90 Years in Ethiopia

by Brother Austin David Carroll, F.S.C.
photos: CNEWA files

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They seem endless, the daily reports of starvation or the prospect of it in Ethiopia. Regularly, we are treated to the news of rebels struggling against the central government in Tigre and Eritrea, the very provinces where the famine rages. But war and famine have not always been the hallmarks of this ancient land, once known as Abyssinia. And Ethiopia’s contacts with the outside world have certainly been more involved with development than with emergency relief.

In 1900, a more peaceful time, the Brothers of the Christian Schools traveled by rail from the port of Djbouti on the Gulf of Aden to Addis Ababa in the central highlands. At that time, Djbouti was located in what was called French Somalia on the Horn of Africa as it juts into the Red Sea and the Indian Ocean.

The brothers came to the interior to found schools in Addis, the capital of modern Ethiopia, as well as in the city of Dire Dawa. In the period before World War II, Italian brothers from the same congregation established schools in the northern cities of Asmara and Kerin. By the late 1950s the world was changing rapidly in Africa, and the French and Italian brothers asked their confreres from the United States to take over their foundations in Ethiopia. English was fast becoming the predominant second language of the region.

Beginning in 1958, brothers from the New York and Long Island/New England Districts of the Christian Brothers traveled to Ethiopia to assume the responsibilities of operating the schools. The work has prospered, with schools established in Nazareth, Meki, Harrar, Dekem Hare, Schinara and Sawla, and there are plans for more as native Ethiopians join the ranks of the brothers. Today there arc 35 native Ethiopian brothers, two novices and some 55 aspirants.

The progress of the work was, however, not without its pains. St. Joseph’s school in Kerin has been held successively by the rebels and the government due to its strategic location. Used as a munitions warehouse, it was regularly hit by shells and rockets. The brothers can tell stories of basement living as battles raged. Today, what remains of St. Joseph’s has been confiscated by the Marxist regime of Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam.

During the revolution against the late emperor, Haile Selassie, brothers at St. Joseph’s High School in Addis Ababa found themselves between the rebel camp and the imperial palace. The brothers recall shells whizzing through the buildings as they huddled under stairwells or within interior closets. In 1981, Brother Gregory Flynn, now working with Catholic Relief Services in Addis, was captured along with 30 religious and volunteers by the Tigre People’s Liberation Organization. Following a couple of months of captivity, the group was freed after having been brought to villages by the rebels to demonstrate how the government was using food as a weapon against the people. The released captives were expected to tell the world of the conditions of starvation, which peaked in 1985. Drought combined with civil war finally came to the world’s attention.

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