“There are no boundaries in God’s kingdom”
Tefera Endalew (photo courtesy of Tefera Endelew)
Ethiopia has over 80 languages. Tefera Endalew, originally from southern Ethiopia, works with six of these language groups and visited the Wycliffe Centre at Horsley’s Green in 2010. He spoke to us about some of his experience of language work there.
His first contact with the work of literacy and Bible translation came through a linguist from Wycliffe Germany. Hans-Georg was the first white person Tefera, aged 10, had ever seen. The country at the time was under a socialist government which was not in favor of Christian activities such as Bible translation. Whilst teaching linguistics at Addis Ababa University, Hans-Georg also explored the Me’en language in the south-west of Ethiopia as a Visiting Scholar. It was in Addis Ababa that he met Tefera’s uncle who directed him to the village to start language research.
The young Tefera accompanied Hans-Georg during his stays in their village. During his first visit, the linguist slept in a tent, and this child watched as the strange white man patiently endured soaking by heavy rain and being blighted by fleas which left his skin raw and itchy.
"I often walked with him when he was going to the villages, when he was trying to collect data. So I was always seeing what he was doing, and I would wonder why he’s suffering there […] ‘He should go back to the capital Addis Ababa.’ But then, year after year he kept coming, doing the same thing. So for me, that was amazing."
This witness to the value of the work had a profound impact on Tefera. He now coordinates a mother-tongue literacy project in six language communities close to where he grew up, serving about 600,000 people. He describes these language groups as ‘the poorest of the poor’: "Those groups that I am helping are the forgotten people, in terms of infrastructure, education, anything."
Most striking is the change the written script can make in these communities:
"When you explain about the impact of learning the mother tongue, oh, they just cry. 'So that’s why we feel like stupid people who don’t understand anything – that was where it went wrong', they say. 'It is because we weren’t taught in our mother tongue that we are not able to pass from grade to grade, or be intelligent like other people who are learning in their mother tongue.'"
Where Tefera grew up, education was in the national language, Amharic, spoken by few locally. The first grade alone can take up to five years for some students, if all enthusiasm for learning hasn’t been lost long before then. Very few move on to high school. Many in the community don’t understand the concept of the written script. When they see Amharic written, they despair that they have never had the chance to write their own language, which has been spoken for thousands of years. “Why? What’s wrong with our language?”
Tefera has been working with 25 new pilot classes in the area. The students are full of passion, involved and desperate to learn, taught in their own language. Of the six language groups, five now have a written form. Work progresses to analyse and produce a systematic orthography for the sixth, Baale. Without this script, the community suffers, financially, educationally and, without the Bible available to them, spiritually.
Unlike when Tefera was growing up, the government now strongly supports mother-tongue education in the country, but, even with people like Hans-Georg and Tefera, the task is still enormous: "I wish I could be 10 people, you know, just doing all this work. It’s too much – we need prayer, we need help, because the doors are open." Nevertheless, they are not discouraged. As Tefera says, "We should think boundary-less: there are no boundaries in God’s kingdom."
Tefera Endalew is currently working in a Mother Tongue based Multilingual Education Programme in Ethiopia with Wycliffe Africa.
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埃塞俄比亞有超過八十種語言。來自埃塞俄比亞南部的泰福拉（Tefera Endalew），有份服侍其中六個語言族群。2010年，他參觀位於Horsley's Green的威克理夫中心，與我們分享參與語言工作的經驗。
原來他十歲那年，遇見了德國威克理夫的宣教士 —— 漢斯（Hans Georg）；漢斯不但是泰福拉生平遇見的第一位白人，而且讓他初次接觸到聖經翻譯和識字教育工作。當時，埃國由社會主義政府統治，並不歡迎像聖經翻譯之類的基督教活動。當漢斯在首都阿迪斯阿貝巴大學（Addis Ababa University）教語言學時，以訪問學者身分接觸到西南部的緬恩語（Me’en）。就在大學裡他遇到泰福拉的叔叔，並在其協助下進村開始語言研究。
在泰福拉的家鄉，教學以官方語言 —— 阿姆哈拉語（Amharic）進行，很多人還沒讀完一年級就因著不懂阿姆哈拉語而放棄學習了，所以，很少人能繼續升學至高中。許多人不明白書寫文字，當他們看到阿姆哈拉語流傳了幾千年，自己卻連書寫母語的機會也沒有時，不禁很失望，說：「到底是怎麼回事？我們的語言出了甚麼問題？」
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