12 September 2019
Marie Rackley (left) of the Catholic Women’s League of Canada presents a check to CNEWA Canada’s Development Officer Melodie Gabriel (right). (photo: CNEWA)
Thank you to the Catholic Women’s League (C.W.L.) for giving CNEWA Canada the opportunity to speak at their recent National Convention in Calgary.
During the convention, the C.W.L. of Canada presented a check to CNEWA for $16,346.13.
I was pleased to accept the donation and thank the Catholic Women’s League for their ongoing support. I was also able to update attendees on conditions in the Middle East. Christians are few but mighty in these countries and play vital roles in interfaith dialogue, health services and aid to those in need. We thank the C.W.L. for the hope they bring to Holy Land Christians through their prayer and donations — and by spreading the word about CNEWA.
Earlier this summer, CNEWA Canada organized its 6th annual Pilgrimage to the Holy Land for C.W.L. members and CNEWA Canada donors. During the trip, they visited two projects that help women and families in the Holy Land: Shepherd’s Field Hospital and Infant Welfare Center.
These Christian institutions can to do the good work they do because of the ongoing generous support of donors such as the Catholic Women’s League. Thank you!
5 September 2019
Tags: Canada CNEWA Canada
Daughter of Charity Sister Naglaa stands with students in St. Vincent de Paul School.
(photo: Hanaa Habib)
In the current edition of ONE, Magdy Samaan described some of the remarkable work being done Reclaiming Lives in Cairo’s poorest quarter. Here, he offers some additional impressions:
To have your child admitted in a private foreign language school in Egypt, you have to do more than just pay the fees. Most of these schools are expensive, but they also set requirements for admission based on the parents’ social level and education.
They conduct an interview with the parents to make sure that they come from certain social classes. This deprives students from poor backgrounds from receiving good education. They are left with only one choice: to enroll in a government school, where education has deteriorated greatly in the past few decades.
This has created opportunities for private schools in Egypt. It has become like a market, where service varies greatly in the level of education and expenses.
But education costs Egyptian families an increasing amount of their shrinking income. Even those who go to government schools often need private tutoring, because the quality of education is not the best. Students coming from poor families, who can’t join a private school or afford private courses, have a hard time succeeding.
In the past, there was kind of equality in education. Public school used to be the main place for most Egyptians. Sons from poor families had the chance for social mobility through education. But nowadays it has become harder and harder for them to keep up with those who have more money and can afford better schools.
But then is the Saint Vincent de Paul School in Cairo. Children whose parents are poor — such as garbage collectors — are welcomed in the school. They even get help in paying the fees. Some get a discount; others have the fees waived. It can make a tremendous difference.
But it isn’t easy. The school seeks donations to support the students who can’t afford the fees. Sadly, not many people are willing to help.
This remains a great challenge in Egypt. Seeing the good that Saint Vincent de Paul School accomplishes should inspire more people to support this kind of schooling. As one of the sisters told me, “If we all shut the door in front of them, where shall they go?”
Read more about the lives of Egyptians trying to get a good education in the July 2019 edition of ONE. And for an intimate glimpse of life in Egypt, check out the video below.
20 August 2019
We got to meet some of the eager students at Meki Catholic School in Ethiopia, who are fortunate to receive a quality education, thanks to the generosity of CNEWA’s donors.
(photo: Haimdat Sawh/CNEWA)
A highlight of our visit to Ethiopia was the Meki Catholic School.
Meki Catholic School is located in the east-central region of Ethiopia, about 92 miles south of Addis Ababa. My CNEWA colleagues Argaw Fantu, Christopher Kennedy and I met with Abba Yisehak Gebrekirstosin, a 2007 alumnus of Meki High School who now serves as the school director. Argaw commented that the “fruit of the land (Abba Yisehak) is now serving others.” What a testament to the quality of education of the Meki Catholic School! After completing his minor seminary at the Catholic Apostolic Vicariate of Meki, Abba Yisehak was a seminarian at Capuchin Franciscan Institute of Philosophy and Theology in Addis Ababa. However, as he walked us through the school grounds, he declared that being director of the Meki Catholic School was his greatest honor and challenge thus far.
