 she served as a teacher trainer and director of a kindergarten in Butajira, Ethiopia. But then she felt the Lord was calling her to do more.
“I had a definite message from God that I was to train many more teachers in Ethiopia to teach the thousands of children who were school age, but didn’t have a space in the classroom,” Donalson said.
Soon, she knew God was calling her to the Bible college in Hossana. The school is one of seven Bible colleges in Ethiopia run by the Kale Heywet Church, the country’s largest evangelical denomination, with about 3.5 million members and 6,000 churches. Kale Heywet, which translates as “word of life,” sends missionaries worldwide, including some countries where American missionaries are not welcomed, she said.
“I love the idea that [CBF Global Missions Coordinator] Rob Nash put forth when he said that ‘the church is God’s missionary to the world,’” Donalson said. “And I feel that there are many opportunities to bridge with other organizations like the Kale Heywet Church in Ethiopia.”
In addition to her kindergarten work, Donalson has taught English at the college. Learning English is a critical tool for indigenous missionaries, she said, since it is the most commonly used language both in Ethiopia and abroad.
She also is helping the community improve its access to water, plant vegetable gardens and learn good health practices. When Donalson learned the campus had no running water, she contacted David Harding, a CBF field worker who brings clean water to Ethiopian communities.
Harding’s team evaluated the college’s well and recommended a submersible pump. CBF donated the pump, a holding tank and a platform. Donalson’s home church, Sanibel Community Church, is raising funds to pay for pump installation and pipes.
When the pump begins operating, more financial support will be needed to cover additional electricity costs and to pay a guard to oversee the well.
Once the school is constructed, about $1,080 a year will be needed to provide salaries for two kindergarten teachers. Donalson hopes to add a grade level each year after the kindergarten is established.
She often reminds herself of Acts 17:28, “It is in Him that I live and move and have my being.” That verse helps her focus on being the presence of Christ.
“I hope that as I am in His presence I will be totally submissive in allowing the Holy Spirit to manifest itself through me to help fulfill the Great Commission,” she said.