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In Ethiopia supporting children and the Church

Updated: Feb 13, 2023

THROUGHOUT the world, Catholic missionaries often work in the most trying of circumstances and Ethiopia is no different. The country is the focus for Missio Scotland’s supported projects in 2022 and while many people may recall the horrific famine that devastated the country and its people in the 1980s, Ethiopia currently faces a number of problems that can make it a difficult environment for our missionaries to operate in.

Like the rest of the world, Ethiopia has felt the unprecedented social and economic impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. While there have been signs of economic recovery, some lasting scars still remain. Employment levels have not recovered fully, with some households and firms continuing to report income losses and poverty estimated to have increased.

There have also been frequent severe weather events alongside long-term impacts of climate change, which have undermined agriculture and pastoral livelihoods as well as food security. In 2020, Ethiopia experienced the worst locust invasion in decades and its effects also contributed to threatening the livelihoods of millions of Ethiopians. This year’s drought is the worst in 40 years, severely affecting 7 million people in southern and eastern parts of the country. The country is still very reliant on food aid.

The incidence of conflict has increased, particularly in the North (Tigray region) since November 2020, which too has impacted upon lives, livelihoods, and infrastructure.

With around 115 million people, Ethiopia is the second most populous nation in Africa after Nigeria, and while it is still the fastest growing economy in the region, it is also one of the poorest, with a per capita gross national income of £711.

Ethiopia’s Human Development Index is at a low of 0.38 which means that a child born in Ethiopia today will be 38 per cent as productive when they grow up as they could have been if they had enjoyed complete education and full health. This is lower than the average for the Sub-Saharan Africa region, but slightly higher than the average for low-income countries. Learning poverty stands at 90 per cent and 37 per cent of children under five years of age are stunted. The literacy rate stands at 51.8 per cent, which is one of the lowest in the continent.

It is perhaps fitting then—based on the last of those facts—that the first of the projects that Missio Scotland chose to support this year was one that will have an impact on education (above).

Educational challenges St Anthony’s Inclusive School in Adama/Nazreth (above) was established in 2006 with the intention of creating access to preschool education to children with different kinds of physical challenges. As with other countries on the continent, a child with a disability is often viewed pejoratively and access to education to such children simply wasn’t available.

Since it opened its doors, the school has provided educational opportunities to 692 children, 68 of whom had autism, five were visually impaired, 17 were both deaf and dumb—who were transported to and from the school in a wheelchair as they couldn’t walk—and two children who had multiple physical challenges. In addition, the school has also provided its services free of charge for close to 100 students in the recent past.

Most of the children with physical and mental disabilities come from poor families and are largely shut away from the outside world. The opening of the St Anthony’s Inclusive School enabled the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady Sisters—who run the school—to inform the wider community about the adverse effects of social discrimination and seclusion of the children from the society, which can have serious and very negative consequences on their future life. As a result, many parents in Adama and the surrounding areas are sending their children to St Anthony’s and the numbers of those choosing to do so, year on year, is increasing.

The school itself can accommodate between 150 and 170 children at a time every year. Currently there are 30 children with different physical disabilities and 10 children come from economically poor families. Their education is provided free of charge every year. As well as access to free education, the school offers the following benefits:

  • The opportunity for physically disabled children to receive their education with other able-bodied students, which will enable them to develop their confidence and minimise discrimination.

  • To positively impact on the attitude of the parents in the community, including those who have not yet sent their children to the school.

  • Training for parents in sign language, which helps to improve communication between the parents and their children at home.

  • Access to a good standard of education for children who come from economically disadvantaged families.

However, while children with disabilities and those from low-income families are supported financially in their education, the ever-increasing cost of living and high inflation rate in the country means that there are difficulties in terms of financing salaries of the teaching and non-teaching staff and expanding the school itself.

A chain of support

In order to bridge this financial gap, the sisters have endeavoured to garner support from different places so that they can continue to provide their services at the school and even improve on them. Since the mid-1980s, a main supporter of the sisters' work has been the priests and parishioners of St Teresa’s in Dumfries (above) and, inspired by their witness, Missio Scotland has joined them this year by supporting St Anthony’s School in a very important way.

The Scottish branch of the Pope’s official charity for overseas mission is financially assisting in the building of a dining hall at the school, which will allow the children to be provided with a healthy meal in a safe space, which in turn will benefit their educational experience.

The dining hall will be made as large as possible to maximise the number of children it can seat. It aims to be a relaxing and comfortable area for the children and to create a sense of satisfaction among the parents who send their children to St Anthony’s. Its construction will be of benefit to the entire school community.

