Next Tuesday, 3 June, CAFOD will be having a special Connect2: Ethiopia reception. We’ll be welcoming several people from Sebeya, CAFOD’s Connect2 community in Ethiopia, and have the opportunity to hear their stories and share ours as well. CAFOD last welcomed a partner from Ethiopia two years ago and, as volunteer Michael Walsh reflects, the connections created are nothing short of inspirational:
Meeting Lemlem Berha Tsegay prompted surprise and delight among the CAFOD staff and volunteers who welcomed her. A young and highly-qualified water engineer, she came to Britain in 2012 to address meetings of CAFOD supporters about her work as a water engineer in irrigation and sewerage projects in drought-prone northern Ethiopia. During her tour of parishes across the country her tireless energy, her youthful charm and grace, her ready mastery of English in dealing with the intricacies of her subject, and – for the present writer – her public espousal of support for Chelsea FC and high regard for Frank Lampard and Didier Drogba all were positive attractions. Even her first name meaning “green place” was agreeably fitting and melodious. But most of all it was the joy she radiated that impressed the people who heard her.
It was not for joy but drought, devastation and despair that the region in which she works was, and possibly still is, best known to the public following a BBC news report from Tigre by Michael Buerk in October 1984. The film of people packed together in a camp without food, water or protection from the relentless heat inspired the massive Band Aid and Live Aid relief efforts. Lemlem’s employer is the Adigrat Diocesan Catholic Secretariat (ADCS) and the diocese covers the whole Tigre region of Ethiopia whose inhabitants – already suffering grievously from the effects of indiscriminate military attacks – were afflicted by the famine between 1983 and 1985, resulting in the deaths of at least 400,000 people. But out of great evil came faith, hope and love and they have prevailed.
The ADCS is the partner of CAFOD in making the region a healthy and productive place for families to prosper in and develop their full potential. It was established by the Church to meet the spiritual and physical needs of all, regardless of age, sex, religion, and race. It finds in CAFOD a partner fully committed to fulfilling its own aim to promote integral and sustainable human development, especially of the poorest of the poor and the people most vulnerable to change, to enable them to become self-reliant. CAFOD supports research, and advocacy work there but the main focus of its activities there at present is irrigation works being constructed by the ADCS which will connect two newly- constructed reservoirs with a dam.
Despite annual economic growth at seven per cent Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Agriculture provides nearly half of national product and Sebeya near the dangerous border with Eritrea is typical of mountainous north east Tigre except that the irrigation project is making a difference and reducing vulnerability to endemic deforestation and drought. In Sebeya Berhe Amare is just one of the local people looking forward to taking advantage of the water supply to grow fruit and vegetables for his own family and to sell in the local market. Like many of the most cost-effective and productive projects which CAFOD supports, the work in Sebeya is geared to assisting women in particular to channel their aptitudes and energy into development. Selamawit for example has benefited from training in business skills, enabling her to have the competence and confidence to set up a kiosk from which she sells bread, salt, cooking oil and other basic necessities to the local people. She says that the profits from the business enable her to cover most of her family’s needs.
All that the people of Sebeya wanted from CAFOD was a helping hand. They want to grasp that hand in friendship now. As Nagisti put it: “I had a little information about people who support us from abroad. Today, I saw their pictures and learnt how they are working to help Sebeya. I am inspired by their good works. Their hard work and commitment to work for us inspires me to work harder and do my best.” Now through Connect 2 arrangements CAFOD supporters will be able to make direct contact with participants in and beneficiaries of water and other projects in Ethiopia. Abba Solomon, Parish Priest of Sebeya’s Holy Trinity Catholic Church and ADCS employees, Tesfay Weldeslasse, and Abba Teum, the Director of ADCS will visit Britain in June. CAFOD supporters will be able to meet them at our Romero House office in Lambeth from 6.00 to 8.30 pm on Tuesday, June 3 and hear what they say about the projects and the struggles they face so bravely.
This event will take place at Romero House, from 6pm to 8:30pm on Tuesday, 3 June. It is free and open to all, however booking is essential. Contact CAFOD Westminster on 0208 449 6970 or firstname.lastname@example.org to book a place.
For further information on Connect 2 Ethiopia, visit CAFOD’s Connect2 page: cafod.org.uk/connect2ethiopia.