How to build a school

What do common schools look like in Ethiopia?


In Ethiopia schools are mostly run-down, much too small, dark and draughty – often built out of mud, wood and straw.

Children often sit on the naked clay soil because there are no desks and benches. The teaching material is often home-made.

How much experience does Menschen für Menschen have with the construction of schools in Ethiopia?

Since 1981 Menschen für Menschen has been building, renovating or extending schools für entire generations and equipped them with furniture and teaching material – in the country’s poorest regions where there had not been any educational institutions or children were taught in derelict huts. Above all, the association builds schools in the remotest areas of the country. With the new construction, renovation and extension of schools, Menschen für Menschen closes gaps where they are largest. In the evenings lessons are often even attended by adults because not only children know that without education there can be no development.

Up to now 447 schools were constructed.

To what extent does the local population help with the construction of schools?

The entire village community helps make the school construction possible: together access roads to inaccessible villages are built for workers and the transport of material. The building ground is provided by the local municipality, and, once the new school is finished and equipped, the regional authorities are contractually bound to assign teaching staff and ensure ongoing teaching activities and maintenance of the building.


How are Menschen für Menschen schools built?

Schools from Menschen für Menschen are built according to a proven architectural concept. The base is a solid foundation made of concrete, steel and stones that is positioned high enough for all building to be raised above the ground. This prevents the risk of water entering rooms during heavy rains. Rainwater is drained immediately through a gully surrounding the buildings.


The walls and floors of all rooms are also made of concrete. This makes them easy to clean. A protective tin roof covers the buildings. The roofing is made of top-quality galvanised trapezoidal steel sheets. Due to a special steel construction the roofs resist heavy winds and rains. In addition, roof overhangs provide sufficient shadow.


A feature of Menschen für Menschen schools are the solid louvre windows.  As opposed to otherwise used steel frame windows with turning or tilt wings, they consist of hinged glass panels that have practical advantages: when airing they do not protrude into the classroom. Consequently, children cannot get hurt. When a window breaks individual panels can be exchanged.


The window mechanism is also simple and solid. Opening sizes of the entire window area can be adjusted smoothly. Most schools in Ethiopia have no windows at all, wooden shutters at the most. In addition, electricity supply in Ethiopia is bad or not available. Pupils need light to read, write and count. In contrast, Menschen für Menschen schools look inviting thanks to their large louvre windows.

Apart from the buildings with four classrooms each, Menschen für Menschen constructs an administrative building, dry latrines and housing for teachers on the extensive compound. Secondary schools are equipped with a library. After school pupils can come there to read, study and do their homework in a relaxed atmosphere. Teachers can also use it to prepare lessons or extent their knowledge. In addition, a reservoir for rain water or a well are built in many places. Some schools even have a football ground, volleyball net or basketball hoop.


Why are schools built by Menschen für Menschen transferred into the responsibility of the local education authority?

“Help for self-help“ is a basic principle of the association Menschen für Menschen. It had always been Karlheinz Böhm’s philosophy to involve the local population in the projects and give them responsibility. This means that local communities and competent ministries in Ethiopia also carry their share of the responsibility for the development measures. This promotes self-reliance and prevents long-term dependency on the organisation Menschen für Menschen. In the case of school buildings, this means that Menschen für Menschen assess the needs together with the local school authority. The organisation bears the costs of the new school building and equipment, while the Ethiopian Ministry of Education pays the costs for the ongoing operation and running expenses. Through regular visits of employees and external evaluators after the transfer, Menschen für Menschen monitors the schools’ condition and operation. At the end of 2012 TÜV Rheinland – as external evaluator – rated the school buildings from Menschen für Menschen in an independent study with the highest rating of “good” (1.6 points).