Norman Cross is a member of the Irish Ethiopian Friendship Association. He attended the celebrations of Ethiopian New Year in Dublin on September 10th (Ethiopian New Year fell on September 11th this year). He was kind enough to talk to Yeah! Magazine.

What does the Irish Ethiopian Friendship Association do exactly?

We do a number of things. First of all, we have very low overhead, with no employees. Everybody’s a volunteer! All the members of the committee have lived or worked in Ethiopia. Our first venture was to help to build – or provide the funding to build – a training centre for disabled people. And we got a grant from Irish Aid for that. We then moved onto young women’s education. We’re aware of the fact that a lot of young women are dropping out of school, or they are marrying early, in Ethiopia.

I know the Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa very well, and our idea is to prevent young women going there [to give birth]! We want to keep them in school by paying for their uniforms and for their school books. That’s going very well.

We support another body, Kindu Trust, in Gondar.

We also had an arrangement with one of the schools in Mek’ele, a private school. With the help of a friend of mine who was working out there, she identified girls who were struggling in state school, big classes, and got them into this school. The first group of ten girls, we paid their fees and nine out of the ten girls got into university.

It wasn’t their intellect holding them back! Was the state school co-educational? Don’t they say that in mixed schools, the boys tend to succeed even though girls do better than the boys, academically, when taught in the absence of boys?

In mixed schools, the boys are more aggressive and louder. They’ll put their hands up faster even if they don’t know the answer!

Possibly. That’s a very good point. I was not aware of the details of the situation other than that those girls were struggling in the state school. The environment of the state school, they’re overcome by the numbers.

And the only reason the tenth girl didn’t get into university was because she was a Seventh Day Adventist so she couldn’t go to school on a Saturday.

We were asking the school for updates, to please send photographs of the group so that we could go back to our donors, and to please send updates from last year’s school reports. But there’s nothing in it for the school to maintain contact, so that partnership is winding down.

We’re just starting to support the Haile Selassie I Trust. They identify young people who have actually made it into university but they have no shoes and they feel uncomfortable without having a suit and this organisation supports them.

The other thing we have done is we’ve sent five container-loads of second-hand wheelchairs. Perfectly usable. I think the situation has changed a little bit here but in the past, the HSE didn’t want them back. They would just discard them, so we collected these wheelchairs. We’ve got a waiting-list of 450 people who need wheelchairs.

Did you ever learn Amharic on your travels?

No. I didn’t make any progress with the language because nobody would allow me to speak anything other than English. I was working with Ethiopian management and they thought that I spoke very good English.

You do – you’re very well-spoken.

The reason for that is I used to do a lot of lecturing and you have to speak clearly and distinctly to be understood. Some people think I’m an Englishman!

You can find the Irish Ethiopian Friendship Association online. Some of the details about how to donate or work with the group can be found here.