15 October 2019
Rahel cares for her daughter, Lydia, in their home in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia.
(photo: Petterik Wiggers)
In the current edition of ONE, Emeline Wuilbercq writes about Ethiopians Breaking Free from their addiction to khat, with help from the Catholic church. Here, she adds some background to the story.
In Ethiopia, it is not always easy to talk to women. They are rather reserved, sometimes secretive, and it takes time before building a relationship of trust.
In the countryside, as in the cities, their lives are hard: even though early marriages are forbidden, they still take place. Female genital mutilation is widely practiced. A lot of girls do not go to school because they have to help their family at home.
They face many challenges, but they keep it to themselves. When they meet foreign journalists, they do not necessarily want to confide in them during the first exchange.
But sometimes, the unexpected happens.
When I talked with Rahel (her name has been changed), I honestly did not expect to discover such a frank woman, with a strong personality, when I first met her in the Abune Andreas Girls’ Home boarding school in Dire Dawa.
I remember this cheerful woman who was trying to help me and my colleague, Petterik, find someone to help us in Harar. Her English was perfect, and she felt at ease conversing with us. Little did I know at that time that she would become the main subject for my story about khat addiction.
A few days later, when we returned from Harar to Dire Dawa, Petterik and I decided to call her again and she welcomed us to her new apartment. She immediately felt the urge — or need — to confide in us. Was it because she felt isolated from those around her or that she had not yet dared to speak to her neighbors since she moved in?
During our discussion, we learned that she never received the support she needed when she decided to separate from her husband, a man whose khat addiction was becoming too troublesome. He would keep spending money on the green leaves while his wife and daughter were struggling to make ends meet.
This was an added challenge as Rahel, a young orphan girl, had already struggled throughout her teenage years. But with the help of the local Catholic church, she was able to become the strong mother she is today.
Since her husband didn’t listen to her advice, she decided to temporarily separate from him, and to raise her beloved daughter alone.
On the day that we met, she was happy to talk with people who could understand her, as she considered Ethiopians to be too conservative. “Backwards,” she even said. I quickly understood why she was using this strong word.
Rahel told me that her friends had turned their backs on her; in Ethiopia, the fault for a broken marriage rarely comes from the husband, and some think she should have given him another chance before leaving the house. But the only thing that mattered to her was that her daughter could grow up in a healthy environment surrounded by loving people — even if losing her friends was the price she had to pay.
One can only admire Rahel’s journey and the sacrifice she has made for her daughter. I’m glad that she decided to speak out. I hope her friends will read her story to understand her decision.
Learn more about Rahel’s journey in the September 2019 edition of ONE.
29 April 2019
Adanech Sebro and Belay Tesema chat with visitors in their home in Wonji.
(photo: Petterik Wiggers)
In the current edition of ONE, journalist Emeline Wuilbercq reports on efforts by the Catholic Church to help build stronger families in Ethiopia. She offers some additional impressions below.
In January, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met with Pope Francis at the Vatican. National reconciliation and the peace agreement signed with Eritrea were mentioned during their exchange.
This visit was an opportunity to highlight the contribution of the Catholic Church in Africa’s second most populous country, which is considered one of the oldest Christian nations.
Despite the small number of Catholics — they represent less than 1 percent of Ethiopia’s estimated 105 million people, according to the 2007 census — the Catholic Church is highly respected. It supports health and education and administers a few hundred schools throughout the country.
But the presence of the Prime Minister at the Vatican was also very symbolic. He is a devoted Pentecostal, his father is a Muslim and his late mother was a Christian Orthodox. The visit underscored his tolerance and respect for other people’s spiritual beliefs — qualities that characterize many Ethiopians. This has always impressed me since I arrived in the country in 2015. Here, people from different religions live together peacefully. They respect one another. They even celebrate together major religious festivities. But, they mostly don’t interfere in each other’s practices and formalities.
For instance, in January, while I was reporting on a workshop on marriage and conflict resolution for Catholic families, the first couple I met in the town of Wonji were remarkably candid. They were willing to share their experiences to people from different religious backgrounds, in a very respectful manner.
Those who attended this carefully crafted workshop are expected to spread Catholic values — such as dialogue, patience, tolerance and spirituality — in their own communities and create a network of strong Catholic families that can live and prosper as one.
Conscious of the religious diversity in their country, Belay and Adanech, the main subjects for my story in ONE magazine, were sharing their experiences without imposing their beliefs. They were giving advice to their neighbors “as a family,” not specifically as Catholics. That shows how the Catholic community is willing to help and advise individuals from various backgrounds, all while following the words of Jesus Christ: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mark 12:31)
That also shows the uniqueness of Ethiopia.
The respect for religious diversity is far from the global norm. But living together harmoniously is possible. Ethiopia offers the world a beautiful example.
Read more about why Family Matters in the March 2019 edition of ONE.