For World Mission Sunday this year, Pope Francis chose as the theme ‘You shall be my witnesses,’ stressing the need for every Christian to bear witness to Christ. It’s safe to say that this project epitomises this, with the Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady bearing witness through their love and dedication to their work at St Anthony’s and elsewhere. The support from St Teresa’s in Dumfries through The Ababa Project and from Missio Scotland are examples of bearing witness—and the universality of our Church—too. By supporting us, you too are playing your part in bearing witness.

“I was delighted to hear that Missio Scotland have selected our project to fund the construction of the dining hall for the children in the school, which we have been badly missing,” Sr Hana Mengistu, who is in charge of the school, said. “We are grateful to have received the funds so that the school will be able to continue to offer this service to children from economically poor families. The main objective is to provide a good dining space so that the children can get a healthy meal at school.

“Currently, we have 149 children in the school and 22 of them are children with disabilities. I can assure you that the project will benefit the needy children in the area and allow the school to continue to survive. The project will bring about a visible change in the lives of these children.

“Thank you so much for choosing to support our project. I pray that you continue your work in assisting the needy people in the world. Stay blessed!”

Nega Sorsu, who helps co-ordinate many of the sisters’ projects and who has worked alongside them for 25 years, added: “By supporting St Anthony’s Inclusive School, we will be able to improve the quality of education for the many needy children who attend it. Thank you.”

Building faith Missio Scotland’s focus on Ethiopia doesn’t begin and end with St Anthony’s Inclusive School. We are also supporting another very worthwhile project in the country. Catholicism is one of the official religions of Ethiopia and despite Catholics only making up around one per cent of the population, the faith is growing and Catholics are in charge of around 90 per cent of the country’s social programmes.

So, conscious of the growth of the Faith and the need to support the country’s small but committed Catholic population, Missio Scotland agreed to help fund the construction of a new church, St Peter and Paul’s in Homecho (above).

By supporting the construction of a church like this, Missio Scotland National Director, Fr Vincent Lockhart, explained that you’re not just building a physical edifice, but that you are actually strengthening the Church as a whole and creating a sense of communion.

“Missio Scotland, and our partners in the Pontifical Mission Societies, are charged with presenting a vision of the Church as a family, where we are here to support our brothers and sisters in every other part of the Church through prayers and if they need money then we share what we have because what we have is coming from God,” he said. “And they share with us their prayers or they send us priests or sisters. So, it’s that sense of communion.”

“When I was a young boy, there used to be missionaries that came from the parish that I grew up in. Every now and again they would come home and they all either seemed to be White Fathers or Mill Hill Fathers,” he said. “So, when Mission Sunday came around on the third Sunday of October each year, you knew what mission was. These missionaries would come into the school and talk to the kids and there was a great sense of connectedness between the Catholic population in Scotland and the mission lands through these missionaries who were their own sons and their own daughters.

“So, in the past, Missio Scotland would have been about supporting missionaries who were Scottish, whereas now, it is more about the Church here assisting the Church elsewhere. Moreover, that Church in Ethiopia or Zambia or India or wherever is also helping us, because there’s a crossover as there’s lots of priests now in Scotland who come from Africa and Asia. So, our task is to create a sense of Church as family as a global reality.

“One of the things Pope Francis is very much against is an inward-looking Church and I think Missio’s role in the Church, in say Scotland, is to help the Church to be outward looking to other parts of the world.”

Bishop Noel Seyoum Fransua, the Apostolic Vicar of Hosanna and National Director of Missio in Ethiopia, was delighted that projects in his home country are being supported and spoke in greater detail about the construction of the new church.

“I have just read about Missio Scotland’s support for the Franciscan Sisters in Adama/Nazreth in funding a new school for the children,” the bishop said. “I do appreciate your support for children from the needy families.

“I really appreciate your concern in building churches in Ethiopia too where there are many demands and needs. I’d like to share with you the experiences of Apostolic Vicariate of Hosanna. In the last two months I gave the Sacrament of Confirmation in eight parishes to more than 600 people. Right after the celebration of Holy Mass, I had a meeting with the representatives of the parishes and one of their requests was how the Vicariate would help them to build their parishes churches.

“I laid down the foundation stone in four parishes and another two had begun construction but stopped due to the financial constraints. We inaugurated the first Cathedral of the Vicariate in February 2021, thanks to our partners in Europe and America. The Catholic communities of Hosanna are very dynamic and generous, but due to poverty, high cost of living, war, conflicts and the pandemic, their life situations have worsened. I really appreciate your support in helping us to realise one of the projects in the Vicariate of Hosanna. It is historic.

“I would appreciate it so much if you could visit us here in Ethiopia. I would be so glad to welcome you in the Vicariate and as the national director of PMS in Ethiopia. I assure you of my prayers and would ask for your prayers for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia.”

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