Serving students from kindergarten through high school, the school had recently moved to new grounds to accommodate a growing student body of 2,628 students. Most of the students were in kindergarten through eighth grade, and less than half of them seemed able to make it to high school. However, the students in grades 10 to 12 work hard on completing their studies and taking the National Exam. Almost 200 students were preparing to go to university, a challenging feat from those often coming from families with limited resources and funds. Even about a dozen students were attending the minor seminary, which Abba Yisehak fondly recounted was his own pathway more than a decade ago.
In order to attend Meki Catholic School, students take an entrance exam during the summer, and those who qualify are accepted — which was about 10 percent of students taking the exam for entry into all grade levels. However, as is common in Ethiopia, Meki Catholic School is not free, a challenge for many students who excel academically. Recent long-standing droughts have devastated crop yields in Meki, a region that relies heavily on agriculture. Through community organizers and outreach, Meki Catholic School tries to reach these students to provide them with assistance for education and nutrition. In particular, CNEWA directly assists 108 of these students, though many more could use help in this impoverished region. Ultimately, Meki relies on donor support to offer access to education to the children of low-income families — children who have the potential to succeed and bring development to their region and help break it out of the cycle of poverty and missed opportunities.
Haimdat Sawh and Christopher Kennedy meet with Abba Yisehak Gebrekirstos, director of Meki Catholic School, Ethiopia. (photo: Haimdat Sawh/CNEWA)
Abba Yisehak thanked the team from CNEWA for our generous support. I felt much gratitude for the kindness and hospitality of our host. Indeed, throughout the entire trip, I experienced the incredible friendliness of the Ethiopian people and their beautiful and sincere expressions of faith. I saw throughout my journey not only the poverty and suffering, but also the joy and hope of these strong-willed people.
How can I sum up my thoughts at the end of all this? I knew that coming here, I would face many surprises, but I have had my horizons stretched far more than expected.
God never calls us to stay in our comfort zone!
19 August 2019
Driving to Debre Berhan offered a glimpse at daily life in parts of Ethiopia.
(photo: Haimdat Sawh)
Every day, the boy comes through the rusty iron gates into the courtyard of the school. Wearing thick black glasses and carrying a long white stick, he silently shuffles, leaving small clouds of dust with his measured steps. He carefully feels his way until he takes his place in line behind the other students dressed in blue uniforms. They all wait for their turn to enter the large corrugated metal structure where religious sisters dressed in their habits are doling out their daily meal. The sisters hand out fragrant stews heated in giant pots, along with bread rolls — all offered with a gracious smile. For many students, such as this blind orphan, this may be the only meal they have that day, made possible by the Divine Sisters School Feeding Service.
I am still in awe that I got to meet and talk to people such as the students at the Debre Berhan School, people impacted by the work of Catholic Near East Welfare Association (CNEWA). I’ve been working as a development officer for CNEWA for several months; this was my first programmatic mission trip. When I remember all that needed to get done to prepare for this trip -- rounds of vaccinations, updating my passport, packing lists, writing letters and thank you cards, learning about Ethiopia -- I am overwhelmed. But I am so happy that God does not require us to be able; he just wants us to be available and faithful. Little did I grasp just how much I would grow.
My journey to Ethiopia started on a cold, rainy Sunday afternoon, but my heart was clear and bright with my mission to share the love that had changed my life and a desire to perform every action with joy. With this clarity, I joined my colleague Christopher Kennedy at Newark Liberty International Airport to begin our journey to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Upon arriving in Addis Ababa, we were warmly greeted by Argaw Fantu, regional director for CNEWA in Ethiopia. He became our tireless guide, mentor, driver and unwavering friend. On this extraordinary and transformative trip, we learned to “flex” our taste buds (reacquainting myself with injera, the traditional bread of Ethiopia, and the inspiring and frequent coffee ceremonies) and “flex” our patience, while being stuck in mind-numbing, seemingly no-rules traffic. What I was unprepared for was how much my heart would have to “flex” during one intense week!
