Nicolas Youth & Adult Learning Centre

“I am Sara and my daughter, Eleni, 16, has Down’s syndrome. As I am old, I worry about her future. Our culture hides children with disabilities. There are no training facilities in the region for children like Eleni. With training she will be able to earn an income, be independent and avoid begging on the streets or worse.  Many girls who cannot earn a living are forced into early marriages. Luckily, my daughter goes to a wonderful school, the Nicholas Robinson School. She has reached her academic limit but I hope that she will stay on at NRS as they open a new Center for students like her.”

Rainbows4Children (R4C), an independent foundation, registered in Switzerland and the UK, and has since 2005 improved the lives of more than 1,000 children aged 4-18 at the Nicholas Robinson School (NRS) in Northern Ethiopia. Its focus is to educate disadvantaged children – mainly of disabled veterans of the civil war whose disabilities such as limb-loss have held their families in extreme poverty. The NRS is already assessed as the best school in the region.

The project objective is to get disadvantaged and special needs children into decent work. The goal is to establish the Nicolas Youth and Adult Learning Center (The Center) in 2017 resulting in 1800 children employed by 2021. This pioneering project, the only one in the region, will serve young people with disabilities or the academically less strong. Feedback/market research from local enterprises has identified the garment and hotel/catering industries as high priority employment sectors.  Our vision is to ensure that in the future children with special needs will find decent work, will no longer be hidden away from society, forced into early marriage or obliged to do degrading work.

The funds will be applied to developing curriculum, hiring faculty and staff, purchasing equipment and training teachers. 100% of the funds will go for the benefit of educating Ethiopian children. NO money will be spent on administration nor buildings as the Center will be located on the existing NRS site. R4C achieves transparency by inviting donors/volunteers to make site visits and providing regular progress reports, video clips, and website updates.

R4C establishes self-sustaining projects. This Center is the first stage in a larger project, to establish the Nicolas International College of Learning and Sciences, a technical and vocational training college (TVTC) aiming to train 600 students/year when complete. The successful operation of the Center will enable it to be leveraged to this much larger scale.  It will demonstrate the relevance and quality of our concept and of its graduates to potential donors and the local business community. The larger project will add further practical subjects needed by the community and will build on the experience and learning gained.

The ultimate responsibility for the long term sustainability of the NRS, the Center and eventually the TVTC, rests with the local NGO, Tigray Disabled Veterans’ Association, who are the local partners, legal owners and chief beneficiaries of the project.

R4C has decided to expand its focus to include those students and young adults who cannot go to University, and students whose skills are well-suited to vocational careers as well as to those who have a learning disability. These young people will be given the opportunity to acquire the knowledge and skills they will need to enter the workplace as employees or as entrepreneurs. The need is huge; it is estimated that over 50% of the population in Mekele is less than 25 years of age which currently amounts to more than 200,000 young people. However, the current private and public technical training centers can only provide 20,000 positions when 48,000 would be required (Tigray-TVET-March 2015).

R4C is building on the trusted partnership established 12 years ago with the TDVA and is working closely with local industries to identify the skills that the community needs most. Their research has shown that the rapid industrialization of the region has increased the demand for skilled personnel in the hotel and catering, textile, optometry, water and sanitation, and maintenance sectors. Additionally, there is a need for technical schools to deliver the required training.

R4C will establish the Nicolas Youth and Adult Learning Center (The Center) to train 1800 students between 2017 and 2021 who are looking for a skills-based future due to less academic inclination or having special needs of some kind.

The Center will be based on the NRS site and will provide equal opportunity to 16-18 year old girls and boys, regardless of religion or politics and especially for those with learning or physical disabilities for whom no other institution in Mekele caters. Several students at the NRS have Down’s syndrome and the Center will support their adaptation to the work place.

Feedback from market research and local enterprises has identified the Garment and Hotel/Catering industries as high priority as there are many new employment opportunities in these sectors. It is clear from discussions and feedback with local businesses that most young people are totally unprepared for the discipline of a working environment. Basic English and arithmetic skills will also be taught, but the main focus will be on personal discipline, interpersonal relations and respect for employers and colleagues. Learning these skills will ensure that our young people not only get jobs but can retain them.

