This study examines the implementation of mother-tongue medium of instruction in Western Ethiopia. Specifically, this study explores the challenges educators face in introducing local languages (some until recently lacked a written form) in situations where resources are severely limited and where the local population is only beginning to recognize the desirability of these changes. The variation in program outcomes stems from Ethiopia’s decision to task each ethnic region with the responsibility of implementing language policy separately. This paper draws on the implementation framework of McLaughlin (1987), who argues that implementation of educational reforms depends on the capacity and will of local actors. Capacity issues can be addressed with training, financial help, and consultants to provide missing expertise. In contrast, will, motivation, beliefs and attitudes of the implementers are less amenable to policy intervention and pressure alone cannot affect these factors. In the Ethiopian context, implementing mother-tongue medium of instruction has presented a plethora of logistic and managerial challenges. Challenges to capacity include shortages of teachers and instructional materials as well as the absence of an infrastructure capable of addressing these shortages rapidly. Some balance of pressure and support is needed, especially in situations where there is uneven consensus about the merits of the policy. While many educators have recognized the pedagogical advantages, there are widespread misgivings regarding the suitability of some less- developed local languages for academic purposes, and many parents have expressed doubts about their children’s future if the focus of their education is shifted to literacy in a local language from languages of wider communication, such as Amharic or English. The implementation of mother-tongue instruction in two regions is examined and the study reflects on the implementation’s success in improving the lives of the students as well as the various factors of capacity and will as these factors affect this program. The following research questions drive this study: 1. What are the challenges faced by primary school teachers in implementing mother tongue instruction in multilingual rural schools and 2. How do teacher-, school-, and community-level factors influence the implementation of mother tongue instruction in rural areas of Ethiopia? This study consists of a qualitative ethnography designed to collect data in such a way that a minimal amount of the researcher’s bias is imposed on the data. Multiple methods of data collection were employed to allow for an in-depth portrait of the informants and their community. Methods used include participant observation, in-depth interviews, focus groups and classroom observations. Data was collected from 30 classroom observations, three focus groups, 12 parent/community interviews, 33 teacher interviews and eight interviews with administrators conducted at five schools and two regional/zone education bureaus in Bench-Maji Zone and Benishangul-Gumuz Region.