Ethiopia Gives Voice to Awestruck Visitor

Clay Elmhorst, one of eight seminarians from Mundelein Seminary who traveled with CRS Ethiopia as part of the Global Fellows program, shares final thoughts about his journey.

“What am I doing here?” I thought, driving out of the city of Mekelle, Ethiopia. My thoughts were as random as the people we passed on the street. Some were lying on the dirt sidewalk covered in plastic and rags. One woman was holding a baby no more than 6 months old. Most looked as if they hadn’t eaten a hearty meal their entire lives.

The questions I was asking myself—the questions people will ask when I get home—silently haunted me as we drove to Axum. The journey was tiresome as I tried to wrap my mind around everything I was taking in. “Don’t they know how to make gravel around here?” I wondered as we bounced along. All my thoughts about Toyota engineering went out the window as our Land Cruiser stoutly drove over the baseball-sized rocks.

Africa has always been another world to most, and for me, Ethiopia was my crash course. The extreme gaps between the rich and the poor were startling and impossible to ignore. One question kept returning. It just wouldn’t go away: “What can I do?”

Ethiopian voice

Children at the Adi-Daero Integrated Watershed Development Project in Ethiopia. Photo by Debbie DeVoe/CRS

Back in the States, I imagine myself standing in front of a small crowd during a Sunday liturgy, folks staring at me with their blinking faces, wondering what amazing things I experienced in Africa. I feel my heart weighing heavy as I try to muster the courage to tell them the truth. I imagine saying, “There is great suffering in the world, and Ethiopia is at the front lines.” I probably won’t say that though, or much of anything other than the hopeful stuff. Just a few lines of what they can do for underdeveloped countries. I’ll probably tell them, “Money is great, if you have a lot, and awareness is better if one doesn’t forget, but more importantly, prayer is the absolute means to help. Pray for those who don’t eat today, pray for those who are ill and impoverished, pray for those who have nothing.”

But is that enough? I still ask myself, “What can I do? Will I use my voice? Will I tell their story—the one that I’ve seen, the one they’ve told?” The suffering and hardships of many Ethiopians are great, and it’s important that I bear witness to the extreme poverty I saw. But after experiencing so much, I’ve realized that there is something greater still, and that is hope. There is hope in this land, and my voice can share that.

Hope in Ethiopia and across Africa starts with the people who bring it by means of Catholic Relief Services. Through the many programs and opportunities CRS provides to the world, you can’t help but see hope. I know, because I’ve witnessed it in Ethiopia. Wherever we visited CRS projects, we found smiling children, thankful families, and growing villages. CRS was the hope seen in places often without other support.

Becoming a Global Fellow has become part of my life now. It has changed me in ways I have yet to understand. The people of Ethiopia taught me what it means to have something, and yet have nothing. As impoverished as many are, the people of Ethiopia are the most spiritually rich I’ve ever met. Ironically my home is the polar opposite.

Ethiopia has helped me find my voice, a voice I’ll use as a bridge between two countries. Ethiopia has shown me how to bring more people into solidarity with those who suffer.

Disembarking from our plane at Chicago’s O’Hare International, I knew what to do: I will become an ambassador to the people of Ethiopia and use the power of my voice to make a difference. My words will show everyone just how rich they can be.

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