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July, 2019
Volume 45, Number 2
  
16 March 2016
Greg Kandra




Elsa stands in her home in Mai-Aini refugee camp in Ethiopia. (photo: Petterik Wiggers)

In the summer of 2014, Fanuel Abebe, project director for Jesuit Refugee Service (J.R.S.) described his encounter with one of his clients, a refugee from Eritrea named Elsa. CNEWA partners with J.R.S., which works in the Mai-Aini Refugee Camp, assisting in the provision of services to those seeking shelter there. It was an inspirational visit that serves to remind us of the everyday heroism of people who dare to dream of a better life in a troubled world:

As we entered the mud house, we were welcomed with a warm smile by Jerry, whose mother, Elsa, is a client of Jesuit Refugee Service. Elsa was lying down, exhausted. Her daughter was working on the dough for ambasha, a local variety of Ethiopian bread. The hut contained little — just a few cooking materials and two beds made of mud attached to the mud floor.

Though tired from her rigorous daily routine — which includes collecting firewood every day for cooking in an ongoing struggle to keep her three daughters fed — Elsa warmly welcomed us, insisting on offering us coffee.

As we talked over our coffee, we were surprised at her optimism. We were also delighted at the work J.R.S. had done in keeping Elsa’s spirits high despite her very difficult life as a refugee.

Elsa’s face brightened as she told us about Jerry’s performance at a J.R.S. program for music and the performing arts at the camp. From an early age, Elsa told us, Jerry had proven to be a talented dancer and performer.

Now in her mid-30’s, Elsa explains that she herself had a great passion for music and dance when she was young, and is delighted to see her daughter share that passion. This was one of the reasons behind Elsa’s determination to hang on to life — J.R.S. has helped her keep her hopes alive.

Elsa’s daughter Jerry is one of the many young people living in the Mai-Aini Refugee Camp taking classes at the J.R.S. program for music and the performing arts. Besides music, J.R.S. is also engaged in providing five other types of psychosocial support for children. These programs, which benefit not only the children, but the extended families living in the camp, include counseling, sports and recreational activities, theater and library services.

In spite of the desolation in Mai-Aini, Elsa dreams of a better life for her children.

Read more about Elsa’s Dream in the Summer 2014 edition of ONE.