We greeted students at a lunch program. We listened to them singing and jamming on the keyboard, watched them playing table tennis. We participated in five coffee ceremonies, spent more than 30 hours in a Land Cruiser, and endured one tire blowout traveling to and from our destinations. I gazed out the window of our vehicle while traveling back to the hotel, taking in the realities and mulling over the different places we visited and every child, brother, and sister we met. I saw countless homeless wandering the streets during the ride back; I watched small shanty towns slip by amid miles and miles of stunningly beautiful mountainous landscapes and villages. Children fill the streets, trying to earn some money. I noticed that shoe shining is popular with kids. I saw kids anywhere from 5 to 19 doing what they can to make money. Also, you see many kids playing soccer, sometimes right in the middle of the highway — no joke! — amid flocks of goats and sheep bleating as they are herded to the marketplace.
As the long hours continued in the traffic, I was stirred by the harsh reality of souls fighting to survive. It is easy to take what we have for granted, to get caught up in the constant demands of our work, our family, our many activities, and lose sight of our ideals. As I sat down to reflect, my eyes brimmed with tears.
I pulled out my journal and began to write.
Coming up: One of the most inspiring stops on our trip was to the Meki Catholic School in rural east-central Ethiopia.
Transportation in Ethiopia may involve a vehicle with a little horse power.
(photo: Haimdat Sawh/CNEWA)
16 August 2019
While the flooding in Kerala this summer has not been as serious as it was in 2018, landslides have caused significant damage and loss of life. (photo: CNEWA)
Since it began on 8 August 2019, the incessant rain has forced some250,000 people to take shelter in 1,639 relief camps. The death toll continues to climb — at least 200 have died by one account — and dozens are missing.
Due to heavy rainfall in the monsoon season, severe flooding affected many of the districts across the state. The heavy rain and massive landslides and wind caused extensive damage to houses and vast tracts of cultivated land. The upland regions of Kozhikode, Wayanad and Malapuram districts have been widely flooded and isolated. Heavy landslides occurred. Wayanad, Kozhikode, Idukki and Malappuram were some of the worst-hit districts due to flooding and landslides.
Malappuram district has seen a series of landslides due to heavy rains at Bhudanam, Kavalappara and Kottakunnu resulting in the death of 30 people and 29 missing at Bhudanam alone.
The weather updates show that heavy rain could persist until the end of the week. The flight operations at the Kochi international airport were shut for two days due to the runway being inundated.
Rescue teams— including the Army, Navy, and volunteers — have been working to provide relief and to rescue people hit by the deluge and landslips.
Last year, in August 2018, the flooding was widespread and affected the entire population, but this year the heavy damage has occurred in just a few areas. Also, after last year’s disaster, authorities learned to take timely precautions and warned people. The government was on full alert and made arrangements to rescue people and get them to safety before the flooding. As a result, most of the death toll was caused by unexpected landslides.
In the 2018 flood 15,000 houses were destroyed; the government has rebuilt only 7,000 so far.
In 2019, some 1,060 houses were destroyed and 11,286 houses partially damaged.
The basic needs — such as food, clothing, water, and other items for the people in the relief camps — are being collected at various parts of the state by different youth groups and associations, including church organizations. Collection centers are open at various locations by local groups. People have been generous.
Although it is a huge task to feed around 200,000 people, people from across the state are sending emergency materials. Nevertheless, needs may increase in the coming days.
The main need right now is to provide permanent shelters to the families who lost their land, livestock, agriculture and houses. The government has asked people and organizations to donate generously toward the Chief Ministers Relief Funds, to help rebuild and rehabilitate the damaged houses.
But for those who have lost everything, the coming days look grim.