Courses will be run in 3 or 6 month units. Throughout the whole process the Swiss dVET (Dual Vocational Educational Training) system will be introduced. Students will participate in internship/apprenticeship programs with local employers to complement their education and to gain practical training and self-confidence. This means that students will spend time alternately in the classroom and in employment, effectively doubling the training capacity to 40 students per day.

Some progress has already been made. Thanks to a grant from the Symphasis Foundation (managed by Credit Suisse), four classrooms for up to 20 students each have been constructed at the NRS to teach technical skills for the Garment and Hotel/Catering industries. Therefore, all newly raised funds will be used to develop content and cover running costs of the Center, rather than building and administration costs.

Funding is sought to cover the costs of salaries for local teachers and staff, development and presentation of tailor-made course material and the purchase and maintenance of equipment. A large part of the program will be to train the trainers so that local (Ethiopian) talent can take the project forward.

Serving the Local Community

The project will serve the local community at three levels.

Family level - the culture in Ethiopia and in most of Africa is “family first”. If a family member has a good job and earns well, they will willingly care for the whole family. Our research shows the need in Mekele for vocational facilities for the rapidly growing 15-26 age group to ensure their skills enhancement and employment. After graduating from the Center, these young adults will find gainful employment in growing industries, they will continue their training to a higher level and some may establish their own businesses. Most of our students will then be in a position to care for their disabled parents and provide for their families. Without the proper skills it will be difficult for them to find employment, resulting in a financial burden on their families. Students will act as models within their families and communities. In particular, the young women will have achieved self-esteem and financial independence and thus avoid unwanted early marriage, abusive relationships or be forced into prostitution by families who are too poor to help. In this way the Center will break the cycle of poverty and lift the living conditions of the very poorest families.

Local community - the city of Mekele is a fast-growing urban environment with a university, good infrastructure and good communications by air and road. Mekele has experienced strong economic growth during the last few years, sustained by the development of local industries (e.g. cement, garment, leather, tourism). This will provide our graduates with the incentives and the right environment to further their skills and to obtain local employment thus breaking the cycle of poverty. The owner of the Center is the TDVA, whose members are the main beneficiaries. The Tigray Regional Education Bureau, and Tigray Technical and Vocational Education and Training Bureau, together with the local business community have been the most important contributors to this project, and they have acknowledged the Center’s contribution to close the skill gap and to sustain the economic development of the region. The Center will offer 1800 students who come from the most impoverished families of Mekele the chance to pursue their education and gain employment.

National level - the Center will act as a center of excellence that can be replicated throughout the country. The course content is being developed by R4C in close cooperation with employers and the local government education authority, which is the Tigray Technical and Vocational Education and Training Bureau. The industry-specific content will be complemented by arithmetic, English and interpersonal skills.  The advantages of the dVET system from Europe can be demonstrated and its advantages shown. This can then be replicated throughout the country to raise the quality of technical education.

In response to local business needs, the Center will teach skills that are highly relevant to future employment in the Hotel/Catering and other industries which lend themselves particularly well to women and girls. These have demonstrated that they are ethical equal-opportunity employers. The emphasis will be to ensure employability of the candidates and so the Center will teach basic arithmetic, IT, interpersonal skills and English. On-the-job training will take place in our purpose built classrooms and in the facilities of our business partners (hotels and restaurants) in the form of internships.  In total, 1800 students will have completed a technical training program and will have an employment offer.

This Center will provide the template for rolling out the full TVTC which will produce 600 graduates per year.

2016 (complete)

Development of the concept, courses and internships.

Building of 4 classrooms on the site of the NRS

Establishment of the agreements with local companies (hotel/catering). Donation of starting equipment. Hiring of local teachers and staff. Development of the monitoring/reporting process.

2017 (completed or on schedule)

January – Equipment donated/ purchased/installed.

February – First 15 students start their courses/internships in food preparation.

April – Monitoring/reporting process initiated.

End May – First 15 students graduate having completed their training course and internship in hotels.

May – next 20 students are registered, to study food preparation and bar/table serving, for a 4 month course including a month in a hotel

June – discussions with stakeholders on the need for soft skill training for the garment industry.

August – next 40 students are registered, for a 6 month course, this will be level 1 tvet and will include 2 months in a hotel, recruitment of students has now started

November – Next 40 students registered for Hospitality/catering

December – 20 students registered for the new ICT course


Attendance pattern and training to be confirmed with potential employers. The intention is that hospitality students spend 4 months in class and 2 months at the workplace.