Ethiopia is a living Calvary.
That is how Mother Teresa described Ethiopia during one of her many visits to the country. After nine days there, it is not difficult to understand what she meant.
From May 26-June 3, I traveled to Ethiopia with Catholic Relief Services. We split the majority of our time between the capital, Addis Ababa, and the eastern city of Dire Dawa with a day-trip to the ancient stone-hewn churches of Lalibela.
To say the absolute least, I was shocked by the level and prevalence of poverty. Only 35 percent of the country has access to clean water and a sanitary latrine; 85 percent are subsistence farmers; the per capita GDP is $990 -- what many Americans make in a paycheck. In Addis, the average home was a lean-to shack of pieced together corrugated tin. The poverty there is unlike anything I have ever seen.
We spent two days in Addis visiting first an HIV/AIDS clinic and support program run by the Daughters of Charity and then a day at the Missionaries of Charity home. Two things from those first two days resonate: The dignity of the men and women affected by HIV/AIDS who through the assistance of the Daughters of Charity were able to support themselves and their families through their own work and the profound love that the Missionaries of Charity have for those whom they serve.
Last Saturday, we flew from Addis to Lalibela and spent the day touring the 12th/13th century stone hewn churches. We returned to Addis on Sunday and left early Monday morning for a four day trip to Dire Dawa in the east. Though I didn't think it possible, Dire Dawa (and its surrounding area) was an even poorer place than Addis. We visited farms in the lowlands and highlands and it amazes me that they are able to support themselves as farmers in such hospitable farming climates.
Yet, the people are resilient and proud to have the opportunity to flourish in ways never before possible without the help of CRS. The simplicity of a private toilet, the ability to gain income through new initiatives like beehives or a simple fish pond/irrigation reservoir, and the dignity of owning cattle and other livestock. These people are now able to support themselves through community initiatives that have empowered the people to take ownership and responsibility. To hear story after story of how lives have been changed through the help of CRS made me feel unworthy to have the privilege of being part of such a group.
To learn more about CRS and the Global Fellows program, click here.
May God continue that good work that he has already begun!