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Markos expresses sadness that his siblings cannot join him, due to the costs. He tries to make them proud with his excellent grades, which have partly paid his way in the form of merit scholarships.

Yet even if the school is expensive compared to its public counterparts, Mr. Honja wants all his children to study there.

“I want one of my children to become a doctor,” he says, with bright eyes and a gap-toothed grin. Our Lady’s Catholic School, he says, puts this dream within reach.

In Ethiopia, Catholic schools try their best to help needy communities. Tesfalem Wolde, a 27-year-old English teacher, says he appreciates “the charity of the Catholics, not only here but all around the world.”

As a Protestant, he holds the priests in high esteem. “They help the poor people everywhere, they give pure water for the elders, they give medical assistance.”

Education, he says, is no exception. “Many teachers working at governmental schools are sending their children to Our Lady’s Catholic School.”

It sometimes happens that the poorest students cannot continue to cover tuition. Priests from Catholic schools often visit homes to check if a student’s family is in need. When a lack of resources threatens a student’s enrollment, they try to help. Many Catholic schools also count on support from church organizations abroad — such as CNEWA — which help defray costs and cover shortfalls.

Tesfatsion Entro, 19, has received support in this way. The tall and slim student says he says he has “no words” to describe the school.

“I come from a very poor family,” he explains. Above all, he cherishes having “access to books,” he says, going to the library every day. Mr. Entro’s love of science has propelled him toward the study of engineering, and he expresses the desire to be “an inventor.”

“We don’t have any [material] benefit,” says Abba Abraham of operating the school. “Our profit is when the boys and girls have good results, when they join the university.”

Other private schools, on the other hand, tend to be profit-driven organizations, says the Rev. Berhanu Woemago, 41.

“School should not be for the rich but for all,” the priest says. “Catholic schools allow for the personal development of the child, who is at the center.”

After studying canon law in Italy, Abba Behanu became the director of the Abba Pascal Catholic Girls School in Soddo, about 20 miles from Dubbo. In this town of some 86,000 inhabitants, hotels and roads have sprouted up everywhere, creating the illusion that prosperity has supplanted poverty.

However, the priest says, many households remain in need. The Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region of Ethiopia is known to be one of the emigration centers of the country, from which many leave to seek a better life in South Africa. But in the Catholic school he directs, Abba Berhanu works to foster ambitions and hopes that can take root right in their homeland.

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