Wayanad is a picturesque plateau nestled along the mountains of the Western Ghats, on the eastern portion of Kerala bordering Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. At last count, 12 people have died in this district; 6,000 houses were damaged.
In Malappuram, 55 people died and many are missing. A number of bridges and roads in many districts have been destroyed.
I myself spent much time these days mobilizing emergency materials to be sent to Wayanad and Malapuram. I have talked to a few priests to see if they have proposals for any specific needs at their respective areas. They plan to assess the situation once things settle down.
Please keep all the victims of this disaster in your prayers!
31 July 2019
The exclusive video above shows some of the remarkable work being done at the St. Clare Oral School for the Deaf in India. (video: CNEWA)
In the current edition of ONE, Anubha George writes about how children with hearing impairments are getting A Sound Education at a school in Kerala. But, as she writes below, sometimes it isn’t just the students who leave the school having learned a thing or two.
The visit to St. Clare Oral School for the Deaf in the southern Indian state of Kerala brought back memories. It was four years ago. A niece of mine was born premature, at 34 weeks. The neonatologist suggested tests pretty much every week, for her eyes and her hearing. Premature babies are more at risk of auditory problems.
Thankfully, there was no problem with her hearing. My visit to St. Clare reminded me of that time. Yet, it also taught me many things that I’m embarrassed to confess — things I had been judgemental about before. We felt relieved when my niece passed that audiometry test because we saw hearing impairment as a disability that would stop her from leading a “normal” life. But I met children at this school who lead fulfilling and happy lives. Some were partially hearing impaired, some fully. But there wasn’t a hint of self pity or a sense that something was lacking in their lives.
I often hear people describe a child with hearing impairment as “deaf and dumb.” Sister Abhaya, the principal in charge at the school, told me that was incorrect on so many levels. She gave me an example. I’m an Indian. Let’s say I go to Germany for a visit. I know not a word of German. If I’m in a group where everybody is speaking German, I wouldn’t be able to understand a thing or contribute to the conversation. I would be “dumb.” Any one of us can be “dumb” in certain circumstances. But these children have their own language to communicate — one I don’t know, sign language.
I’ve made a promise to myself: I’ll never again use the word “dumb.”
I also came to realize — to my embarassment — that some things I disparage can change lives.
I’m not a fan of smart phones, for the way they can sometimes take over everything we do. But at St. Clare Oral School for the Deaf, I found that smart phones are crucial. They offer the students a lifeline. When the students use video to make a call, they can see people — they can read lips and communicate. On a video call, they can chat and share with their friends in sign language; they can see faces and read emotions.
My visit to the school was a revelation — and helped me discover that sometimes a school offers lessons not only to those in its classrooms, but to visitors from outside, as well.
Read more about the St. Clare Oral School for the Deaf in the July 2019 edition of ONE.
23 July 2019
Msgr. John E. Kozar welcomes the Rev. Ziad Hillal to CNEWA's New York offices.
We received a visit from an old friend this afternoon: the Rev. Ziad Hillal, S.J.
Readers may remember that Father Ziad wrote a Letter from Syria printed in ONE magazine in 2013, describing in vivid detail the humanitarian efforts of his Jesuit community, working (with support from CNEWA’s donors) to help Syria’s children who were trapped in the nightmare of the country’s civil war:
Caring for more than 3,000 displaced families and providing support to 2,000 children who need continuous care on all levels is indescribably heavy. And until now, few organizations have assisted us with our mission. I still remember how CNEWA took the initiative at the beginning of the harsh winter and provided 1,000 families with winter kits to help the children in our schools survive the cold and the poor housing conditions.
We have had some difficult cases of children who have lost one or both of their parents. One such child is a 12-year-old whom I will call “Rita.” Her father was shot in the head and has been in a coma since last year; her mother had a nervous breakdown and is being treated in a specialized center. Rita is currently living with her aunt, who is also displaced. Rita refuses to go back to school and she isolates herself from the world. The Sisters of the Good Shepherd, along with a psychologist, are trying to support her morally and to assist her in her studies at home. However, she has thus far rejected these efforts to help her.
