Saturday, October 5, 2019



After overnight in Dire Dawa, we visited several projects in and around the city itself.


This is a non-residential facility which deals with two types of youth:  those in homes with special needs, such as a single parent; and those on the streets with no place to stay at night.

The at-home youth are provided a place to gather, to play, and to study after school.  Simple facilities provide various things for the youth to do, such as ping pong.

Women in the community come together to learn how to create and operate small businesses.  One woman bakes very fine cookies and is selling them to various stores and food outlets.  She has received a loan from the Community Group, and repays it over a few months.  This woman is saving to purchase larger baking equipment so she can expand her business.  These many businesses give women a greater security for their families, and are able to provide more opportunities for their children.  

It is a real joy to feel the enthusiasm, interest, and commitment of all these women.  They support each other and learn different techniques from each other, as well as specialists who come in to work with them.  Really impressive to see their initiatives!!


One of the most impressive aspects of CRS activities around the world is their long-held strategy to station relief supplies in large warehouses in so many countries.  These are called Primary Distribution Points, and there are 15 of them in Ethiopia.  CRS brings in commodities from the port of Djibouti and stores, as in this example.
In order to keep the items fresh, they are brought in and stored for no more than 3 months, then sent on to local centers.

Over several years of seeing the CRS projects around the world, I have been so impressed with their commitment to pre-staging items needed for various disasters and needs:  typhoons, droughts, earthquakes, groups fleeing all kinds of threats, and the like.  In this way CRS can respond quickly when crises arise.


We had the opportunity to visit Notre Dame School, one of the largest Catholic schools in Ethiopia with some 1,600 students--from kindergarten to seniors in high school.  The quality education is provided for all these students who come from the surrounding areas.  Three Ethiopian Sisters serve in the school, along with a layman as principal.  A large and varied staff helps teach and form these young people.


Since our time was limited before having to fly back to Addis Ababa, our visit was very short.  Basically, these Sisters of St. Mother Teresa's Community care for the most neglected and needy persons in the community.  Almost all need medical attention through various clinics, as well as living arrangements for many until they are able to live on their own.

Medical and mental health issues are very prevalent here, as well as those in advanced age who are near death.  The Sisters benefit from various doctors and nurses who help out, but they are also able to send patients to the local hospital for more specialized care.

CRS is the primary food source for this enormous compound.  Without this food, the Sisters would never be able to accommodate and serve so many people.

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Today we flew to Dire Dawa, about an hour southeast of Addis Ababa.  We first met with the staff of the Secretariat of the Eparchy of Dire Dawa.  The Catholic Secretariat operates all of the educational, social, and health projects across this very large Eparchy.  

We met the staff and enjoyed a traditional coffee ceremony with them.  Ethiopian coffee is of very high quality and drank all acround the world.  In addition, they prepare a special celebration bread which is broken up into pieces and shared by all who are gathered.

We then drove through more mountainous lands with people living in villages at various elevations.  The main highway is the one taken from Ethiopia to Djibouti.  Since Ethiopia has no link to an ocean, all cargo coming by sea enters through the port of Djibouti.  We saw many large Containers being hauled in both directions, as well as fuel and other products.


CRS pioneered the terracing of the mountains so that far more land was available for food production, as well as the halting of the erosion of the soil.  This one initiative has had an enormous increase in the amount of land available to farmers, as well as the production of food.

We then drove to an Internally Displaced Persons [IDP] camp in Deder.  These people have been displaced because of conflicts between different groups in various places of Ethiopia.  One example is the class between local farms in an area with roving herdsmen who come into their area and allow their herds to eat crops.  These conflicts result in people having to flee.  

Approximately 300 persons live in such tin shelters, with about 8,000 such displaced persons around the country.


In this mountainous region, CRS has developed a very creative project to obtain good, clean water and make it available to people at local water stations.  Before, they would spend hours per day going in search of water.

One example of this project consists of a well down in the valley floor where there is abundant water below the surface.  This water is then pumped uphill about 2.5 miles to various levels of the mountain into storage tanks.  One large water tank holds 32,000 gallons.  Then, water lines descend down to 12 water points, and 6 water points for displaced persons' camps.

This means that some 45,000 people benefit from these water projects in and around this region.  The water points are managed by local committees.  So far, these pumps use diesel or electricity to pump the water.  Possibly in the future solar panels will replace them.

No other project has had such an enormous, multiplier effect upon the local populations.  Available good and clean water changes every aspect of local life:  little time spent in finding water, fewer illnesses because of the high quality of the water, better water for bathing and washing, and water for more crops.

On our return journey, stopped at one of the food distribution warehouses operated by CRS across the country.  These warehouses contain basically food products such as grains, and they are distributed as needed to various communities near and around these storage facilities.  Having the food near at hand is a great blessing for the people in need since little time is lost in transporting the food.

We then flew back to Addis Ababa after a most fruitful visit to this section of Ethiopia.


Friday, October 4, 2019



Before departing Meki, we visited one of the Catholic Schools.  Catholic Education is a high priority for the Church and CRS across Ethiopia.  This school is located near the compound where the Bishop and his staff carry out all their local projects.

