On Monday, September 15th I was honored to be invited to check out the Friends of Fresh and Green Academy's 6th Annual Casino Night at Connolly's Pub and Restaurant in midtown.
As soon as I walked in I was greeted warmly by Jo Ann, a volunteer and flight attendant who had flown in that very night from London, and tempted by the spread of delicious pub food. The Casino Night, which took place in a room donated for the evening by the pub, looked professional and gave me the feeling of a twenties speakeasy with a heartwarming backdrop of photos from the Academy and the students in Ethiopia smiling brightly in blown up photographs or projected on a large screen beyond the poker tables.
Trish Hack-Rubinstein and Luyba Halkyn, looking stunning, each took a moment out of their busy nights to speak to me about their cause; The Friends of Fresh and Green Academy (FoFaGAcademy) support a school for impoverished children in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Their mission is to provide students with meals, a well rounded education and adequate medical care under the guidance of the academy's director and founder Muday Mitiku. FoFaGAcademy also supports the Mother's Cooperative; an on-site program created to provide personal empowerment for the students’ mothers by helping them to earn their own money, learn new skills, such as hand-weaving, cooking and pottery to there-by provide for their families’ future.
While the evening’s excitement was certainly the friendly gambling tournaments, which FoFaGAcademy’s executive director Gregg Rubinstein encouraged me try my luck at, there was also the opportunity to look through a selection of photographs of the students at the school and sponsor a child. I spoke to one young woman who had generously sponsored a child and asked her what moved her towards sponsorship and she told me “I already sponsor a couple of children at a school in Peru, but what I like about the Friends of Fresh and Green Academy is that although you choose one student to sponsor, the funds are equally distributed to all the students, so everyone benefits.” At the small price of $35 a month the benefits can be thoroughly felt throughout the school.
After the successful night, I had the opportunity to meet with Trish one on one to talk about how she became involved with the school and what FoFaGAcademy’s plans are for the future.
As a flight attendant by career, Trish is a well traveled and adventurous woman. Looking for something to bring some more meaning to her life, when a flight attendant friend invited her to come to Addis Ababa to visit a school she was sponsoring Trish jumped at the chance.
The school, which was started by Muday Mitiku, began as a For-Profit kindergarten and pre-school in Ethiopia’s capital, but Muday couldn’t ignore the poverty around her and started to take in needy children, tuition-free. Once the paying parents began to take their children out of the school Muday made the choice to continue as a non-profit organization and deepened her commitment to helping children in need and their families.
Trish’s friend was called away to take care of another project very important to her, so Trish, with the opportunity being presented to her decided to take on the responsibility of running FOFAGAcademy and since then has decided that it was her calling. Lyuba, who had been feeling stress at work, was recruited by Trish to become part of this organization as something bigger than herself and she has not looked back. While the work is challenging for all the board members, the reward is well worth it. I have never met a group of people so passionate about what they are doing, and for such a good cause.
With the help of FOFAGAcademy Muday has been able to increase the year of education that her students can attend from the original pre-school and kindergarten, to 7th grade, which started this September. This means that the students can stay in school and have a greater education than they ever would have otherwise. The school also helps the mothers of these children by providing work opportunities, which will keep them from begging on the streets or prostitution. It also provides 3 meals a day to the children and the mothers at the school, which may not have been possible if the children ate at home.
The mothers also have a cooperative which started with 20 women and has grown to over 80 who make paper beads, hand-woven scarves, pottery and are even starting to make some clothing with the fabric they are weaving themselves.
Through exposure in the press, FoFaGAcademy has received sponsors in water purification from Splash.org and student teaching volunteers from AIESEC. They are hoping to collaborate with more organizations to give these children and their families a better life in Ethiopia.
Look forward to their Springtime event; Dancing With The Stews
Check out the school and donate here
Follow FoFaGAcademy on Facebook
All photos: Amber Härkönen