Maybe our efforts will not be enough to satisfy the huge needs of the displaced families and to relieve their sufferings. But what we are trying to do is simply shine a small spot of light on the shadow of violence.
Father Ziad left Syria in 2016. His ministry since then has taken him to Greece — where he worked with the Jesuit Relief Services to help refugees — and to France, where he is now living and has published a book about his experiences.
His life has been touched by tragedy in many ways. One close colleague, the Rev. Frans Van Der Lugt, S.J. was brutally killed in Homs in 2014; another, the Rev. Jacques Mourad, was kidnapped by ISIS and eventually released in November 2015. A third priest, the Rev. Paolo Dall’Oglio, was kidnapped in 2013 and is still being held. His whereabouts are unknown.
Despite this, Father Ziad remains a figure of unflinching hope and zeal — and one who believes the greatest cause for his beleaguered and embattled homeland is the quest for peace.
“The message,” he said, ”is we have to stop the war in Syria. Immediately. To protect first the presence of our church and our people. The Christian people are the bridge between the West and the Middle East. We are also like a bridge between Sunnis and Shiites. And now if we lose our presence, I am afraid one day I will go to Syria, maybe my nieces or nephews will go there and say, our parents were in this church. It was our church but now we have nothing there. Only the stories. I am afraid for that.”
As he put it: “The only message for me is to stop the war in Syria and have the peace. If not, we will only lose again and again.”
You can watch a video we produced about his work below. Please keep him and all those working on behalf of victims of war and terror in your prayers.
22 July 2019
Salbi makes kufta with bulgur, a variant of the dish brought to Armenia by Syrian-Armenians. (photo: Nazik Armenakyan)
In the July 2019 edition of ONE, Gohar Abrahamyan reports on Syrian refugees who have found a new home in Armenia. The author offers some additional reflections below.
Writing about people who have lived through war, and suffering inconsolable pain and loss, is difficult.
It is even harder when the story involves the Armenians living in Syria, recalling the reason why the Armenians found themselves in Syria to begin with. It was in 1915, when the leaders of Ottoman Turkey decided to ”cleanse” that part of their empire of Christian Armenians living in their historical homeland for centuries. What followed were massacres, mass killings, rapes and murders that claimed the lives of 1.5 million Armenians. Those who survived starvation in the desert were able to start over in Syria and Lebanon.
A century later, more war and violence and targeted attacks had them fleeing once again.
I keep replaying this tragic history in my mind, filled with indignation at the historical injustice, as I meet just a few of the 20,000 Syrian Armenians forced to leave their homes because of the war.
I realize anew: no matter how terrible the war is, it does not kill what makes us human. Love and kindness are unconquerable.
One of those I meet during my visit is a woman named Salbi.
She used to work as a cook. In Syria, she earned a living to support her 7-year-old son. She played with him, taught him how to read and write.
Then, the hopes for the future were scattered by roaring explosions, and these people fled with the dust of the ruined buildings. They became exiles.
”It was November of 2012,” Salbi remembers, “and I said that we would spend the New Year in Armenia and then would go back; see how many New Years we have spent?” Her face reveals her sorrow over what was lost. “Before coming here, I had bought two pairs of shoes for my son, one pair was black and the other one was coffee-colored. I said we would take only one pair with us, and the other he would wear after we come back. Since then, how many pairs of shoes has he worn out? But I am still thinking, with all my heart, about those shoes.” She can’t forget what she left behind. “My dowry with the tablecloth embroidered by my mom, the childhood photos of my son were left there. All the things from my baby’s childhood stayed there. They are irreplaceable.”
I am crying. Salbi collapses. George, Salbi’s 14-year-old son, brings his mother some water, then hugs her and with his hand wipes away the tears on his mother’s wrinkled cheeks.
Both of them have health problems, both of them are weak; but, for now, they are so strong with each other. They are struggling together, arguing, laughing, crying together, bound together by a new life in Armenia.
