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)