on the world of CNEWA

a pictorial journey to Ethiopia by John E. Kozar

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One of the most prominent outreaches of Catholic Near East Welfare Association is serving the needs of children. We have made a concerted effort to be as responsive and timely as possible, especially when there are wars, natural disasters or economic realities that threaten the very lives of these little ones.

Recently, I was extremely blessed to have visited children in Ethiopia. This is a large country. Overwhelmingly rural, Ethiopia has limited infrastructure and is suffering through a severe extreme drought, and fears of the resultant famine that could follow. My primary objective was to demonstrate the loving solidarity of CNEWA with the poor children of Ethiopia, with their parents, their teachers, their church leaders and those who minister to them.

Most of my visit was concentrated in the extreme northern reaches of the country bordering Eritrea. This is a vast mountainous area that has very challenging “roads” to reach remote villages; in many instances there are no roads at all, only dangerous mountain footpaths.

After a tortuous two-hour, nail-biting trip in a four-wheel-drive vehicle, our director of programs, Thomas Varghese, and I arrived in a remote village named Aiga, where we stopped at the humble parish school of St. Michael. There, the children warmly greeted us with songs and prayers and welcomed us lovingly into their classrooms, which have only the barest hint of outside natural light for the classes.

After visiting with each of the classes, we went outside the school, where they lined up to receive their “CNEWA” biscuits: a two-biscuit pack that would sustain them as the school day went on and would give them enough energy to walk home to their mountain dwellings. Most of the children walked over steep mountain trails for two or three hours each way to come to school. This simple nutritional supplement means the difference between these beautiful children coming to school or staying at home.

There were two very touching moments for me as they were enjoying their biscuits. The first came when I saw many children only eating one biscuit and wrapping up the other one to take home to be shared with others in their family; and the second was when a little girl offered me one of her biscuits. Tears came to my eyes at this gesture of kindness and generosity. What a demonstration of the Christian values that they learn in school and practice in their humble homes.

There was a huge irony to this visit: We were there to document the effects of the drought and the fearful reality of famine, but once we arrived we encountered torrential rains. For the record, these horrific downpours did not end the drought or diminish the fear of famine. In fact, they have brought an entirely new catastrophe — devastating floods with the loss of life, both human and livestock, and more irretrievable loss of soil. And so the hunger continues.

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