We are coming to part four of the anniversary series! The countdown is on, in two weeks, on 3 October, we will celebrate the fifth anniversary of the PROJECT-E Hospitality Institute (PEHI). As we are getting closer and closer to the celebration, we also want to get to know more details about the happenings of 2015, the year in which the PEHI was opened. We spoke with Livia Röthlisberger about this. She was PROJECT-E’s Country Representative in Addis Ababa during the time when the PEHI was developed and has put all her heart and soul into the realisation of the idea of a hotel management school for young women.
Where and when did the idea of opening PEHI first come up? Who initiated it?
When I came to Addis Ababa in 2014, we ran the secretarial school together with our partner organization Selam Children’s Village. In summer, we planned the handover and therefore capacities were freeing up to start a new project. Julia Schubert came to Ethiopia as a volunteer to do the market research for this project. After her analysis, the International Team decided to set up another vocational school for young women, this time in the hotel industry. My task was then to design and implement a concrete project based on this idea.
Do you remember the context of the idea?
Every NGO in Ethiopia must register in order to carry out projects. As we worked with Selam as a charity organization, we were not allowed to continue that way. That is why the Ethiopian authorities also put pressure on us to implement a project on our own. Without our own new project, we would have had to leave Ethiopia.
How has the idea been specified?
We first had to submit a project application. We prepared a budget, explained the main and secondary objectives and the activities that would lead to these objectives. We also identified the beneficiaries and the staff necessary to carry out the activities. Since we had previously implemented the projects with partner organizations, we first had to understand the whole registration process ourselves, which was not easy.
As we decided to implement the project in Addis again, where we already had a network, we turned to the authorities at city level. We recruited local volunteers who helped us with the administrative tasks – for example, when it came to speaking Amharic or finding the authorities whose signatures we needed for the applications. The process was not easy and so it took almost half a year until we received the stamps from all offices and our budget was approved. At the beginning of 2015, we finally got started and were able to take the first steps towards realising the project.
Which steps did you have to take to finally realize the project?
First, we had to find a building where we could set up the school. At the same time, the curriculum for the lessons was planned in such a way that the education would be recognized by the state. In addition, we wanted to plan additional activities again to promote the personal development of girls – something that PROJECT-E stands for. The curriculum therefore included these PROJECT-E Life Skill Sessions, but also the obligatory hotel industry courses, which are intended for vocational training in the hotel industry. In the first half of 2015, we also worked on the concept of social support for women. We considered how we could support the female students with advice, pocket money and accommodation and how we could promote their independence. In May, we finally found a building that offered enough space for the classrooms, the simulated classrooms, and the offices for employees. We also needed a kitchen, a library and space for meetings.
To get the accreditation, we had to furnish certain rooms in the school like a hotel. This gave the students an impression of what a hotel looks like from the inside and they could apply what they had learned in the simulated rooms. We set up a bar, a restaurant, a bathroom with bathtub, hotel rooms with small and large beds and even a laundry room. For all the materials I went to the markets in Addis with the Academic Coordinator, where we bought forks, knives, carpets, toilet brushes and so on. That was a really intense time. Most of the work was not done at the desk, but outside, at the markets or in the car.
At the same time, we had to hire more staff and find the young women who were eligible to be students. Every district in Addis Ababa has lists of families living in poor conditions. We therefore worked closely with the authorities and selected the students based on our own criteria, such as motivation, personal history and academic performance. In the end, we decided on 20 young, promising women. And then it was time to open the school. We wanted to open the institute after the Ethiopian New Year in September, at the same time as the other public vocational schools.
How did this work logistically, who organized what and which local partners did you collaborate with?
Logistically it was often quite messy. Everyone did what they could, sometimes it was a huge mess. In January 2016, Aida joined us as project manager and from then on, we were able to distribute the tasks more clearly and brought more structure into the daily routine.
What challenges did you face along the way?
The most difficult thing was to obtain state recognition, because it was not important for the authorities how good the students were in the end, but whether we fulfilled all the criteria. We absolutely had to have a library, for example. And a librarian. And then books that are not older than 10 years. If we did not fulfil one of these criteria, the first problem would arise.
How was the financing organized? How did you recruit donor?
In Ethiopia, we were fully occupied with setting up the PEHI, so we relied on the International Team for the financing. They took care of the donors. We in Ethiopia rather tried to build up a large network with the local hotel industry so that we could help the students to enter the job market after graduation.
Which task was the hardest for you (challenges along the “personal” way)?
The most difficult thing was definitely to bring everything together in time. On the one hand, we felt pressure from the students to make progress with the curriculum. On the other hand, the authorities gave us deadlines for reports, accreditation and renewal of the NGO licence. Keeping these deadlines, along with the daily challenges, was certainly challenging and often the whole team had to get down to work, for example to get the rooms ready in time for the visit to the authorities.
Did the realization of the project meet your expectations?
The whole project was an up and down, super emotional. I think in the end everything went well because we all put our heart and soul into it. We had an incredibly good atmosphere in the team in Ethiopia. Everyone felt part of the project, everyone made a significant contribution to making the school exactly what it is today. We always had to remain flexible, adapt and, above all, work together with local experts in order to be able to react spontaneously to new challenges on site.
Do you remember any especially positive experiences?
At that time, the school was so far outside Addis Ababa, in a new neighbourhood, that there were no restaurants or snack bars yet. That’s why someone from the team always had to take a break half an hour earlier to prepare lunch. Then we all sat together on the stairs and ate injera. Those were incredibly intimate moments. And that was only possible because everyone in the team was so incredibly uncomplicated and just got involved in this project and the circumstances. I enjoyed the closeness and I think it was also the basis for our team spirit.
How has the opening been celebrated? Did you have time for that or has work just continued usually?
Yes of course we celebrated! The group back then loved to party. First, we invited all the students and their families, as well as our network of acquaintances from the hotel industry and our partners from the NGO sector. At the opening, everyone was dressed in traditional costumes, there was injera and the obligatory speeches. The first lesson took place on the Monday after – after one year of preparation, that was a crazy time!
PEHI celebrates its 5th anniversary this year. We are currently employing … people. We support 90 women annually. We were able to establish a second training program alongside the long-term training. The third batch of short-term and the third batch of long-term students recently graduated. How does that make you feel?
It is crazy to see that the school in Addis continues to run successfully. Especially at the beginning of the project, I felt that I was constantly faced with immense challenges and often did not know how to continue. But we managed to do it again and again and now the school has existed for more than five years. It is unbelievable how many young women have gone through the program in the meantime and how the project continues to develop. It is an incredible feeling!