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)