Mother and son hug each other; they are far from their home, far from their dear things. But they know that they have what matters.
They have life. They have each other. That is their consolation.
That is their hope.
Read more about how Hope Takes Root in the current edition of ONE.
16 July 2019
Tags: Syria Refugees Armenia
Students at Fratelli enjoy a sports class. (photo: Tamara Abdul Hadi)
In the new edition of ONE, journalist Doreen Abi Raad profiles a place Where Education Is Alive, the Fratelli Center in Lebanon. She offers some additional impressions below.
To reach the Fratelli Center in Rmeileh, Lebanon, the exit from the coastal highway near the southern city of Sidon leads to a lovely, winding road dotted with all kinds of flowering trees.
I imagine that Syrian refugee children, living nearby in dire conditions, perhaps also admire the beautiful landscape on their way to and from the center on the bus provided by CNEWA.
Fratelli is a non-profit association jointly founded by the De La Salle Brothers and Marist Brothers in Lebanon in 2016 with the goal of organizing educational, social and cultural activities for poor and vulnerable children.
From the former Marist Our Lady of Fatima school in Rmeileh, abandoned during Lebanon’s civil war, the Fratelli Center serves more than 600 children and youth, Syrian refugees as well as poor Lebanese. Most of the students are Muslim. Teachers and volunteers are Muslim and Christian alike.
It’s morning recess time. Children are running, screeching, laughing, some kicking soccer balls, immersed in exuberant momentum. Yet there’s nothing chaotic: It’s simply blissful joy, every child’s face radiant with a smile.
Three young boys run to Marist Brother Andrés Porras, hugging him in unison, nearly knocking him over with their enthusiasm. “How are you today?” he asks the students, returning their hugs and encouraging them to speak in English.
“For me, these children are the daily presence of God, it is very transparent, how they share their happiness and look in your eyes with such pureness,” Brother Andrés says.
When it’s time to get serious at the ringing of a teacher’s handbell, the children quietly line up, ready to return to classrooms, still brimming with joy. They are so eager to learn.
In the first grade classroom for Syrian refugee children, a colorful poster of “Fratelli Class Rules” is prominently displayed. The rules include: ”I will be honest and kind…I will respect myself and others…I will not be a bully…I will do my best…I come to school to learn.” The students indeed are doing their best, listening to their teacher with rapt attention and confidently reciting arithmetic drills in English.
For Fratelli’s afternoon basic literacy and numeracy program for youth, 16-year-old Zahra arrives with a sweet smile, after working in agriculture from 6 am to noon with her father, to help support her family. They fled to Lebanon from Idlib, Syria in 2012.
Zahra expected that with no fear of war, everything would be better in Lebanon. But life in her adopted country has been very difficult, she admits with a mature resolve. Her family lives in poverty; she missed out on school for several years, and she must work to help out financially.
Thanks to Fratelli, Zahra has restarted her education, opening a path for a better future. Ever since she was young, Zahra dreamed of being a pediatrician.
Zahra hopes to return to her homeland someday. But she would like her country to be as it was before the war.
For now, Zahra considers Fratelli “my second home.”
“Or to be honest, it is my main home. It’s the place where I feel free,” she says, adding that the teachers “are like a family to me.”
Read more about Fratelli in the July 2019 edition of ONE.
28 June 2019
Tags: Lebanon Refugees
The July 2019 edition of ONE is now online.
Looking for some great reading this summer? The new edition of CNEWA’s award-winning magazine ONE is now online.
In the July 2019 edition, readers can visit a remarkable school in Lebanon; meet Syrians finding a new home with ancient roots in Armenia; discover how some of Egypt’s poorest residents are reclaiming dignity, even when living among garbage; and rediscover how each of us has a vocation.
It’s a rich and inspiring collection of stories and we’re pleased to share them with you this summer.
Check out the video preview from our president, Msgr. John E. Kozar, below. And click here to read more online.
Tags: ONE magazine