When Meazi Light-Orr came from Ethiopia to America at the age of three, she knew one English word—book—and had one desire: to go to school. 

The opinionated toddler was promptly enrolled in pre-school and now at age sixteen, Light-Orr is working to ensure that children in her home village have the opportunity to share her love of learning. 

Alongside a group of her peers at Crossroads School, Light-Orr is seeking to raise $100,000 to fund two new grades at the Kololo School, which her adoptive parents helped found in 2012.

“About 11 years ago I remarked to my mother that I’d never had a book before I came here, because I loved reading and she was just very upset by that, so she made it her mission to get a library and get books to the children in my birth village of Kololo, Ethiopia,” said Light-Orr.

What Light-Orr’s mother quickly realized was that books will do little good if students are unable to read them, so she started looking into what it would take to establish a school. She and her husband partnered with the Tesfa Foundation and launched the Kololo School, which currently serves around 350 students in kindergarten through fourth grade who otherwise wouldn’t have access to education. 

While Light-Orr has assisted her parents’ fundraising for years, she recently decided she would like to take a more active role in the school and reached out to the Tesfa Foundation to see what they were in need of. She learned that the Foundation is seeking to establish a fifth and sixth grade so that students can complete their primary education and potentially enroll in a secondary school, instead of being left hanging with a certificate of fourth grade completion. 

“The lack of the final two grades has presented an issue and a kind of roadblock for their access (to further education),” said Light-Orr. “Additionally, the expansion would allow nearly 100 more students to attend, so it just presented itself seamlessly as a really beautiful thing.”

Light-Orr and the other students involved in Crossroad’s Kids for Kololo initiative are hosting an art auction and concert at a private residence in Brentwood on Dec. 11 from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. to jump start the fundraising. 

Additionally, it is Light-Orr’s dream to return to her home village for the first time and bring the students in her initiative alongside her so that they can see the school in person. While this will depend on COVID restrictions, the safety conditions in Ethiopia and funding, Light-Orr is looking to her senior spring in 2023 as a possible window for travel. 

“Because I haven’t had the opportunity to go back, it would be quite meaningful if the opportunity does present itself… and it would be a very compelling opportunity for any other student,” said Light-Orr. “There is very much a significant emotional piece to it; it would really be such an amazing opportunity to connect with my own heritage.”

Even from afar, Light-Orr has been stuck by how much the school transformed her village, with young students now able to read to their parents. The last time UNESCO measured literacy rates in Ethiopia in 2017, only 51 percent of the adult population was literate, so this skill is incredibly valuable.

“It’s quite crazy to think about, but a girl like myself, a 16 year old girl in Kololo… would most likely be married or working or both, if they didn’t have the opportunity to learn,” said Light-Orr.

In addition to providing a quality education, the school’s food program often provides children with their only reliable meal of the day. As students are needed to help their families farm, the school is set up in special shifts to allow children to work in the morning and attend class in the evening and vice versa. 

Light-Orr said she is committed to supporting the Kololo School in the long-term and hopes the initiative she established at Crossroads will continue to work with the school after she graduates. Currently Crossroads students Charley Ordeshook, Nate Kindler, Sebastian Stauber, Sydney Johnson, Yann Carrillo, Harrison Woods and Jack Oshinsky make up the Kids for Kololo team.

“I’ve been working with this organization for more than five years now, but only recently did I get the numbers on how little it really takes to make a massive difference in the life of one kid or in the lives of many,” said Oshinsky. “Yearly tuition for a private school in Santa Monica can cost upwards of $40k whereas it only costs $250 to send a child in Kololo to a full year of school. It proves that even small contributions are deeply impactful, much more impactful than anyone expects.”

Light-Orr encourages anyone to donate to the Kololo School at https://givebutter.com/kidsforkololo. Those interested in participating the in auction on Dec. 11, can register to attend virtually or in-person by sending an email to kidsforkololo@gmail.com or calling 310-384-8144.

The event will feature over two dozen works of art and photography alongside performances from The Shea Welsh Institute of Jazz. Food will be provided by Berbere, a popular Ethiopian restaurant that recently opened in Santa Monica.

Clara@smdp.com