11 July 2018
Netsanet prepares a cup of coffee in her humble home in an Ethiopian refugee camp. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
In the June 2018 edition of ONE, Emeline Wuilbercq takes readers to camps in Ethiopia where the church is helping refugees waiting for a better life. Here, she tells how she met one of the women she profiled.
As journalists, we sometimes think like novelists.
Since one of our goals is to raise awareness, we look for the story that will move our readers, provide them with new information and, above all, share an amazing character with an incredible life story. Often, even if we search, we cannot absolutely control what we find in the field. And yet, it is not uncommon to have surprises. It is when you stop searching that you come upon somebody whose personality, or resilience, is striking. By accident, you can find something other than what you were looking for.
When I was a student, I remember an experienced journalist telling me that this is what we call “serendipity.” In French, we translated it as “sérendipité”, which sounds a bit weird for a word-lover. This word was invented in 1754 by the British politician and writer Horace Walpole, who defines it as “accident and sagacity while in pursuit of something else”. Many accidental scientific discoveries were made by serendipity, such as penicillin. The concept applies perfectly to journalism. In a Le Monde article published in 2012, the journalist says that serendipity is “a matter of chance, of course, but also of sagacity, curiosity, agility, mental availability to stay on the lookout for new and surprising things.” Because you always have to be alert.
That is exactly what I thought when I met Netsanet, the main subject for my story on the Mai-Ani refugee camp. There are about 40,000 Eritrean refugees living in northern Ethiopia. Ethiopia is sheltering over 900,000 of these people on its soil according to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. We were about to go 11 miles further to another camp, Adi-Harush, when veteran photographer Petterik Wiggers came to me. He has been working in Ethiopia for 20 years and knows a great subject when he meets one.
He explained to me that while I was interviewing another woman whose story was really interesting, he sat down in a small café set up by an Eritrean refugee to have a coffee. (He is consciously addicted to caffeine.) He met her with the help of a social worker from the Jesuit Refugee Service (J.R.S.) who speaks her language, Tigrinya. He quickly discovered that her story was compelling. He had no clue he would come across such a woman, but sometimes the Lord works in mysterious ways!
We both decided to go back in Netsanet’s house and we had another round of strong coffee. While talking with her, we discovered all the challenges she has been through in her life: the loss of her two husbands, the escape to Ethiopia, the life in the camp… it was all remarkable and inspiring.
If Petterik had not decided to have a cup of coffee before leaving the camp, we would have never met this amazing woman you will discover in ONE. Check out our story and see for yourself what serendipity can do!
6 February 2018
Tags: Ethiopia Refugees Refugee Camps
A young woman hones her culinary skills during a cooking class at the Kidist Mariam Center in
Meki, Ethiopia. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)
In the current edition of ONE, Emeline Wuilbercq takes us to the Kidist Mariam Center in Ethiopia and discovers how it is offering skills to young Ethiopians and helping them stay in their homeland. Here, she offers some additional impressions.
Throughout my reporting career in Ethiopia, I have met hundreds of passionate people. I have been reporting mostly on politics, especially on the crackdown on protests in some parts of the country. I believe journalists have a duty to voice people’s concerns. But I strongly believe it is also our duty to deliver more than just sad news. Practicing “solutions journalism” is a good way of doing it.
Instead of writing about the problems, those who practice “solutions journalism” strive to write about how people can address those problems and offer solutions. In the end, the reader understands that, despite the challenges, there is hope. I’m not used to writing these kinds of “positive stories” but I’m convinced they offer another valuable perspective beyond most of the articles we read daily in the media. And I’m quite sure this journalism is just as rigorous and compelling as any other.
I experienced this kind of journalism when I reported at the Kidist Mariam Center. Visiting this training center — operated by the Community of St. Paul, in the Ethiopian town of Meki, about 80 miles south of the capital Addis Ababa — was both touching and delightful. It was touching because I met young and poor girls exposed to the danger of migration. They used to work abroad as housemaids to support their families. They were having hard times living abroad, with the fear of being beaten, sexually harassed, or facing other forms of exploitation and mistreatment. But it was also delightful because this center allowed them to foresee a better future in their hometown.
I spent a day there interviewing many of them and had no qualms disturbing them during their training. I was very impressed by one of them: Serkalem Keder, the aspiring pastry chef. She had been taking cooking classes at Kidist Mariam Center for the last seven months. Her shy smile betrayed her happiness, a feeling she had forgotten while she was out of her country. She had been through hard times in Saudi Arabia, but she keeps it for herself. When I met her, the only thing that mattered is how she is improving her cooking skills so that she can get a decent job and make a better living in her own country.
I met many Serkalems, whose lives changed thanks to the center. I felt humbled in front of those strong women who were almost my age. I was also happy to be able to share this story with readers who could help support the center, enabling it to train more young people and give them hope.
Discover more in the December 2017 edition of ONE.