Emily Wither, (CNN) — Seeing the deprivations faced by children in her neighborhood, one Ethiopian school teacher decided to make it her mission to provide them with a safe place to learn and play.
Muday Mitiku decided to open a school 11 years ago, when she realized that most of the children in her suburb were spending their days on the streets, unwashed, unfed and unschooled.
But the little school in Keteme, a poor neighborhood on the eastern edge of Ethiopia’s capital city Addis Ababa, aims to do a lot more than just provide children from impoverished backgrounds with an education.
“Fresh and Green is the only school of its type in the area,” explained Mitiku. “It is unique in that it provides three daily meals year round to the children and assists the families in becoming more self sufficient.”
When Fresh and Green Academy was established it was a fee-paying kindergarten but it wasn’t long before Mitiku started bringing children in off the streets. She says the parents of the paying students started pulling their children out but it didn’t stop her from wanting to help those in need.
“Their (the students’) parents are often beggars or prostitutes,” she said. “If the academy didn’t exist the children would be on the streets begging to find their next meal and not attending school.”
Mitiku says that many of her students have no parents and are brought up by older siblings or relatives.
Donations from as far afield as the United States keep this little school afloat but Mitiku says it is always a battle.
When Trish Hack-Rubinstein visited the school in 2008, it was in transition and dangerously low on funding. Hack-Rubinstein decided she wanted to help raise funds for the project and upon returning home to the United States she founded Friends of Fresh and Green Academy.
“I fell in love with the children and their mothers at Fresh and Green, and of course Muday,” explained Hack-Rubinstein. “I wanted to help Muday fulfil her dream, which very soon became my dream as well.”
Hack-Rubinstein now raises money for the academy through quarterly fundraisers, a child-sponsorship program and individual donations.
She and Mitiku now have plans to expand the school by a grade level each year and find ways of generating more income for students’ families.
They would also like to eventually buy some land for the facility instead of renting and dream of one day building a boarding school there.
“Our goals are to keep the children educated and fed in a nurturing environment while creating a model for a private school in this area,” Hack-Rubinstein said.
The academy encourages the mothers to get involved as well and about 50 help the school, preparing meals and cleaning. It says the Mothers’ Cooperative has been instrumental in reducing the need for prostitution and begging.
Hack-Rubinstein says the mothers also make crafts which are in turn sold to generate more income for their families.
“We are also trying to develop more products that are marketable to be able to bring in more money for the moms and their families,” she said.
Older siblings and teenagers are also encouraged to get involved in the academy. There are Saturday afternoon classes and Mitiku has taught the 15 to 16-year-olds to lead some of the lessons, which has led to some of them getting teaching jobs elsewhere.
For Mitiku it’s all about building a firm structure for neighborhoods in the future.
“We hope to instill a spirit of giving and compassion in the children so they go on to give back to the school and their community,” she said.
Diane McCarthy contributed to this report