Welcome to Geba Robi. It’s a small rural village of nearly 5,600 people in the highlands of western Ethiopia, surrounded by lush rolling hills and small cooperative farms that grow coffee, Ethiopia’s most famous native crop.

Obaansi (18) grew up there. She’s the oldest of her parents’ eight children, and the first to go to high school. High school is 10km away, in Dembidolo, the region’s capital, and Obaansi spends most of the week studying there, returning to her hometown on the weekends to visit her family.

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Obaansi is a high school student in rural Ethiopia

But life could have held something very different for Obaansi. When she was just fourteen, a man in the community asked her father’s permission to marry her. Child marriage is still all too common in rural villages in Ethiopia, where 40 per cent of girls are married before they are eighteen.

Obaansi’s father, Biqilan, was aware of the problems of his daughter getting married that young, thanks to an awareness campaign by Right To Play working with local organizations. As he considered the proposal, he realized that if his daughter married, she would almost certainly stop going to school, as many child brides do.

“The community now sees that child marriage doesn’t last and many of them break up so they are turning against this idea.” – Biqilan, Obaansi’s Father

Obaansi’s passion for learning convinced him to refuse the marriage proposal and to encourage his daughter to go on to high school. Neither of Obaansi’s parents received any formal education, so having a daughter who is not only graduating from high school but who is teaching the village’s children is a source of incredible pride for them.

Like many other families in Ethiopia, they made the brave choice to resist a harmful tradition like child marriage for the sake of their daughter. Not only has Obaansi benefitted, but all the rest of the children in the village benefit too thanks to her work tutoring them.

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Obaansi teaching the weekend class in Geba Robi.

Few children in her village are as lucky as Obaansi – for most, graduating from Grade 8 is the end of their education. Many don’t even make it that far. Because of the lack of staff, funding, and facilities, few children in Geba Robi start school before age 8, and most come to their first day of school unable to read or write.

Many of them are the first generation in their families to go to school, so their parents can’t help them prepare. Even if they do learn a little reading and writing beforehand, abrupt increases in the difficulty of the material in the second year of school means that many drop out after only one year, functionally illiterate and with few possibilities in life other than agricultural labour.

But Obaansi and two of her high school friends who are also from Geba Robi are determined to change that. Every weekend, they walk hours through fields and along dusty roads all the way back home. As schools in other villages fall silent over the weekend, the sound of songs and laughter can be heard resounding through the small town of Geba Robi.

“The weekend classes motivate children. Many in my class dropped out because it was too difficult. We are here because this needs to change.” - Obaansi

Inside the village’s school, Obaansi and her friends are helping 6 and 7 year-olds prepare for Grade 1, teaching them the fundamentals of reading and writing. Obaansi's lesson structure allows the children to attend school in the morning and help on their family’s farm in the afternoon, crucial for keeping children in school in their rural community.

In the classroom, Obaansi is a natural. She’s confident, thoughtful and observant, and she calmly leads the class through songs, games, writing poems and other fun activities that teach the young children the basics of literacy. She has a ready smile and attentive manner that helps the children focus and smoothly brings their attention from one activity to another.

Obaansi learned how to teach this way in Geba Robi itself, where one of her teachers had been trained in Right To Play’s unique methods of teaching. She learned how children’s passion for learning can be strengthened by incorporating play and creativity into classes, helping them grasp new material and understand concepts they would otherwise struggle with.

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Obaansi helps her family whenever she returns home.

But while children would benefit from these methods once they got into Geba Robi’s school, Obaansi spotted a gap – children who hadn’t yet started school could benefit from these methods too. Obaansi stepped up to make sure they’d go to their first day of school knowing how to read and write, creating a firm foundation for their future education.

Once she has finished teaching the weekend classes, Obaansi visits her family home to help with cooking, washing clothes, cleaning, and serving coffee, a treasured family ritual that brings them together. Her family is proud of her – she’s not even done high school but through her teaching she is transforming future generations in her hometown.

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Obaansi with her brothers and sisters in Geba Robi. She sees them on weekends.

Obaansi has nearly graduated high school, and she has a bright future ahead of her. She’s found her passion – teaching – and she intends to continue even after she graduates. But what makes her truly inspiring is that she’s sharing it with the children of her hometown, igniting their love of learning with games and play so that they can dream of a better life too.

*Names have been changed to protect the privacy of Obaansi and her family.