Sitting squat and low on a patchy and rutted lawn in an impoverished neighborhood in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, surrounded by a vegetable garden, the Fresh and Green Academy’s cheerful turquoise exterior announces the vibrant activity taking place within its concrete walls. Since 2000, this is where 235 pre-Kindergarten through eighth grade children are fed, showered and taught daily. This school, a respite from life’s harsh realities, is at the heart of these young lives, thoroughly enmeshed in their daily rhythm. For Todd Jarvis ’00 who serves on the advisory board of the 501c Friends of Fresh, the school has become an integral part of his life as much as it has become one for the students it serves. Visiting the school once a year for the past nine years, Jarvis says, “As soon as I walk through the gates of the school, my heart lights up. When I see the kids, it makes everything worth it.”
The brainchild of a remarkable Ethiopian woman, a living Mother Theresa, Muday Mitiku, Fresh and Green Academy initially was started as a fee-paying school. As a follower of the Baha’i religion, Mitiku abided by her faith’s basic tenet to eliminate poverty, and one of the best means to do this was through education. The Kotebe section of Addis Ababa is one of the most destitute in the country inhabited by children who sleep on piles of trash and single mothers who are victims of sex trafficking. When Mitiku began to enroll some tuition free street children into her school, some of the tuition paying families decided to remove their children from the school, creating a financial crisis. A group of flight attendants heard of the plight of the school, and established a non-profit organization, Friends of Fresh and Green Academy Inc, to support the needs of the school through biannual fundraisers. It costs approximately $35 per month per child to run the school, and ninety nine percent of the school’s funding is supported through donations.
Impelled after seeing first hand the harsh living conditions of the students that resided in tin shacks with muddy floors and raw sewage running through the street, Jarvis opened a registry for shoes through Walmart and collected over 300 pairs of shoes and other clothing, totaling 457 items. Since the shipping costs of the 400 pounds of donations are prohibitively expensive, Jarvis and other airline employees pack up suitcases of the donated items, travel to Ethiopia on discounted flights and deliver the items in person.
Despite the students’ poverty, Jarvis marvels at the pure happiness in the students’ eyes. “They smile and glow. When you see how much they love to go to school, you realize how much the sense of community and belonging this gives them. Some come to school on Saturday and Sunday, too. They’re full of love and curiosity.” Although he acknowledges that the three meals a day are a tremendous incentive for the children to attend school, the organization also empowers the community as a whole. Mothers of the students attend vocational training through The Mother’s Cooperative at Fresh and Green Academy and learn skills like basket weaving and pottery making. They sell their handiwork at a commercial stall in front of the school and reap the proceeds of the sales.
Jarvis found a few lessons of his own Fresh and Green Academy. “As long as you have love, support, belonging and safety, you don’t need a lot of money to be happy. What’s important is a sense of community and adults that are invested in your well-being.” In that regard, Fresh and Green reminds him of his own experience at KO. “I valued that sense of safety and comfort at KO. Everyone said “hi.” The kids really cared about each other at school. It was a wonderful environment to be raised in and gave me a sense of self. It was such an important part of who I am.”
Jarvis believes that every child deserves to flourish and prosper. As a key member to the Friends of Fresh and Green Academy, Jarvis is helping marginalized young students do just that.