An Indian teacher building bridges in Ethiopia

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Updated: October 25, 2021 3:42 PM

Today, many dignitaries or older citizens recall their science and mathematics teacher in school who would invariably be from India.

EthiopiaIn the past three years, Dr. Ambalam and his team have constructed 75 bridges and revived more than 40 water springs.( Images Credit: Indian Mission in Ethiopia)

During the imperial times in Ethiopia under His Majesty Haile Selassie, there were tens of thousands of school teachers from India, mostly from the Indian state of Kerala, who taught in schools all over Ethiopia. Many of them taught even in the remote villages of the country. Today, many dignitaries or older citizens recall their science and mathematics teacher in school who would invariably be from India. Today, there are just a handful of Indian teachers who are in Ethiopia.

These days, an Indian teacher has been bringing smiles to village communities in western Oromia Region of Ethiopia. Unexpectedly, this teacher’s contributions are not in the field of education. Actually, he does not have an engineering background but he has been building low cost bridges for the village communities in western Oromia Regional State.

India’s Ambassador to Ethiopia Robert Shetkintong told Financial Express Online “Dr Kannan Ambalam and his team have constructed bridges and revived water springs in the Wollega zone of Oromia Regional State.”

“As part of #AzadiKaAmritMohatsav celebrations or India’s 75 years of independence, the Indian Embassy in collaboration with Indian companies in Ethiopia will take the lead in raising the fund for Dr Ambalam’s projects to build low cost bridges and revive water springs for village communities in various region of Ethiopia. Hopefully, we will be able to construct another 75 low cost bridges,”the Indian envoy adds.

More about Dr Kanan Ambalam

He is an Assistant Professor of Public Administration and Development Management at Wollega University in Nekemte in western Ethiopia. A native of Madurai, he has been teaching at the university for the past 12 years.

How did he start building bridges?

According to Ambassador Shetkintong, “A casual conversation with his students on a rainy day a few years ago changed him. This incident gave him a new energy, a new purpose and mission in his life. The students narrated stories of villagers drowning while crossing flooded streams. From that day onwards, he started low cost bridges in the communities in Wallega zone.”

“During weekends, Dr. Ambalam would travel to interior villages, most of the time on foot. He would stay with them eating the simple food provided by the villagers and sleeping in their huts. He would hold meetings on Friday evenings and the next 2 days would be for construction of the bridges,” the Indian envoy says.

In the past three years, Dr. Ambalam and his team have constructed 75 bridges and revived more than 40 water springs.

However, these bridges do not come for free.

According to Dr Ambalam, “the need based ‘alternative developmental’ initiative mainly relies on creating excellent partnership with stakeholders, encouraging massive participation of local communities and extensively using locally available resources. That means the communities contribute to the construction of the bridges by physically working in the construction and also contributing logs, sand, stone, etc.”

“Some of these bridges have been constructed across the dangerous rivers, located in the remotest areas. As a result, the lives of thousands – humans, animals and properties – have been saved. Our spring development projects have enabled thousands to access clean water,” Dr Kannan Ambalam adds.

His works have been commended by local authorities and he has been awarded by Wollega University for his community service during the last 4 years. For villagers, he is their brother.

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