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“As a farmer, it gives me motivation and strength,” his father says. “It’s like my engine. But I’m thinking of stopping little by little.”

In the room, only Abel and the youngest children do not chew. One of his little brothers grabs a branch of khat near him, but his mother takes it back.

“We are not on the right path,” Rosa Yosef admits, adding that Abel sometimes tells them, in a joking tone, that khat is for goats. It is clear to her, however, that her son remains disappointed his family does not heed his advice.

“Convincing them is easy, but changing them is difficult,” Abel says. “If they get another income and don’t have to rely on farming, they will stop. But it is difficult for them.”

The Missionaries of Charity run a treatment center in Dire Dawa for those battling mental illnesses and khat addiction, which are commonly linked. The sisters and their volunteer network of health care professionals, however, are overwhelmed: Most patients — brought to the center by family members or the Labor and Social Office of Dire Dawa — stay an average of three months. The center offers them medical care and psychological counseling. Much of the latter centers on group meetings, as costs of one-on-one care are high and the center is understaffed. While the government has agreed to provide water and electricity for free, the sisters must raise funds to cover everything else.

Despite the limited resources, more than 600 patients were treated in the last year. And while the sisters and their health care partners care for many patients from the more marginalized segments of society, they also care for people who are the leaders of their

communities: doctors, engineers and teachers.

“The number of patients is increasing,” says psychiatrist Henok Nega, 42, who volunteers at the center. When he’s not providing care to the center’s patients, he works at a public hospital.

“It needs more study, but the illnesses we find here are mostly related to khat,” he explains. He is worried because of the low capacity to admit people. “The demand to get mental health services in the country is high,” he adds. In Ethiopia, there are very few institutions for people suffering from addiction.

It is sometimes difficult to convey the dangers of this culturally entrenched herb; many people presume that if there is a problem, it is the result of another drug, such as cannabis. Others believe a rival has cast a spell on them, though the Catholic Church does all it can to dispel such superstitious thinking.

In Dire Dawa, the 40 girls of the boarding school Abune Andreas Girls’ Home sometimes go to neighborhood homes to explain

the dangerous effects of khat, says the young priest of the parish, the Rev.Wondwossen Wube.

“In the eastern part of Ethiopia, khat is like bread or injera for the people,” he explains, referencing a traditional spongy flatbread staple of Ethiopian cuisine.

“We are concerned about that because it implies child labor: the children go fetch water or collect wood [while their parents chew],” he says. It places the youth in a difficult situation, as they recognize that their parents are earning their living by growing this crop.

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