For long, Rahel Tsegaye has been troubled with the lack of studying and learning materials available for kids in the country. Although she believes quality education starts from an early age, Rahel could not find one for her babies. One day, an idea came to mind that she can prepare kids’ education tool kits. Then, Rahel, also a social entrepreneur, established Fidel Tiru, a company that produces teaching materials using illustrations and puzzles for kids aged 1-7 and kids with special needs. EBR’s Danait Kahsay explores her work.
Rahel Tsegaye, 43 and a mother of two was creatively inclined from an early age. Although born in Addis Ababa, she was raised in Asmara until she returned to Addis aged 16. After finishing high school, she studied management.
Four years ago, an occurrence Rahel witnessed when she sent her first born to kindergarten in Addis Ababa changed her life. She noticed her kid’s lack of motivation to learn. After researching children’s education, she found it surprising that there isn’t appropriate study and learning materials for kids available in the country. Even if there is, it is imported, prepared in foreign languages, and in limited supply. After observing this, she decided to bridge this void by becoming a social entrepreneur.
“I was full time mom when one day a thought came into my mind that I could prepare education tool kits for children. My journey to social entrepreneuring began at this point,” remembers Rahel.
Currently, the mother of two spends most of her time designing, cutting, and producing education kits for children aged between one and seven. The educational tools, made from various materials, are produced in various local languages including Ge’ez and Amharic, as well as English. She also produces special materials for children with difficulties hearing and seeing. The materials include puzzles that help develop problem-solving skills step by step. The demand for her products is growing currently.
She believes quality education starts at an early age. “I thought to myself that children deserve quality education similar to what I received as a child. When googling children education kits, there are lots of materials available for kids to learn easily in other parts of the world. Yet there are none in our country. Especially when it comes to kids with special needs, challenged with a physical disability or autism, for example, there is nothing for them to learn with,” she added.
After conducting research about children education kits, she embarked on how to change the idea into a business. She joined entrepreneurship courses for three months and also developed her graphic art skills. Although her husband’s income was enough to support her family, she did not have money to rent an office and start her business.
Fortunately, Rahel came across a nonprofit organization—Reach for Change—which helps social entrepreneurs. “I was recommended by people close to me and I applied with my idea at the last minute. Luckily, I got elected for the accelerator program and received ETB40,000. This was the amount it took to officially establish Fidel Tiru in December 2018.
Immediately after her prize, she began building her products to solve the major problem she and her kids were facing. “There is a growing dissatisfaction among the public regarding kindergartens in our country. Almost every child is loaded with lessons in excess of what they need to consume for their age. Both parents and kids are not comfortable with the teaching-learning method.”
Rahel explains that the main reason for the general decrease in quality education is because kids are not initially cultivated using proper methods of learning. “Children are being taught education not in a playful way, but in a tedious manner. Children need a variety of learning methods. They learn from experience, lifestyle, environment, and exposure. They need space and time to grow at their own pace.”
Fidel Tiru has products available for kids with special needs and regular needs, including illustrations and puzzles for kids aged 1-7 using letters, numbers, and objects. These products target helping kids develop their fine and gross motor skills. The enterprise has also finished preparing children’s self-help storybooks on family, agriculture, and health. Currently Fidel Tiru produces 20,000 products annually, available at all All Mart and Lomyad stores, as well as at special needs children centers.
Rahel explains Fidel Tiru is a based on scientific truth. “I began creating solutions from the root of the problem. Thus, we check the real impact of our products through frequent communication with teachers and parents.”
Tigist Hailu, a former Flight Attendant and Founder of Dagu Center, a special needs children center under formation, home schools her son who has autism. Her nine-year-old understands things better by seeing and touching.
Tigist has been Fidel Tiru’s customer for a year. Recently however, she has found the products to be very useful. “The kit helped me better communicate with my son.”
For instance, when Tigist wants to go to church with her son, she shows him a picture of a church from the kit and he comprehends the message very fast. She uses this technique on almost every object that she would like him to envision. Therefore, Fidel Tiru’s learning kit enabled her son to clearly visualize everything that he has been taught growing up. “I always recommend parents with similar issues to use Fidel Tiru’s products,” adds Tigist.
Daniel Tadesse, a psychology major and Manager of Nisir School, elaborated that Fidel Tiru’s products are scientifically helpful not only for special needs kids but for normal kids as well. “Science states that verbal teaching’s contribution towards the mental development of kids is very low. The main tools are rather teaching mechanisms employing the senses of vision and touch.”
Daniel says most schools don’t have access to such products. “There aren’t many products with the same function in the market. We choose Fidel Tiru’s kits because Rahel works closely with us. The products are constantly innovating while keeping their quality.”
Fidel Tiru has also become helpful for Ethiopian diaspora parents to keep their children in touch with their roots. “There are also parents who have forgotten Ge’ez letters and numbers. We analyze our products through constant feedback to improve and innovate based on needs. An example for this is our puzzle product. It has been improved four times so far through the assistance of clients’ feedback data.”
Rahel says there are a lot of misconceptions regarding social enterprises in Ethiopia. “There is a traditional way of seeing business as a mere entity for profit and not caring about social aspects. In fact, many people are not aware of what a social enterprise is and what social entrepreneurs do. The regulatory framework in Ethiopia misunderstands social entrepreneurship. Government offices advised me to register my company as an NGO.”
For her pronounced contribution to children’s education, Rahel has been elected as a laureate from Ethiopia out of more than 3,000 African contestants by the Women by Africa Initiative (WAI). “Our culture puts men first while putting pressure on women to handle their house and family as good as their jobs,” Rahel explains. “However, still we determine our successes and failures.” EBR
9th Year • Dec 16 2020 – Jan 15 2021 • No. 93