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From a concept to education for 1,000 children: SiGMA Foundation’s new Ethiopian school

The new school inaugurated in Jimma Bonga, Ethiopia, by the SiGMA Foundation will have a big impact on the lives of children in the area, the foundation’s two top officials told SiGMA News.

This newsroom spoke with Keith Marshall and Austin Cachia, the Foundation’s Chief Philanthropic Officer, and Treasurer.

Education is power

Marshall explained how the idea came about. “About 18 years ago, I was in this remote area and I saw a massive banner that stuck in my head. It read: Education is Power.”

“We have been proposed a million different projects but we stick to our schools,” he continued.

The project had been three years in the making. Covid may have disrupted the plans, but it did not stop them. 

“The one thing you need is belief, and we stuck to our guns. Yesterday was the culmination of three years of work, by way of which we can introduce, by the end of the year, a thousand children to our school.”

Marshall added that this is possibly the largest-ever project by Maltese abroad. 

We asked Keith how he felt during the inauguration ceremony. “It was obviously a very moving experience in my life, seeing all those people gathered here under the veil of happiness, to see the project completed, despite all the trials and tribulations which came into play over the years. It’s very hard to put into words, but if I had to sum it up in a few words it would be: simply brilliant.”

From concept to a real project

Austin Cachia explained the process from start to finish. “Every project starts with an idea. We come here and start scouting for possible projects, with the help of others, in this case with the vicarate of Jimma Bonga.”

In this case, the first part of the school was financed by the Kilimanjaro challenge. When the team came to Bonga to inaugurate the first phase, they started scouting for the rest of the project. “There was the first part of the school and the rest of the area was practically a jungle,” Cachia explained.

The next phase involves costing and budgeting. “We need to see how much the project will cost, how many students it will cater for and how it will be self-sufficient. As a foundation, we normally cover the costs of the project but it then has to sustain itself.” 

Then comes the fundraising. “The funds in this case started from Kilimanjaro Challenge 13. Covid came along, but luckily we managed to raise funds through the Camino de Santiago events. We did three Caminos to fund the remainder of the project.” 

Unfortunately, a lot of the materials increased in price, some of them six-fold, so the team had to adjust and liaise to ensure that the project could be done feasibly and in a timely manner. 

Fundraising, sending the money here, and making sure that the project is implemented. 

“We could not visit for the past three years, primarily because of Covid, and seeing the completed project yesterday, it’s hard to describe the feeling. I felt joy, pride at what our team has achieved, and satisfaction because we know this is going to have a big impact on the children and the people in Bonga.”

Nothing short of extraordinary

SiGMA Founder Eman Pulis, who also attended the inauguration, said what Keith Marshall and Austin Cachia have been working on “is nothing short of extraordinary.”

Pulis described the duo as “two hearts of gold.”

“The SiGMA Foundation was launched three years ago and we decided to go all in backing these guys up. This is my first time here. It has been a life-enriching experience. I loved what I saw. I’m going to be back next year and I can’t wait to involve as many of our clients and as much of our network to support the SiGMA Foundation moving forward,” Pulis said.

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