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In her mother’s apartment, lying on the couch, 5-year-old Lydia quietly watches cartoons on television. Rahel says she lets Lydia spend time with her father on special occasions, such as birthdays, adding that, in her own youth, she suffered too much from the absence of her parents to allow her husband to fade from Lydia’s life.

Abandoned when she was a child, Rahel was eventually helped by the Catholic Mission in Harar. She went to Abune Endrias School, a boarding school that welcomes orphans and children from families of limited means.

Rahel credits the school and the mission with saving her life. Without it, she says, “I would have ended up as a street child.”

It is a fate that could affect countless young people in Ethiopia. But a visit to the Catholic Mission shows how the church is trying to change that and, in every sense, is working to save the next generation.

Inside the ancient fortified city center of Harar, one of Islam’s holiest cities, the compound of the Catholic Mission is a haven of peace. The Capuchin sisters and father who administer the boarding facility guide their wards, teaching them good manners as well as how to live a healthy lifestyle. One of their important goals is to keep children from becoming addicted to khat.

In this predominantly Muslim town, where khat addiction prevails, many succumb to the temptation of chewing. Outside the church compound, in the maze of colorful alleyways in the old town, many locals chew the best leaves, forming a big ball inside their cheek; after several hours, they feel the effects of mirkana, the dreamlike phase that follows the consumption of khat that differs according to the person.

The physical effects of the plant, however, pale beside the social

and economic ones. For some, addiction leads to poverty and unemployment. It is a painful cycle: They do not work, so they chew to pass the time, but then the time spent chewing, coupled with the effects of khat, robs them of both the time and desire to work.

Making matters worse, khat is reaching younger consumers. There are not enough recreational outlets in the country for young people, laments the Rev. Andreas Michael of the Catholic Mission, so they are drawn to the plant.

But in this boarding school, he says, the teachers explain to their students the dangers of khat.

“We have to keep them mentally, physically and spiritually strong,” the priest says.

Argaw Fantu, CNEWA’s regional director for Ethiopia, believes engaging children in their early stages of development, instilling solid ideals and values as well as a healthy sense of self and purpose, is the right way to shape their future.

“We need to help them develop the right moral attitude — to help them avoid exposing themselves to destructive behavior, such as chewing khat,” he says. “We try to instruct them in the Catholic faith, teach them how to live a worthy life, knowing the purpose of their existence and their final destination.”

Catholic schools, Mr. Fantu says, highlight these matters in various ways — such ethics classes that discuss destructive behaviors and school dramas that demonstrate the effects of drug addiction on individuals and families.

Although a tiny minority, making up no more than 1 percent

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