Education is key to the future of any people, but especially so in the more rural areas of any country.


We then drove to an area where a Women's Empowerment Project was underway.  Centuries of cultural tradition have empowered men to be the absolute authority in each family.  The wife has a very diminished role, relegated primarily to fetching water--often at several miles; caring for the children, preparing meals, washing clothes, and the like.

This new initiative has been designed to create a new paradigm of family life where husbands and wives together share the authority of the family.  Women are taught about their personal identity and dignity, and how to help their husbands understand that sharing mutually the authority of the family brings many blessings to the entire family.

These women learn business skills whereby they are able to begin small enterprises such as raising chickens and selling eggs, raising goats, preparing food products for sale, and the like.  They are then able to save their own money and eventually expand their businesses.  They do this in harmony with their husbands, not in opposition, a new mutuality of roles.

At the same location there is a school where young women learn the usual subjects, but also a new formation in women empowerment.  They are given new skills.

Also at the same location the boys are taught and formed as well.  They begin to understand the concept of mutuality in the role of husband and wife, and the great benefits to the family and to the marriage when such equal sharing in duties and rights is observed.


The single element essential for all human life is water.  Without water there is no life.

However, the only water which really benefits the people is good, clean water.  In rural areas throughout the world often the water supply is inadequate, or polluted, or not near to the people.

CRS long ago saw the need to help small communities develop new water projects which would provide clean and safe water where the people actually lived.  CRS purchased five very large drilling rigs for use across Ethiopia to help locate water, drill down to the water, and pump it up for the people.

A well is drilled to a level where fresh, safe and good water is located.  A pump is installed, and initially a diesel generator is used to pump the water to the surface.  In this example, the water is delivered nearby to a water station.  People bring 5 gallon jugs to obtain the water, about one or two cents the charge.

A local committee receives the money and accounts for it, using it to repairs or improvements to their system.  This committee is composed of both women and men.

A new addition to this water well is that of solar panels.  The panels are more expensive to install, but they have no moving parts, require no fuel, and have fewer performance problems.  The use of solar panels across Africa will mean an entirely new and sustainable source of energy for all projects.

The installation of water wells and the supply of local water that is good and clean is one of the great achievements of CRS over the years.


Tuesday, October 1, 2019



This morning we left Addis Ababa, and drove with CRS Country Director John Shumlansky and staff in a southwestern direction to the town of Meki.  Within the Church Meki is an Apostolic Vicariate--the last step before becoming a Diocese.  The Bishop Abraham Desta heads up the Vicariate.

The Vicariate is situated in a very large compound with a new Church at the center of it.  The Bishop's residence, offices for the Vicariate, and other leadership activities are situated here.

We first visited the wonderful Our Lady of Perpetual Help Clinic supported primarily by donors and entities in Spain.  The Director is a young man from Madrid, and he has helped the Clinic to grow to a most effective medical center for the area.  Spanish doctors, medical specialists, and dentists take turns coming from Spain to staff the Clinic.  Many Spanish volunteers also come for a period of Christian volunteer work.

The Clinic opens at 6:30 am, and people begin lining up early to be seen by Clinic staff.  A triage person evaluates each person to determine where he/she should be sent for care.  Emergencies receive priority over all others.
A large number of patients are children.  The Clinic serves pregnant women in pre-birth, birth itself, and after birth to make sure that there are no major issues with the mother or the baby.

A new large building is in the process of being completed, and new specialized equipment is coming from Spain.  A new, large ultrasound machine is still in its shipping packaging, but soon it will be a powerful tool to assist the doctors for many illnesses.

Bishop Abraham Desta is shown visiting
 some of the young children with their
mothers in the clinic area.

Small children are in the care of the clinic while their mothers are working, a marvelous Day Care Center.  The young people assist in caring for the young ones until their mothers pick them up.

The Clinic also operates an orphanage program, with a special emphasis on creating a sense of "family" among the youngsters.  They attend a Catholic school nearby, and they consider each other as genuine brothers and sisters--just like the other children from regular families.


In order to help train small farmers how to be more efficient in their farming, and to raise funds for the Vicariate for all of its programs, the Bishop owns and operates a huge farm outside the city.  The farm has several distinct operations:

  •   Tree Fruit:  mangoes, avocados, and other fruits  
  •   Row Crops:  corn, alfalfa, potatoes, and many kinds of vegetables to be sold  
  •   Dairy Cows:  to produce milk with the majority of it being used to make three kinds of     cheeses
  •   Vineyards and Wine Making:  the farm grows three varieties of red wine grapes, and     chenin blanc grapes for white wine
This is my first visit to a farm owned and operated by the Church that produced fine wines and cheeses!


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Bishop Abraham proudly displaying a 2018 Syrah red wine.  The license to sell its wines and cheeses is pending.

The major funding and wine-making expertise came from Italy and Spain with their own marvelous wines.
In addition Italy and Spain provided assistance with the cheese making process.

This Farm is a unique example of how the Church in mission lands can be creative in serving the people by bringing them new skills for their own livelihoods.

Another splendid example of CRS at work in assisting local Dioceses with so many initiatives to help lift the economic potential of their people.