A Letter From Ethiopia

by Abune Tesfaselassie Medhin

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Greetings of peace and gratitude from the Eparchy of Adigrat.

Our eparchy, which has 35 parishes and 3 missions, is vast in geographical size — more than 50,000 square miles bordering Eritrea and Sudan, covering the whole region of Tigray and part of Afar. The majority of the region’s population is Orthodox Christian, while we Catholics are a minority. However, the Catholic Church’s presence is notable for the pastoral, social and development ministries it renders, as well as its ecumenical and interreligious witness. With a pioneering focus on modern education, the church renders good quality education through its 52 institutions, from kindergartens to accredited colleges, serving more than 15,000 students every year of all ethnic groups and religious denominations without discrimination.

Economically speaking, this is a poor part of Ethiopia. Still worse are the villages in Tigray’s Eastern Zone, where we have erected many parishes and rural schools. These villages are remote, poor and dry.

The economy of the local communities is based on agriculture. Although the community is hard working, these areas experience recurrent droughts that lower productivity to a level that hardly sustains them for months, let alone for a year. The people live on a combination of their meager output, cereal assistance from the government and some “cash for work” income-generating developmental activities financed by non-governmental organizations.

Educational and health services are poor, although the present government is working hard to reach out to those living in the remotest areas. Infrastructural development is part of the growth plan for the country, but implementation is still limited. Hence there are no adequate employment opportunities, yet.

This situation creates a tendency among youth to migrate, further complicating their lot with the challenges of unregistered migration.

Many parishes and schools along the frontier with Eritrea were hard hit during the Eritrean-Ethiopian border war in 1998. The loss of life, property, homes and livestock only worsened their living conditions. Efforts to rebuild the affected areas have been challenging.

Last year, sub-Saharan Africa was hit with an unexpected El Niño-induced drought — the worst in 50 years — which exacerbated the economics of the already-poor communities in many parts of the country. This affected the lives of communities and livestock, pastoral activities and education. Parish priests had to buy their provisions from distant markets and the transport to the market and back to their home parishes was and remains very challenging.

Students were particularly vulnerable during this time, especially those who walk long distances through mountains and valleys to travel between home and school. The recurrent drought affects our eparchy almost on a regular basis, and for this reason we have well-organized school feeding programs for needy children — essential to help them to stay in school under such circumstances.

Otherwise, they become exhausted, risking their very health.

Last summer, which is the rainy season here in Ethiopia, we had a good amount of rain. Thanks God, the harvest was relatively good. And now the spirit of the local communities is improving.

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