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The Church in Northern Ethiopia

by Brother Vincent Pelletier, F.S.C.

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Excerpts from a report prepared by the Director of our Addis Ababa office on his November field visit to the northern Ethiopian provinces of Welo, Tigre, Gonder and Gojam.

After making extensive preparations for this 11-day, 1,400-mile field trip – I even purchased an extra rim and tire – we left Addis Ababa at 7:30 A.M.

Debra Berhan. Our first stop was in the village of Debra Berhan where we visited a kindergarten administered by the Sisters of Divine Providence. There are 300 children in three levels at the school, 166 of whom are enrolled in our Needy Child Program. To date, more than a third of these children are without sponsors. Even though it was Sunday, we were able to visit. The classrooms were models of what a kindergarten should look like.

We also visited the Women’s Promotion Program, which is basically a knitting center. Debra Berhan is the wool-producing hub of Ethiopia and the only industry in town is the factory that produces wool blankets. The sisters have taken advantage of the availability of wool and work with the women to produce sweaters.

WELO PROVINCE

We drove nonstop for seven hours to Dese, the provincial capital of Welo. Dese is a sprawling mass of randomly built shacks. One of my traveling companions likened it to Nineveh in the Old Testament. Dese did not take us three days to cross, but we had our concerns.

While in Dese we visited the orphanage administered by the Ursuline Sisters. It is small and old, but very clean. The children are well cared for and seem to get a good deal of personal attention from the sisters.

In addition to our Needy Child Program at the orphanage, there are a number of children enrolled in our program who live with their families. When I asked the sister responsible how she knew these children were in need, she replied that the sisters required a certificate from the kebele, or neighborhood association, stating the family’s situation. The sisters visit the families as well. She pointed out several of these children and told me their stories.

TIGRE PROVINCE

Between Dese and the town of Alamata lies an enormous lowland fertile plain. Before arriving in the town, we drove through fields of corn and sorghum, which were not yet ready for harvesting. We would not see fertile land for another week.

Just north of Alamata begins a chain of mountains that leads to the plateau of the Ethiopian highlands. For five hours we drove along the winding road, built more than 40 years ago by the Italians who occupied the region. Although a simple gravel road, it is an engineering marvel. As we poked our way through the mountains, enjoying the beauty of scenery hard to surpass, I prayed that our automobile would not overheat or suffer a flat tire.

By the time we reached Mekele, the capital of Tigre, we were exhausted. After taking a light supper and renewing old acquaintances with members of the Salesian community, we retired.

After breakfast and a quick tour of an interesting new program for homeless boys sponsored by the Daughters of Charity, we left Mekele for Wukro. We drove by rocky and arid fields, plots of land so small the farmers can produce only the hare minimum. The people are doomed to subsistence living.

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