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“I knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was 8,” she says. “Teaching enables me to know myself better and to share knowledge and thereby help people. This makes me very, very happy and this happiness is infectious; it makes the children happy. The love of learning flows out through them into the community.”

On her rounds, she drops in on an English class, an Amharic class and finally the computer lab, where an energetic young teacher demonstrates functions on word-processing software to the students. He then has them come up, six at a time, to the row of computers at the top of the class in order to practice the operations he has just demonstrated.

The last period of the day has nearly ended. At the back of the computer lab, muddy hoes lie in a pile. They will be taken by many of the students, who will go directly from school to tending the fields. When not improving themselves in the classroom, they spend their time helping their families keep food on the table.

The bell for the end of class goes off with the sharpness of a war siren. The teens are unperturbed, hearing instead a sweet song of afternoon freedom. The boys grab their hoes and, before heading to the fields, they play around outside, striking superheroes’ poses, brandishing their hoes as if they were lightsabers.

Once the school day has ended, Sister Frehiwot and Sister Damakech return to their respective convents in Mokonissa and Boditi, where their fellow sisters offer support and encouragement. Each evening they sit around the dinner table and discuss challenges, think through problems and plan solutions, among other general conversations.

After dinner, both sisters retire to their rooms to study for their own exams — weekend courses at the Wolaita Sodo University in the large town of Sodo, some 12 miles south of Boditi. There, the sisters work toward bachelor’s degrees in Education with a focus on Civics.

Some days, a jeep is available to carry them to Sodo at the crack of dawn. Most days, however, they have to make their way on foot from their respective convents to the main Sodo road. There, they wait until a public bus comes along.

On a recent evening in the dining room of her convent, Sister Frehiwot leafs through handouts on philosophy — discussing Plato and Kant, among others — all in English. She has underlined some of the more difficult words, like ‘aesthetics’ and ‘epistemology,’ penning their Amharic translations above.

“It can be tricky sometimes,” she says, smiling as she flips through the pages. “When I come across a word I don’t understand, I simply reach for the dictionary.”

Such studies, the congregation hopes, will help the two sisters to become stronger, better-rounded leaders.

“I was 22 when I was first made principal of St. Anne’s Secondary School,” says Sister Damakech. “In the beginning, it was a big challenge to find myself in such a position of authority at such a young age. But by putting all my focus, energy and prayers into the job, I managed to master it.”

She applies the same rigor to the challenge of her degree.

“This is one of the reasons we chose to give responsibilities to Sister Damakech and Sister Frehiwot specifically,” says Sister Manna Tesfey.

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